One of the arguments used by people on the right of the political spectrum in order to defend their position is that they are ‘patriotic’ and that in contrast the left are ‘unpatriotic’. We will be seeing a lot of this over the next few weeks as Theresa May, in her refusal to debate her political opponents, furiously spews lies about how Jeremy Corbyn wants to subvert the will of the British people on Brexit, while defending her record with meaningless clichés. While not all right wing people use this absolute dreg of an argument, it is undeniably a prevalent one. It is also worth noting here that I don’t consider myself particularly patriotic, as I see no reason not to respect and support a variety of different cultures. As I result, I will not be painting an image of the left as the true defenders of patriotism. If you are left wing, consider yourself patriotic or don’t, as long as it doesn’t devolve into blind violence or aggression, It really doesn’t bother me.
What I will be arguing against in this blog post are the ideas that the right are the defenders of patriotism, that they have respect for ‘British values’. and that it is somehow unpatriotic to take action that improves your lives or conditions. A recent example of this would be Theresa Mays reaction to the anti-trump protests. After she was in America pandering to a vicious right wing demagogue, Theresa May had the gall to accuse her protests of not supporting our ‘special relationship’. Another example is when Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street and announced she was calling a general election not so we will judge her on her flag waving and not her actual handling of Brexit, but in the ‘national interest’. Meanwhile, the right wing press issue copious amounts of bullshit about how the left are dangerous for this country.
In terms of British values it is true that a large proportion of right wing people would like to see the monarchy and the House of Lords remain powerful institutions in our society. However this can hardly be seen as patriotism. There is nothing patriotic in actively disliking the idea of Britain becoming a properly democratic republic. In fact, supporting then upholding of anti-democratic powers and privileges held by a family of German and Greek origin can actually be seen as less patriotic than wanting the monarchy abolished! Being opposed to the ideas of pro-democracy activists who want to abolish the monarchy, saving the country millions in tax dollars (god knows right wing people are always banging on about lower taxes!) is an extremely reactionary and contradictory position to take, which relies on an extremely vague definition of ‘British values’.
Another classic point that the right like to raise when defending their patriotism is the right are far more supportive of British wars. Accusations of unpatriotic have been made against objectors throughout history. Quakers and Peace activists have been vilified. Throughout World War One and World War Two, people that objected to the bloodshed were at best imprisoned. Response to war always plays an important part in our elections: Most recently one of the arguments made against Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister is that he used to be chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, and if elected would risk our security by refusing to launch a nuclear bomb. Indeed, anti-war protests at the biggest demonstration in British history, those protesting the 2003 Iraq, were maligned and even dismissed as pro – Saddam Hussein by Tony Blair.
On wages and working conditions, right wing politicians will tell you that they are standing up for British workers, while actively making life worse for them. It is difficult to see how maintaining stagnant wages, burdening students entering the job market and clamping down on workers’ rights to strike can even be seen a remotely patriotic. The right wing critic of trade unionism will defend their malice towards workers by claiming that strikers are ‘holding the country to ransom’ however if we pick this apart, this is an extremely one sided view to take. Isn’t it even fairer to say that bosses are holding the country to ransom when they undermine wages and working conditions to such an extent that people refuse to work? Even if you don’t accept that strikes are an effective tactic in improving wages and working conditions, you at least have to accept that mistreatment towards workers is about the farthest away it is possible to get from loving your people.
Right wing elements in British society have a long history of being anti-patriotic. Inspired by the rise of fascism in the 1930s, dozens of Tory politicians and other establishment figures became involved in unpatriotic and anti-Semitic activities. Whilst the Tory Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin was busy appeasing Nazi Germany, scores of Tory’s joined secretive far right organisations such as the pro-Nazi Anglo-German Link and the disgustingly anti-Semitic (and largely forgotten) Right Club, which had stated the purpose of ridding the Tory Party of Jewish Influence. One extremely notable member of the Right Club was Tory turncoat Lord Sempill who spent the 1920s and 1930s as a paid spy for Japan and continued to aid the Japanese even after Britain and Japan were at war. Although Winston Churchill was obviously one of the exceptions to this rise in Nazi sympathising in the Tory Party, he undeniably used his influence to protect Semphill from being exposed as the traitor he certainly was. The Tory’s were not alone in embracing fascism in the 1930s, many Labour MPs defected to join Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists, but the Labour Party themselves never openly embraced fascism to the same extent as the Tory’s.
One of the core tactics of the Thatcher regime was the divide and rule strategy, whereby sections of society were set against each other in order that they didn’t stand together against the common enemy: the profoundly unpatriotic Tory Party. The treatment of Industrial workers during this time period was indicative of this divide and rule strategy. To use terms such as ‘the enemy within’ to describe the hard working industrial workers who had provided the backbone of Britain’s prosperity from the industrial revolution onwards, was an absolutely clear demonstration that Tory interests were at odds with the interests of vast swathes of the British population. Countless core services that were built up and the expense of the British taxpayer were sold off for a pittance, often to foreign buyers. Look for example at the eight nuclear facilities that were privatised for the pitifully small fee of £2.1 billion in 1995. These taxpayer funded facilities eventually fell into the hands of French company EDF. The same can be said for German ownership on the railway companies, France’s ownership of the main water suppliers, India’s ownership of steel companies, Spans ownership of Britain’s biggest airports, to Bermuda’s ownership of HMRC Tax offices. This entire ideology is extremely unpatriotic. Small state Conservativism is in affect a policy of destroying the British state from within, in order to distribute power and wealth to the few, whether they are British or not.
Another area in which the right are extremely unpatriotic is tax dodging. A great number of extremely wealthy right wing people do everything they can to minimise the social contribution they should make through taxation. There are so called left wing people who dodge tax as well like Ken Livingstone, but the right win g can count many more serial tax dodgers among their numbers. The Tory Party played an instrumental role in creating this tax dodging bonanza by abolishing capital controls in the 1980s. This is no surprise either. The Tory’s have gathered millions of pounds in donations from serial tax dodgers such a Michael Ashcroft, Phillip Green and George Robinson. Former PM David Cameron inherited a fortune from his father’s leeching tax dodging empire. Even celebrity Tory supporter Gary Barlow is a blatant Tax dodger. If there is any talk of introducing regulation to stop the super-rich, they immediately threaten to leave the country! Recall the Tory accusation that striking workers are ‘holding the country to ransom’, how exactly is threatening to up sticks and leave when you are asked to pay your fair share not a much more extreme example of holding people to ransom? Tax dodging is nothing but the complete refusal to contribute to your country and its people, motivated by nothing but pure self-interest.
When the London Olympics happened in 2012 the entire country was wrapped up in a hysterical fit on nationalistic flag waving. For a few weeks we could forget about the austerity and surveillance state measures being implemented by the Tory/ Lib Dem coalition. That said, some people were engaging in nationalism of a very different sort. Take former Tory MP’s Aidan Burleys comments about the Olympic opening ceremony. He hated it because it celebrated the NHS and Multiculturalism, which like it or not are now fundamental parts of British life. Take the Daily Mails racist rant about mixed race families and their accusations that several of Britain’s most successful Olympic athletes (Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah etc.) shouldn’t be considered British at all because they happened to be born abroad. Whilst the majority of people celebrated the achievements of our athletes, the right wing continued to churn out their unpatriotic nonsense.
Since the 2008 recession happened, the right wing press have been scrambling around desperately in order to find a way to blame ordinary working people. The Daily Telegraph wrote a pitifully economically inept article in which it tried to argue that it was ordinary people not the neoliberal deregulation of the banks that caused the recession, arguing that British workers lack rigor and seriousness. According to Telegraph the reason that Britain is going through a prolonged recession has nothing to do with the type of wealthy capitalist billionaire who holds the country to ransom if they don’t get everything their way, it is due to British people being somehow less likely to do their jobs properly than someone in another country!
A similar point was made in the book Britannia unchained by Tory MPs Pritti Pattel, Kwasi Kwarteng, Chris Skidmore, Elizabeth Truss and Dominic Raab. Here they make the point that because British people are so lazy, this means that wages must be slashed, workers’ rights must be done away with and unions destroyed in order to increase productivity. The problem is that the whole argument is based upon lies, the average full time worker in the UK works longer hours than the average worker anywhere else in the EU except Austria and Greece, and the average age of retirement in the UK is one of the highest in the OECD. To make up lies and disparage workers as inherently lazy just so you can bombard them with yet more cuts to their social security, is a stunningly clear case of yet more unpatriotic behaviour from the right.
It is difficult to see how these people manage to hate so much about Britain and engage in such unpatriotic behaviour, yet continue to claim to be patriots. I believe the answer lies in the fact that they insulate themselves in a world of wealth and privilege. A world where the barmy neoliberal ideology of ‘greed is a virtue’ is gospel. A world where the so called free market is unquestionable and where anyone who opposes it is the ‘enemy’. A world where greed worshiping has supremacy over all other ideals, even patriotism.