First of all, let me clarify. I am a self-described patriot. I am proud of my British identity and am not ashamed to state this. The United Kingdom has an incredibly rich and unique history. The invasion by the Normans, the English Civil Wars and standing with our empire against Nazism; take your pick. The values and traditions created by our history; individual liberty, freedom, tolerance and pluralism, just to name a few, are admirable and fundamental to human development. Also, my appreciation is more subtle. The variety of accents and unique slang or stunning architectural achievements are all things I adore equally. While I could go on, I’ll stop here.
While there is a lot to love, there is undoubtedly a wide variety of problems that plague the UK.
There are various institutional issues. The archaic monarchy epitomises the ingrained class structure of the UK. The House of Lords allows for nepotism at the highest levels of government. Furthermore, the Police Force, which has historically been identified as institutionally racist, is now being exposed as institutionally corrupt as well. Of course, no talk of institutional issues within the UK is complete without a mention of the NHS. Whether it’s the slow gutting of funding or creeping privatisation, the NHS is under threat.
There are also social issues too. The major social issue of the UK is the class divide – the oldest tale in the book of the haves and have nots. Our health as a nation is degenerating. On a mental health front, we are increasingly lonely. This was a major issue even before Covid. The Minister of Loneliness has a lot of work to be doing. Our physical health is under attack by obesity in both adults and children. A sugar tax and limitations on junk food adverts are welcomed but are nowhere near enough.
So there are my patriot credentials. There is a lot that I love but I identify a lot of problems. To describe patriotism as blind allegiance is a mischaracterisation. Patriotism is a love of your country and an acceptance that it is flawed. It’s a progressive call to arms, for unity and humility. Patriots should be open to all.
If we are to talk about patriotism, we must also talk about nationalism. Nationalism stands as patriotism’s ugly brother; a reminder of what patriotism can become under the right conditions. Seemingly, patriotism and nationalism share a lot in common but upon closer examination; there are stark differences.
Nationalism is a reactionary force. Often seeking to recreate or bring a nation back to its glorious past. Therefore its is regressive and backwards-looking unlike the forward-looking nature of patriotism. Nationalism will divide the UK into those who are ‘British’, often natives, and those who are ‘others’. The division is unhelpful and creates more problems than it solves.
Asking a nationalist what they like about the UK may confuse you. They are more than willing to provide a very detailed list of in-depth issues and problems. Whether it’s too many foreigners being here, the war against British identity due to multiculturalism or the belief that now white people are discriminated against. This is just a snapshot into the web of nationalist thought. When you ask what a nationalist likes about the UK, they often have little to say. The nationalist analysis of the UK is to identify problems and offer little substance with its solution.
If we look at immigration, the contrast between a patriot and a nationalist is clear. A patriot would view immigration as necessary and beneficial to the country. The contribution made by immigrants in terms of culture and employment is appreciated and celebrated. A nationalist views immigrants as nothing short of invaders. They come ‘ere, take our jobs but also don’t work and claim too many benefits. They don’t integrate and their culture is incompatible with ours. To top it all off, too many of em’ come here.
So how do we make people patriots and not nationalist? Is there a pipeline from patriotism to nationalism that we need to stop? How do we bring nationalists back to patriotism?
Firstly, we need to address the issues that are turning people towards nationalism. There are legitimate concerns over cultural erosion and immigration from many well-meaning people in society. Whether these are major issues is beside the point, the fact that the sentiment exists to such a large extent warrants attention and dealing with it. Major investments in left-behind communities is a good starting point. Creating a community gives people purpose. These communities should be unashamedly British. Hang the flag if needed but remind people that everyone here is just a British as the next.
Tackling grievances head-on is how we can deal with nationalism. Point out that their views and stances are anti-British. When people rail against multiculturalism, remind them that the UK is by definition a bond of four nations and their respective culture included. We also need to avoid jingoism when promoting Britain. We’re not superior or better than any other people or country. We don’t need to prove our worth in war or with violence but by our values and ideals. While HMS Queen Elizabeth is an impressive ship; it is ultimately an instrument of war and will only bring destruction if used as intended.
Ultimately, we need to remind people of the progressive values and virtues that this country is defined by. These values must be kept in mind while we strive to improve this country.