Dr Johnson said that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” and wasn’t he right? What we now less elegantly call the “flag-shaggers” are all over the place; demanding that we all lie about the true state of affairs because to tell the truth is treason.
The latest was defence secretary Grant Shapps, who has given a keynote speech claiming that he and the government are patriots and everyone else is not.
Or to be precise, “Some people, especially on the left, have a tendency to talk Britain down. They believe Britain can no longer have the power to influence world events. That we should somehow shrink into ourselves and ignore what’s happening beyond our shores. I passionately believe these unpatriotic, Britain-belittling doom-mongers are simply wrong.”
Well, it is difficult to know where to start with that. But let’s have a go.
Talking the truth is never talking your country down. The right seems to think that if they wrap themselves in the Union Jack, it means they are patriotic. The rest of us believe that actions speak louder than words.
It was Labour that ordered two new state-of-the-art aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy to project power around the world. It is the Tory government that has run down recruitment so much that all three armed forces are undermanned.
The Navy has so few sailors that it’s mothballing essential ships and selling others off early, so that it can man the few it has left. The submarine service is in an even worse state. The RAF is running out of pilots for the few aircraft it still has and the army seems to be is getting smaller by the day. Our defence is now in the hands of fewer people than at any time since the 1800s.
Then there is the commitment to keep defence spending at 2% of national income and even the aspiration to increase that to 2.5%. How Mr Shapps plans to increase spending by 25% is unclear, but it will mean taking the money from other departments because the government (and the nation) no longer has a magic money tree for stuff like this.
Perhaps the defence secretary is planning to get rid of the the Royal Marines – he says he has asked the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key, to “provide a plan” for their future, which the Marines are indignant about, claiming it means they have been told to “justify their existence”. Why Shapps can’t magically increase their budget by 25% is hard to understand.
What would really help is another 4-6% of GDP. We could easily afford proper Armed Services if we had that much more money. But that is the cost of Brexit, which Grant Shapps supports.
The idea that it is the left that wants the UK “to shrink into ourselves and ignore what’s happening beyond our shores” is pretty rich coming from the Little Englanders who support Brexit. But then they do live in a fantasy world.
For instance, apparently Brexit has made us more powerful, increased our influence and made us an Indo-Pacific power, because we have joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). I am willing to stand corrected, but I think that our contribution to the defence of the Pacific is one patrol ship with a 20mm cannon. Fine men and women no doubt, but the US Pacific fleet or the Chinese Navy could lose a ship like that, and they might not notice for a couple of months.
The Tory party seems to genuinely believe it is patriotic. In fact it seems to think it is the only patriotic political party in the country. The evidence suggests otherwise and saying so is not unpatriotic.