Comedian and host of People’s Vote campaign rallies, MITCH BENN calls on remainers to reclaim the flag in the name of true patriotism.
There’s just over a week to go before I head up to Edinburgh to perform my show Ten Songs To Save The World at the Festival Fringe (Underbelly, 3.45pm, in case you were wondering, and indeed in case you weren’t). This has of course buried me in deadlines, as everything becomes hyper-urgent and last-minute, from booking accommodation (ouch) to ordering merchandise, posting online adverts and, oh yeah, writing the show.
This flurry of panicked activity has coincided with another burst of rallies organised by the good folk at People’s Vote campaign, which they’ve been kind enough to ask me to host. In the last few weeks I’ve presented events at Cheltenham, Sunderland and Derby with one more coming up in Birmingham on Tuesday, which I shall be hosting on my way up to Edinburgh, because why the heck not.
I do enjoy these occasions. Partly it’s the feeling of satisfaction at ‘doing my bit’ for the Remain cause; like, I imagine, many of you I’m uncomfortably aware of the fact that I didn’t really do a damn thing before the 2016 referendum and even if this current effort is doomed to fail I’d at least like to be able to look back and think I pulled my weight this time.
Another benefit is that I get to meet some fascinating people; ‘headlining’ the last rally in Derby we had heavyweights from Labour and the Conservative Party: Margaret Beckett and Michael Heseltine, demonstrating how concern about the Brexit crisis has not so much crossed party lines as erased them altogether.
But most of all what I love about these rallies is the hope. The optimism, the belief that however this current idiocy resolves itself, something good has been born out of it. A new, passionate, unashamed and unapologetic pro-European movement. It’s been joyous getting out in front of those crowds, encouraging them to wave their little plastic flags. Their little plastic UNION flags.
I’ve been thinking about the Union Flag a lot just lately (you’ll forgive me if I observe the slightly twee tradition of only referring to it as the ‘Union Jack’ when it’s flown from a ship, but, as I recounted last week, I’ve had a few naval traditions drummed into me recently) and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time that we Remainers reclaimed that flag, and the whole concept of British patriotism, from the hardcore Brexiteers.
As I pointed out last week in a YouTube video which ‘went viral’ (ie. it got up a lot of people’s noses) not only are the Brexiteers not, as they believe, the only true British patriots, they’re not British patriots at all.
Those who voted Leave in 2016 did so for all sorts of reasons, their own varying definitions of ‘patriotism’ being, I’ve no doubt, uppermost in the minds of many. But those who continue to bang the Brexit drum in 2019, after all we’ve seen, after all we’ve learned, can make no such claim. Whatever fuels Brexit fever today, it is not patriotism.
A patriot wants their country to flourish and thrive; the Brexiteers’ current position, as reaffirmed by opinion poll after opinion poll, is that they don’t give a damn what happens to their country as long as they get what they want.
The economy, the NHS, their own children’s future, all of these can go hang, say the Brexiteers, as long as they get what they want.
Even the Union itself; Scotland can naff off and Northern Ireland too, say the Brexiteers, as long as they get what they want.
And yet still they wrap themselves in the flag – the Union Flag, the flag of the Union – while cheerfully announcing that they don’t care if the Union survives, as long as they get what they want.
That’s not patriotism.
And the Union Flag is not their flag anymore. We Remainers aren’t just reclaiming it; it’s our exclusive property now. You don’t get to wave the flag of a Union you’re in the process of trying to break up in pursuit of your petty fantasies. We’re the patriots now; the ones trying to save the country from this madness.
And yes, I may be of the opinion that Scottish independence is all but inevitable, but if it’s going to happen one day then let’s split amicably and cordially, rather than have the Scots break away for the sake of their own sanity. So if you manage to attend any of the People’s Vote rallies coming up over the summer, or if you make it down to London on October 12 for the march which may be our ‘last stand’ (for now, anyway), wave the old red white and blue next to the ring o’ stars. There is not, nor has there ever been, any contradiction whatsoever between being a proud Brit and a proud European. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
We’re not the anti-democratic ones. We’re not the unpatriotic ones. And we’re not in the minority any more either.