Joan Smith: Liberty, not bunting, makes me proud to be British

 

Share

A few days ago, an open-topped sports car flying the Union Jack shot past me at a fair lick, and I wondered whether the driver had noticed the complete absence of demonstrative patriotism in my street. I'm told there are events – one this weekend, another at the end of next month – that are meant to make us glad to be British. But what has that to do with flags, torches and medals?

I've always considered myself fortunate to have been born in this country, in the second half of the 20th century. Few women have enjoyed as much freedom as I have, and they still don't in many parts of the world; girls aren't allowed to go to school in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and a woman has just been sentenced to death by stoning in Sudan. I'm just old enough to remember this country's final executions, and one of the many things I love about the UK is the fact that it no longer operates the death penalty. Under the last Labour government, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office campaigned to persuade other countries to abolish capital punishment; the FCO also set up a committee, which I sat on for a couple of years, to look at ways of promoting free expression around the world.

A commitment to human rights and equality is what being British means to me. I'm thrilled that I live in a society where gay people are able to celebrate their love for each other in civil partnerships, and I hope one day soon they'll be free to marry. I believe civil partnerships should be open to heterosexuals – a lot of us aren't keen on marriage – but at least we've got rid of the shame that used to attach to having sex outside marriage. And women in this country don't have to continue with an unwanted pregnancy or risk illegal abortions, as they do in Poland and Chile.

None of this would have happened without a successful challenge to the influence of religion, and one of the things I cherish most about the UK is that it's a (mostly) secular society. We've still got an established church, which is an anachronism, but most of us don't live in fear of God, hellfire or interference from clerics. One of the principles I'd go to the wall for is secular law, and the protection it offers to women and minorities.

I've never felt nostalgia for George Orwell's England of old maids cycling to Holy Communion in the morning mist, although I can see why it appealed to John Major. I've never voted Conservative and I like this country's modernity, imperfect though it is in some respects. I'm proud that the UK was a prime mover in setting up the International Criminal Court, and that British governments intervened on humanitarian grounds in dreadful conflicts in Sierra Leone and Libya.

I didn't have to give much thought to turning down an MBE, but I'm being driven nuts by interviews with people who've turned out to see an Olympic torch or once shook hands with Princess Anne. I love my country, but I don't need to prove it with flags, uniforms and bunting.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests