Christ Church’s JCR recently passed a motion to fly the St George’s flag on campus during the upcoming World Cup, a move which was met with some criticism regarding the flag’s unfortunate ties to the EDL. With more abstentions than objections, this motion probably isn’t the major controversy that some might make it out to be. It does, however, raise interesting questions about how we as a country treat our national flag, particularly in the wake of recent comments by the national lead of football policing.
Deputy Chief Constable Roberts described the flying of the English flag after matches abroad as “almost imperialistic”, urging supporters to refrain from waving it or even taking the flag with them. It’s hard to deny that we all need to be on our guard against rabid nationalism, particularly in the current geopolitical climate, but is this not a step too far?
It isn’t a sin to be proud of your country. National pride and extreme nationalism are not synonymous, and despite our chequered history, England has plenty to be proud of. We should be proud of the NHS, and its hardworking staff. Over the centuries we’ve made, and are still making, amazing contributions to the sciences and the arts.
We established one of earliest and longest-lasting parliamentary democracies in the world. Our educational institutes are top notch, and our queuing is second to none. It would be childishly ignorant to close our eyes to the mistakes (and yes, deliberate atrocities) that our past holds; it’s equally immature to act as though the skeletons in our closet make our country incapable of ever doing right again, or invalidate all our accomplishments. Of course we should never forget that we built on the backs of others.
However, if we’re honest, imperialism isn’t actually the reason why we’re being told not to fly the St George’s Cross. Even the briefest read of the Deputy Chief’s comments will reveal that the aim is really to prevent antagonism between football fans following the fights at Marseilles two years ago. His main concern is avoiding harm to British citizens: unless Christ Church is planning a massive Anglo-Russian brawl that they’ve not told us about, they’re probably safe from the Deputy Chief’s ire.
Further, his comments were largely centred around showing respect for other countries when visiting, and avoiding behaviour “that might not be well-received locally and provoke a hostile response”. It’s a perfectly reasonable request, but it’s only relevant under a very specific set of circumstances. Provided that we’re not headed for a hard Oxit in the near future, Christ Church is and will remain an English college on English soil. What’s imperialistic about letting them show their support for the country’s football team?
Imperialism aside, Christ Church students also jokingly raised concerns at the meeting that flying the St George’s flag could come across as “a little bit EDL-y”. These concerns aren’t unfounded – back in 2012, the think tank British Future found that nearly a quarter of England’s people associated the flag with racism. The rampant nationalism and bigotry of factions like the EDL is slowly turning the flag into a symbol for their ignorance, and it’s hard to ignore those associations once made. It’s in the past – but the fight for St George’s Cross isn’t over yet. They can’t take the flag unless we let them.
We should fly the flag over what we really have to be proud of – show the world that the EDL doesn’t represent what we as a nation stand for. The flag is ours, not the EDL’s, and we can’t just roll over and let them drape their hatred in it. It’s perfectly possible to be patriotic without swearing blind, bloody-minded and bigoted devotion to your country: let’s not stand in the way of people proving that. Let the St George’s Cross fly over an atmosphere of friendly competition and national pride again.
Good for you, Christ Church – and God save Gareth Southgate.