Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Flag In Every Garden

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer (that's Finance Minister, to those who live under a less Harry Potter-esque constitution) and Tony Blair's eternal understudy, has made himself far more conspicuous in a string of recent speeches, leading to speculations that he and Blair are running a 'dual premiership'.

In January, Brown headlined the annual conference of the left-leaning Fabian Society to speak on the conference theme, The Future of Britishness. In his keynote speech, Brown called for a more developed and inclusive sense of Britishness based on a 'golden thread' of the pursuit of liberty which, he said, had run through British history since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

For a Fabian audience at least, Brown's new British patriotism was to be based on principles of 'fairness' and the memory of 'countless strands of common, continuing endeavour in our villages, towns, and cities' such as the trade unions, friendly societies, and voluntary associations from which - needless to say - the Fabians themselves originated.

Brown also called for 'a modern national community service' where young people would undertake voluntary work during their gap years in return for help with their university tuition fees, and concluded with a US-influenced passage emphasising the absence of any public national celebration of Britishness:

'What is the British equivalent of the US 4th of July, or even the French 14th of July for that matter? What I mean is: what is our equivalent for a national celebration of who we are and what we stand for? And what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in every garden? In recent years we have had magnificent celebrations of VE Day, the Jubilee and, last year, Trafalgar Day.

Perhaps Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are the nearest we have come to a British day that is – in every corner of our country – commemorative, unifying, and an expression of British ideas of standing firm in the world in the name of liberty, responsibility and fairness?

After all, royal jubilees don't come round that often, and Brown's new Britons have a lot of work to be getting on with, like reclaiming the Union Jack. Obligingly, Brown posed in front of the same throughout his speech - leaving a somewhat jarring impression on the mind of Timothy Garton Ash.

Part 2!


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