Nationalism: Nasty or Nice?

I’ve been mulling this post over for some time. I’ve been editing and re-editing, trying to put over what I have in my head. I may upset some readers. If that is the case, so be it. Sometimes, you have to say what you have to say.

It can’t have escaped attention—here in the UK, particularly—that a certain nationalist political party is beginning to make some headway in gaining parliamentary seats.

Let’s leave to one side the fact that both of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s seats have been gained by the sitting Conservative MP defecting to them, forcing a by-election, and being re-elected. Let’s also leave to one side the mainstream media’s fawning obsession with UKIP, because the blame for the party’s rise can be laid squarely at their feet, in my opinion.

A general disquiet and discontent about our elected representatives has been brewing since the global financial collapse of 2008, and the Westminster expenses scandal of 2010. I’m surprised it took so long, but the population in general has slowly woken up to the fact that MPs are out of touch with the real world, the world in which the rest of us live and work. While it’s always been an undercurrent—probably always has been, and probably always will be—the rise of UKIP has been mirroring a general feeling that someone or something else is to blame for all our ills.

UKIP began as a one trick party, its sole reason for existence was to push for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. It gained some Euro MPs, a few English councillors, but never made much headway in parliamentary elections. Now it’s making a lot of noise, and has somehow transmogrified into a more acceptable version of the British National Party and English Defence League.

Instead of blaming the finance industry, which was truly the chief architect of our current financial woes, and which seems not to have learned from its mistakes at all, far more base instincts are being called upon. Immigrants, foreigners, the “others”—they are the ones we should, apparently be blaming for everything that’s wrong with our world.

There is now a lot of hand-wringing in Westminster, and the main parties have all lurched further to the right wing. They’ve done this in some mistaken belief they must be seen to be doing something about the root of all our ills. We are now in danger of losing sight of reality, as those who harbour frankly outright fascist views on anyone who isn’t “indigenous British” suddenly find they are being listened to by the Westminster elite.

The joke is UKIP is being put forward as a party that is different to the old guard. The fact that is it anything but seems to be completely ignored. The established parties, scared that their relevance is beginning to wane, are scrambling to out-UKIP UKIP, and anyone who has a clear head can only shake it in despair.

Who speaks for me? Who speaks for what may well be the vast majority of the population of this country? Right now, no-one. I would like to believe that a majority of the population in this country are like me. I don’t care about immigration, never have. I don’t think the EU is a monster we have to escape from. I think we have a moral duty to look after the disabled, the sick, the elderly, and I think we should encourage those who can afford it to pay more tax so we can rebuild the society our grandparents and great-grandparents forged after the Second World War.

Instead, we seem to be slipping back to the 1930s or earlier. Those who lurked in the shadows now feel they can come out and spout their hideous views without sanction. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing Nigel Farage, UKIP’s main spokeshole and leader, grinning out.

Tied to the renewed vigour of blatant racism seems to be a growth in the veneration of national symbols—not just flags, but also things like the poppy. Every November we are encouraged to support the Poppy Appeal, and to observe the act of remembrance, respecting the dead of many conflicts since the armistice of 1918. Somehow, since western powers bombed and invaded numerous Middle Eastern countries on some spurious pretext of fighting “wars on terror”, this annual act of remembrance has been co-opted into some quasi-religious festival of honour. To be seen in public without wearing a poppy is seen as something sacrilegious. Those who might prefer not to buy into poppy worship are vilified, while politicians and public figures try to out-poppy each other to show how well they remember the fallen. It’s become a paper flower circus.

The same thing is happening with the English flag—the red cross on a white background, the cross of St George. We have become accustomed to seeing these flags sprouting on cars, vans and houses during sporting events where the national teams are playing. You can probably picture the kind of person who happily proclaims their nationality by such displays. These are the same kind of person which support the likes of the English Defence League, the British National Party, Britain First, and UKIP.

I can’t help thinking these nationalistic attitudes can only lead us backwards, not forwards. As a nation, we seem to want to draw into ourselves, pull up the drawbridge and to hell with anything “other”. We want to blame everyone else for our problems.

I am happy to be proud of my country. I am British first, English second, and a European third. One of my grandfathers was from the Republic of Ireland, an immigrant who came to the UK to work and make a better life for himself. It seems likely that the other side of my family may have arrived from France several hundred years ago. I have no issue with people of other nationalities arriving here to do the same. I am proud of what my country has done, what its inventors, scientists and artists have created. There is nothing wrong with pride in where you live.

When you stop being parochial, you realise we all, whatever our colour or creed, live on a small rock, orbiting an unremarkable star. I wish we could all just get over our petty obsessions with race, colour, religion, borders and lusting after natural resources and just live happily together. Regrettably, it seems it will be some time yet before human beings learn to do that, if we ever do.

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