Patriotism – Proud to be British???

Patriotism – Proud to be British???

I am British.

So why do I feel so torn about my heritage, so conflicted?

Am I not proud to be British? To be the descendant of people from a tiny island who went forth to conquer the world and create the greatest Empire the world has ever seen?

At one time the British Empire ruled most of the globe. Our Kings and Queens ruled over the USA, Canada, Indonesia, The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and the Falklands.

We were the supreme world power.

Yet, was this a good thing?

Was this anything to do with my kin?

I think not.

My people did not rule or create an empire. Neither did we benefit.

The empire was created by the establishment – the aristocracy and wealthy traders. They raised armies and navies and went forth to invade, capture and plunder. They set up companies to use indigenous people as cheap labour in order to harvest, mine and manufacture the goods that made them richer.

The wealth poured back from the empire but it did not find its way to the likes of us. We were every bit as abused as those indigenous people abroad.

My people were the poor working people. We were the ones pressganged into the navy, used as cannon fodder in the conquering armies, exploited at home in mines, factories and shipyards.

We lived in poverty and slums while the establishment built great mansions, with fancy carriages, banquets, balls, fine clothes and servants.

The empire was not of our doing, neither was it of benefit to the likes of us. Its foundation was based on racism, arrogance and superiority. It spawned slavery, greed, exploitation and division. It was based on might, force, violence and cruelty. It subjugated and controlled.

Am I supposed to feel proud about this?

No. I refuse.

I refuse to own this empire or take delight in its accomplishments.

But I am proud to be British.

I am proud of the working people who stood up against this establishment and fought for justice and freedom, for rights and fair conditions.

I am proud of the ones who fought for the right to vote, for fair government, fair pay, fair work conditions.

None of it was easily forthcoming.

It took time for men like me to be given the vote. It took even longer for women to be afforded the same.

It took blood and guts.

We formed unions, struck and starved, marched and were massacred, just so that we could be afforded fair pay and good work conditions. We fought for a better, fairer society and it had to be wrested by struggle and loss of life from the hands of the establishment.

So I am proud of those brave women and men and the sacrifices they made. I’m proud to be descended from them.

I look around at this society we have fought for. It is still not as good as it should be. There is still injustice and gross inequality, exploitation and slavery. I look at the wealthy becoming wealthier while people like me slave on zero-hours contracts for poverty wages.

There is still much that needs addressing.

So when it comes to patriotism I think it’s a con-trick.

I’m not going to wave my flag for the Queen or celebrate battles and empire.

I will stand up for the Diggers, for the Chartists and the victims of Peterloo.

They make me proud to be British.

22 thoughts on “Patriotism – Proud to be British???

  1. Something I too struggle with – my father’s side are Border Scots, and they owe little by way of allegiance either to Eng or Scot.
    What passes for Eng at the moment is appalling and sentimental whimsy. And such a legacy of abuse, as you point out.

  2. “people like me slave on zero hours contracts for poverty wages” – who are you kidding? You have never known poverty.

    1. Of course we have known poverty Bede. We brought up our kids on free school meals. We lived in London for three years on ridiculously low wages.
      I certainly don’t live in poverty now – but only because I was promoted into a good position.
      But when I was referring to people like me I was referring to a class of people from my background.

      1. We couldn’t afford a car for years Bede. The most I ever paid for a car was £25 when we had one.
        Yes, of course, compared to third world countries there is hardly a person in Britain who is poor. The vast majority can claim benefits that put us above what people in poor countries get.
        Why the negativity?

  3. Poverty is relative but I’ve known you since the late 60s and you have never been poor. You mention frequently how you attended gigs every week. How did you manage that with no money? You ran a car when we were students. Poor persons could not afford to do that. You must have seen real poverty in some of the countries you have visited. I know I have.

    1. Don’t be silly. Of course we were poor. I lived on a student grant. My parents couldn’t afford to provide me with anything other than a food parcel. Gigs were 12p to 25p. I had one meal a day in order to afford that. We scrimped by on nothing.
      I have never been as poor as people in those third world countries, obviously. Nobody in Britain is unless they want to be.

  4. Very well said, and I do not think we ever hear enough about this part of our history which affected the majority of us. I have been thinking about this a lot as the media grapples with the toppling of statues and the slave trade. I only really heard about Peterloo because of being in Manchester and then Mike Leigh’s film. It was hidden history in my girls grammar school!

      1. Really miss their wisdom and humour. And what has happened to the Labour Party and the need to use the Union Jack. Let’s be proud of our working class and union history too.

  5. Sometimes you make statements which I find disingenuous. Claiming poverty when I know you were not poor, compared to those in the UK who were poor, is disingenuous. You were raised in one of the most prosperous areas of the UK. You forget I know your history and visited your parents’ home. Ok, you were not wealthy but were certainly not poor. I come from a poorer background but I would never claim to have suffered poverty. It’s relative so I grant you were/are poor compared to say, Philip Green. Some kids at my first school wore wellington boots year round because their parents could not afford to buy shoes for growing children. Still that was not poverty. Food took priority. It’s feasible to champion the working class groups, their struggles, exploitation and oppression without exposing yourself to hypocrisy. £25 was a sizeable sum in those days when you ran a car. When we lived in North London I worked 3 part-time jobs & numerous hours for a total of less than £40 per week. I don’t recall your ever working whilst a student other than as a road sweeper during the Summer. Your flew to the USA for the Summer in about 1970. A poor person would not be able to afford to do that. You would be more credible if you stuck to your argument without trying to make it about yourself.

    1. Bede sometimes you wilfully misinterpret. I was not claiming to be poor at all. My background is working class. One grandfather a meat porter the other a waterboard meter reader. I was speaking on behalf of people like me who come from such backgrounds.
      I never claimed to be poor though at various times in my life I have been exceedingly poor.
      I flew to New York with money I saved from my £333 student grant on a special student exchange deal. We arrived in New York with $5 between us. That £330 was the sum I had to live on for the year. When I roomed with Pete in Ilford we had one meal a deal – a boiled sheep’s head Irish stew or boiled pig’s head. We lived in a single room without heating and an outside loo. In HUll we lived in the cheapest house in the whole city, in a development area without money for anything. No car, no extravagances. I could not afford a beer. I went to school wearing the clothes handed down to me from my dead father and Liz’s dead father. While you were living the high life as a solicitor we were in genuine poverty. Our children were on free school meals.
      Doing my research in London I worked on a lab tech’s pay which was very low. We lived in a bedsit using a cardboard box as a table with a mattress on the floor.
      We had no money but I never considered myself poor – but we were.
      But again – you are wilfully twisting my words. I was referring to a class of people who I descend from. My parents both came from very poor working class families.

  6. I descend from a poor working class ancestry also but I don’t bleat about it or claim disingenuously that I lived in poverty. I’m not going to take part in a Monty Pythonesque tirade about who came from a poorer background. I know your history, including the sheep’s head soup, the Hull house and your bedsit with the decorated garden in North London where I stayed for a night, and I know you were far from poverty. Talk about the issues, inc the history of the British working class, instead of inserting a false picture of yourself into the narrative.

    1. I think you need to read my articles more carefully. I was not claiming poverty – though I have experienced it. I was speaking on behalf of a segment of society who are experiencing poverty. Read more carefully and put it in context.

  7. Patriotism is a bag thing considered by most people, but proud to be the citizen of certain country is fine, I think. No one else feels sorry for themselves unless they are slaves or conquered by other nations.

    1. I think it is fine to feel proud of many aspects of one’s culture and to enjoy one’s country and want to keep it free. It’s when it gets into blind nationalism it gets bad. Not all things of any culture are good.

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