The sight of the flags (there were several in short distance of each other) evoked a feeling of mild repulsion in me. "Mild repulsion" is quite a strong reaction. Why? Well, I'm afraid I just don't believe someone goes to the length and expense of putting up a 15 foot permanent flagpole in their garden unless they want to send out a very deliberate message. It's not, in my opinion, and in this context, a neutral message. It makes me think, rightly or wrongly that a xenophobe or racist lives in the house.
|Union Jack Flying Outside Bungalow|
What's Wrong with Our Flag?
Absolutely nothing, per se. It's an attractive, eye-catching design. Subjectively it's much more pleasant than say Albania's, which is quite rubbish. The colours clash on that one. The Union Jack looks great on British Airways tail-fins. It looks lovely emblazoned on the Team GB Olympic uniform. It looks even better on Tom Daley's trunks. Yes, there's a mixed colonial past associated with it, which I understand evokes reactions, but not having experienced this time myself that aspect is pretty much absent for me. It's more recent general associations for me are connected to "Cool Britannia".
But what matters is the context. A Union Jack displayed on top of a building in Whitehall is what you expect and I've absolutely no issue with it. During the Diamond Jubilee, I put up Union Jack bunting outside my home: I remember thinking that the village decked out like this was a fun, joyful display of celebration. Likewise, a St George's flag flying on the church in the village is part of our landscape and tradition. When you see a car bedecked in them with aggressive, chanting football fans inside the flag carries a different meaning. It's not a simple case of I hate the flag: it's about the context and the intent of the display.
|Jubilee Bunting. Yes, I was one of THOSE people|
We are not a country, like say Switzerland, Denmark or Sweden, where national flags are to be seen routinely all over the country on private properties. Because there are so many of them there you don't tend to make any sort of judgement about the people flying them. It's part of the national culture. Here they are a rarity. I just cannot imagine any middle of the road person who realises the benefits that immigration brings with it hoisting a bloody great Union Jack up in their front garden. That covers Labour supporters, Tory supporters and people of all social backgrounds.
I was born in this country, I am British, I am white, I am blond haired and blue eyed. My father served 23 years in the army and fought in 3 armed conflicts. My brother was in the army. My grandfather served in the Boer War, First World War, and in the home guard during the Second World War. Yet I found these flags outside people's houses mildly threatening and mildly aggressive. They say to me "we don't want anyone who's not like us around here". It makes me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
That's my view. I might be right about the flag fliers' motives or I might be wrong, but I know I'm not alone in it. The National Front and the BNP have permanently sullied the flag of this country and it's a rare occasion (such as the Diamond Jubilee or on top of a government building) when it carries neutral associations. Anyone growing up in the 70s remembers the chant "There ain't no black in the Union Jack". It's the far right that has created this situation, not me.
UKIP Pile On
I therefore tweeted something this weekend along the lines of "when I see a Union Jack outside a house, I wonder if it's UKIP or BNP who lives there".
Any regular user of Twitter knows that there's a body of UKIP fanatics who have a permanent search out against their beloved party, as well as any mention of Nigel Führage's name. Within moments a conversation I was having with a friend was interrupted and I was hit with this charming invitation to his 1200 followers to send me abuse:
True to form, and confirming to me in large part everything I'd assumed about the type of people who do put these flag poles up in their gardens, I was called "scum", told that I was "everything that's wrong with this country", "obv. NOT British", that if I object to flying my own flag I should "go home"; and if I don't like it it, I knew "where the exit is" etc.
One guy said he flew the Union Jack to show his support for a "relative" serving his country. Funny enough, my Father, (a Tory) who actually fought for this country and risked his life, didn't feel the need to shove a bloody great flag pole up in our front garden. I'm actually sure would have found it unbearably crass. Likewise, he was the last person to become a fascist about people wearing or not wearing poppies around Remembrance Sunday.
Nevertheless, despite my army background, I was now a traitor who should leave the country for making a judgement about a Union Jack outside a bungalow.
Am I a snob for tweeting what I did? I don't think there's any inherent link between someone's social background, and whether they want to display the British or English flag outside their house. There are stacks of both working and middle-class people who would agree that nationalism has been a negative force in recent history. This is about the negative connotations around national symbols that has been created by the far right. It has absolutely nothing to do with class. It has nothing to do with being part of a "metropolitan elite" or anything else. It's about seeing a symbol and realising that context colours our reaction to it and makes us reach judgements.
These people have a perfect right to display the Union Jack in their front garden: I also have a perfect right to feel uncomfortable and to reach negative judgements about them. I'll continue to do so.
* I know that technically it's a Union Flag, not a Union Jack. But whatevs, it's what everyone calls it and knows it as. It sounds tediously pretentious to call it anything other than the Union Jack in normal speech. So there.