Pride and prejudice: The vanishing of patriotism in Britain

Through inspiring engagement with community and country, we can inspire a feeling of civic duty and pride within young people, fostering a greater sense of friendship and trust across Britain

British patriotism: a dying virtue?
Paul Ratner
On 12 January 2012 10:16

2011 was a momentous year for Britain.

On 29th April, the eyes of the world turned to London, as millions of people flocked to Pall Mall, bursting into cheers and hollers as Prince William and his blushing bride posed for that infamous kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in a moment that stretched to eternity.

On 20th October, British forces overseas stood in the shadows as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi met his final date with history, vindicating the courage of the British Prime Minister to call for a No Fly Zone over Libya and hailing a new dawn for a war-torn nation.

As the year drew to a close, while Greece and Italy stared boldly into the economic abyss, the British economy maintained the confidence of the world; and despite measures of austerity which will bring great hardships, we began muddling through with resilience and strength.

And, all the while, thousands of organisers, performers and international athletes and sport stars have been preparing to bring the greatest sporting event the world over to London, the Olympics, in a spectacle that will never be matched in our lifetimes.

And yet, does any of this make us proud to be British? The Telegraph reported that England is the least patriotic nation in Europe, but is it true? Do we feel inspired by our country or do we brush off the successes of our nation as if they were just part of someone else’s day?

“It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during God save the King than of stealing from a poor box.” So George Orwell wrote.

It’s a peculiarity to the British that we have become the post-patriotic nation. We have so much to be proud of and yet we hide our pride. We love the fight but forget the victory.

We look at people who are patriotic as soppy or corny or, worse, downright suspicious. We secretly love our country – its tolerance, its compassion, its history, its humour – but we’re too ashamed to admit it.

Patriotism has become a dirty word, the preserve of the hard right, and we would probably reclaim it, but we fear it might offend.

This ambivalent culture wasn’t an accident. It began with the best of intentions. It was spawned out of a belief that Britain should be a culturally blank canvass; that patriotism is the old fashioned trapping of the Empire and that if we reject a national identity, we will remake the country anew with new cultures living side by side in unity.

And yet, the irony is that national identity – the belief that out of many, we are one – is what unifies us.

The wonderful truth is that although we are a country of all religions, cultures and hues, we are one people and we are one nation, and every citizen is welcome to be part of the Great British story.

The unwavering belief that it doesn’t matter whether you can trace your ancestry back to the times of Sir Walter Raleigh and William Shakespeare or whether, like mine, your forefathers travelled over oceans and continents to reach these shores. If you love Great Britain and cherish its values, then you are British and have every ounce as much of a stake in this nation as any other.

The unswerving conviction that in this country, of all countries, you can celebrate your distinct family history and heritage and we’ll celebrate with you but that your role in society matters, that your contribution matters, that you matter.

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