Liberals need to reclaim patriotism

On 4th August 2012 I sat, like so many other millions of Brits, and watched our country’s achieve its best ever athletic session of a summer Olympic Games as Great Britain won three gold medals in the space of an hour to make a total of six gold medals that day, soon dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ by the press.

While the run up to the games was marred by our country’s somewhat infamous national pessimism of such events such doubts were soon cast away in favour of awe at the game’s show-stopping opening ceremony. From Shakespeare to the internet, from rolling hills to the industrial revolution, the ceremony traced the forging of our nation and the achievements of its people from our turbulent past to our modern future – a story of our patriotism.

But now that patriotism is shifting.

Since the EU referendum, the takeover of the Conservative government by the Brexit wing of the party has spread party policy into what is seen by many as traditionally UKIP territory. The insistence that British firms make lists of their foreign workers, the signalling that international students are no longer welcome to study here, foreign born doctors at risk of no longer be able to find work by the end of this parliament, has begun to narrow the British mind-set and given licence to many that its now acceptable to demonise migrants and refugees. Nationalism, the bastard-child of patriotism, is now rearing its ugly head.

Liberals have often dismissed the importance of patriotism and have felt it belongs in the territory of the Right, but that is to make the mistake that both patriotism and nationalism are the same. While patriotism is a pride in one’s own nation and its achievements, nationalism promotes that pride as superiority over others. As centre parties have failed to champion the former, many other and more extreme parties have championed the latter. If you leave a person in a political desert with no water, they will drink the sand.

If we, as liberals, are to tackle nationalism then we need to provide a credible alternative to it. We need to promote a patriotism based on the unifying, multicultural Olympic spirit that brought the nation together on that August evening four years ago, where a person’s hard work, dedication and passion are what counts, rather than their passport. Where a person is celebrated for their achievements rather than judged on the country of their birth.

It will be difficult, but it is necessary. I am proud to be British not just because of where we have come from but for the potential of what we can become – an open, tolerant and united society. Let’s make sure we have a Britain we can be proud of.

* Ian Thomas is the pseudonym for a party member. His identity is known to the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.

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  • Conor McGovern 25th Oct '16 - 12:20pm

    I think part of the block to our support amongst the public is this perceived lack of patriotism. We need to reclaim it from the xenophobes; that doesn’t mean reducing ourselves to EU fanatics. It means having a bold vision for the present day – of Britain as an open, global trading island nation, with science and green investment to back it up.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Oct '16 - 1:56pm

    The party needs to be patriotic without adopting “my country right or wrong”. I think I’ve been very patriotic recently because I’ve been arguing the case to Europeans and sometimes even British people why we shouldn’t get punished for brexit and how it is also against Europe’s interests. I haven’t heard enough of this from others, which is why I didn’t even offer verbal support to the party in the Witney by-election.

    You can believe in things such as reparations for slavery and colonialism, overseas aid, apologies for the way we treated gay people in the past, without seeming unpatriotic if you defend the country, sometimes passionately, in other areas.

  • Paul Pettinger 25th Oct '16 - 1:56pm

    Like the Canadian Liberals have helped forge a Canadian identity, so we should try to define what it is to be British.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Oct '16 - 2:39pm

    A very good article , Alex , but I believe many more Liberals and Liberal Democrats are patriotic, I am very , more than most !

    It is very often those of us of part immigrant origin who are so patriotic, because we know the truth and the contrasts.I was born and bred in Britain with an Italian father who told me what he experienced in the Italy of Mussolini. He was in the Mussolini Youth, every young teenager was, he in fact had his local grouping inspected by IL Duce, the very man in person ! But my father knew both sides.He meanwhile saw partisans who had been executed strung up in the streets as an example. He went on to assist them , though too young to join. After the war he enlisted in the British military police stationed in Trieste, his city. Later on he settled here.

    I know of the reality of this and other countries. It makes me all the more patriotic. We are a cradle for liberty and democracy . And both are the very basis of our party , the Liberal Democrats. Liberal internationalism is the antithesis of xenophobic nationalism. But Liberal patriotism has much in common with the former and nothing with the latter.We must be Liberal Democrat Patriots. Or we are as of nothing !

  • It pretty difficult to present an image of patriotism when fundamentally a lot of liberals believe in internationalism above the nation state and in some case that the very idea of nationalism is automatically bad.

  • Dr Samuel Johnson Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

    “It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief. But he sounds no alarm, when there is no enemy; he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himself. The patriotism, therefore, may be justly doubted of him, who professes to be disturbed by incredibilities…”

  • Nick Collins 25th Oct '16 - 4:26pm

    But there is more than one kind of patriotism.

    At one end of the continuum is “my country right or wrong, my country”. At the other is “my land is no land if the people thereof walk not in the paths of liberty and justice”. I’d like to think that most LibDems would place themselves nearer to the second than to the first.

  • Don’t forget the dark satanic mills in England’s green and pleasant land…………………. Donald Trump claims to be patriotic…… tho’ he’s not especially popular in the land of his mother’s birth.

    PS. It was Yorkshire not England wot got the most medals in 2012.

  • Patriotism, perhaps love of country(?) and willingness to make sacrifice for it(?)
    Doesn’t that describe the Liberal Democrat decision to go into coalition in the National interest and, in so doing, sacrificed political popularity? (yes I know there are a lot more reasons than that but..) Only yesterday a Tory friend said that we deserved our Witney result because of our decision in 2010.

  • In my experience those that talk most about ‘Patriotism’ are those who go to extreme lengths to avoid their ‘moral’ tax burden and pay instead a minimal ‘barely legal’ amount. They are those who milk the system for ‘subsidies’; who sell-off public utilities at ‘fire-sale’ prices and worship ‘cronyism’. They are those who pay minimal wages, etc., etc.

    I believe we should stay well clear of ‘patriotism’ ….As David Raw says, “Johnson (the good one) had it about right….

  • I would think that to be patriotic would be to show pride in the “Good” that this country has achieved, but also (unlike “Nationalists”) to voice loudly concern in it’s failures.

  • I would think it’s being honest and not acting superior.

  • I think too many Lib Dems would nod along with this article:

    for the party ever to be able to sell itself as patriotic.

  • those who go to extreme lengths to avoid their ‘moral’ tax burden and pay instead a minimal ‘barely legal’ amount

    Surely the amount of tax one is morally bound to pay is exactly that amount which is required by the tax code: not more, no less.

    After all no one is morally required to so order their affairs in order that their tax burden is the maximum it could possibly be, are they?

  • Richard Underhill 26th Oct '16 - 3:11pm

    After a Formula 1 race they play the national anthem of the winning driver, often a Brit such as Lewis Hamilton, previously other Brits. I like that, as with Andy Murray winning Olympic gold in the mens’ singles in London and Rio, but the UK is essentially federal, except for England, which is being devolved in weird ways at the moment. Such patriotism does not include a return to the days of Empire, which was achieved partly by superiority in armaments.

  • Dav 26th Oct ’16 – 2:31pm…..So you support ‘sweetheart’ deals with multi-nationals; offshore havens for transactions designed exclusively to avoid UK tax, etc…
    IMO there is a ‘moral’ duty to pay tax on profits rather than using ‘aggressive tax avoidance’ as the tax ‘avoided’ must be made up by others….

    I have no legal obligation to assist, or even report, a frightened child being bundled into a car but few would accept that as an excuse for doing nothing…

  • So you support ‘sweetheart’ deals with multi-nationals; offshore havens for transactions designed exclusively to avoid UK tax

    I support paying exactly the amount of tax that you are legally required to pay, and if that’s not enough, I support the government changing it by changing the law (the same law which applies to everybody).

    I don’t think that’s an outlandish position.

    I have no legal obligation to assist, or even report, a frightened child being bundled into a car but few would accept that as an excuse for doing nothing

    The situations are hardly comparable.

  • In England there are two nations. Which one do you love?

  • Katharine Pindar 27th Oct '16 - 12:33am

    The especial delight of the 2012 Olympics to me was that it was ‘Team GB’ that was winning all those medals. We don’t often get to celebrate Great Britain, and personally I call myself English before British, but I do care about this association of nations and want it to continue (so for instance one can still feel pride in Andy Murray!). It is threatened now by England and Wales people having a majority for Brexit, and Scotland and Northern Ireland a majority of Remainers. This seems to me one of the first reasons to oppose Brexit, and I hope that this winter the support for Brexit diminishes to the extent that Article 50 can be delayed to allow British people another vote.

  • Victoria Yardley 27th Oct '16 - 1:54am

    I agree that we need to present a positive alternative that will both capture the public patriotic imagination and counter the toxic nationalism that seems to be dominating the discourse at the moment, but the question is what does a liberal patriotism look like? One idea that has been helpful to me in thinking about this is the “Pimlico patriotism” of G K Chesterton (quotation from Chapter 5 of Orthodoxy,

    “Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing — say Pimlico. [which was a slum at the time of writing]… It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: … If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. ”

    I think part of the reason why many of us are so angry at current political and social developments is because we do love our country (arbitrarily, as it may be, because it is *ours*) and therefore we want it to be better and are disappointed and frustrated when it doesn’t live up to our ideal of how we would like it to be – open, tolerant, united, for example. This is also a form of patriotism, although perhaps a less obvious one.

    Perhaps some foundational aspects of a postive patriotism would be gratitude for having been born in a country with a relatively high quality of life, rather than a sense of entitlement or superiority with respect to other countries, and, as Geoffrey Payne and Eddie Sammon discuss above, to celebrate the positive aspects of our history and culture – as well as the positive aspects of those of other countries too – and apologise for and learn from the negative ones.

  • Hitler with the 1936 Olympics made the Olympics the great show it is today.
    In later years the East Germans were great Olympic medal winners.
    I am not sure the Olympics should be a measure of patriotism. Maybe it should be a sporting event for those who love sports.

  • Dav 26th Oct ’16 – 4:44pm………….The situations are hardly comparable…..

    I note “Flexible” morals are not confined to the Conservative/Labour parties….

  • Richard Underhill 27th Oct '16 - 9:05am

    In the 1936 Olympics a black American won 4 gold medals in track and field
    According to researches into the archives by Penelope Keith the BBC sent a Jewish sportsman to commentate on the athletics, but as an individual, without BBC accreditation. He was courageous, they were not. He was a top athlete and a top commentator.

  • For the first time in the history of the modern Olympic Games, people in the United States and Europe called for a boycott of the 1936 Olympics because of what would later become known as human rights abuses. Although the movement ultimately failed, it set an important precedent for future Olympic boycott campaigns (such as those in 2008 and 2014).
    Once the boycott movement narrowly failed, Germany had its propaganda coup: the 49 nations who sent teams to the Games legitimized the Hitler regime both in the eyes of the world and of German domestic audiences. The dazzling spectacle and hospitality offered in Berlin awed visiting athletes and spectators alike and sent them home with warm impressions of the host country.

  • Daniel Walker 27th Oct '16 - 5:04pm

    @Eddie Sammon The party needs to be patriotic without adopting “my country right or wrong”

    I could go for the rebuttal by Senator Carl Schurz(bottom of the main section in the link), which is:

    “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

  • Simon Banks 3rd Nov '16 - 9:08pm

    Patriotism is caring about the condition of your country and being willing to some extent to put it before personal advantage. However, a Liberal will rightly be reluctant to give his/her own country’s interests automatic priority over others. For example, we may well oppose something which would make the UK richer at the expense of poorer countries. Patriotism is also about recognising emotional and cultural ties – but that for me is complicated and of course it’s also complicated for someone of mixed origins or born in country A of parents from country B. For me, I can recognise I’m English – or Anglo-Welsh – but I don’t feel a stronger connection to Scotland than to Ireland and historically and culturally this makes sense. I’m also of course European.

    I am delighted non-racist football fans have reclaimed the Cross of St George, the flag of Parliamentary armies of the Civil War, from the racists. I don’t, though, feel any obligation to cheer a British athlete against, say, Kenyan and Finnish ones. Does that make me a little bit unpatriotic?

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