At the moment you can’t walk very far in London without encountering a Union Jack. It’s been, of course, the weekend of the Diamond Jubilee and when you factor in the small matter of the upcoming Olympics, you have an opportunity for outward displays of patriotism that is unlikely to be repeated again in our lifetimes, if ever.
Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about my attitudes to all this. Not so long back seeing such a preponderence of Union Jacks would have brought me out in hives. I associated it with the far right and the sort of patriotic nonsense that I dimly remember from the Silver Jubilee of ‘77. The last time I remember them being employed in such numbers was during that strange week in September 1997 when Britain momentarily took leave of its senses. On that occasion half mast Union Jacks seemed to sprout up in places you’d not normally see them, over civic buildings, schools and libraries.
And now? Perhaps it’s age but the flag doesn’t vex me so much anymore. I’m certainly finding it harder to work myself up into a state of annoyance over the Diamond Jubilee as I have over previous royal anniversaries. It’s difficult to be enraged by any old woman in her 87th year. And even I have had to begrudgingly admit that in her 60 years as head of state Elizabeth Windsor has proved herself to be something of a skilled operator, always carefully positioned above the party political melee, aloof and slightly mysterious. (I doubt whether her son will be so adroit)
But strangely I also feel a teensy bit sentimental the Union Jack now. It’s highly likely that in two years time Scotland will vote for independence, leaving a rump Britain of England and Wales. Britain will live on as a geographical term, but as a political, social and sporting entity it will have had its day. No more Team GB. The flag will surely have to be re-designed too, ommiting the St Andrew cross. What this all means for us is unclear. What I do know is that these days I feel more comfortable calling myself ‘British’ than ‘English’. The word ‘England’ and the St George cross makes me think of fat bald football fans, piss weak lager and unfortunately yes, the idiots from the EDL, where as the multinational British identity feels inclusive, modern, cool even. I suspect that many years from now we’ll look back on the Union Jack and ‘Britain’ in a far more favourably light than could have ever felt possible during the 20th Century. It could well be that the summer of 2012 will be their last hurrah.