Ah, the British Bulldog Spirit. The famed pride and patriotism that won us wars and built us an empire. It is the the essence of right wing power which drives the Engish Nationalists, the Brexiters, and the fascists among our numbers. That spirit, I have no doubt at all, is genuine. The Little Englanders are bursting with nostalgia for a bygone age, and for a world that found it acceptable to behave as it did. They reject the present and the future.
But what makes them proud is what makes the rest of us ashamed. The British Bulldog spirit to me is something of an embarassment; a relic, an old attitude of superiority that might well have worked magic a century ago, but now provokes laughter and jokes from our neighbouring countries. In short, the UK is a laughing stock. Brexit was the punchline of a sick joke with a fifty year buildup.
Our bulldog is nowadays a slobbering, mangie old hound which leaves a mess on the floor and can’t be trusted without a muzzle. When others see this beast they recoil in disgust or just laugh at it.
Leavers often equate their cause with a pride to be British, to be strong, to be independant and not need any outside help: The Coronavirus pandemic has proven this undeniably wrong.
There's a twisted view that Remainers (or Rejoiners) aren't proud to be British.
There’s a wrong and twisted view that Remainers (or Rejoiners) aren’t proud to be British, that we are ashamed of our nation’s strengths, that having defeated Germany in two World Wars we ought by implication to loathe them as a key EU presence, and by association all European nations, and the EU itself. There is a grotesque undertone that to not hate the EU is to hate Britain.
But if you put Brexit aside, we Remainers and Rejoiners have great pride in Britain, in our country’s ability to welcome others to our shores, in our potential to partake in a peaceful partnership with the continent to whom we belong.
Like Brexiters, though, our pride too is slipping into the past, vanishing into the sunset of a more hopeful time. The country’s ability to be open, tolerant and caring, is fast evapourating like suncream on a lobster red fat belly under a Majorca sun.
The values we clung to have been snatched away.
The values we clung to as proud, open, tolerant Britains have been snatched away. The things we are ashamed of, are now proudly displayed on the global stage, and they make us deeply embarassed as a nation. The Hostile Environment, Disability Benefit Restrictions, Windrush, to name a few.
We do have reason to be proud though. All of us. The fact that we can disagree, argue, march, protest, oppose and debate each other without (usually) resorting to violence, is testament to something far deeper than pro- or anti-EU sentiment. The ugly scenes in the US this January reminded us all of how far we have come; the idea of an armed assault on Downing Street is beyond even the darkest ambitions on any part of the British political spectrum. We can all be proud that we don’t have US-style gun laws, and that mass murder is exceptionally rare because we have grown up views on this.
The victorious World Wars we take such glory from though, carried with them great tragedies and horrors which the misty-eyed among us conveniently gloss over; The Holocaust. The Blitz. The evils and the vengences for those evils. The rubble. The innocence lost.
Our mix of races and religions, bound by common purpose, is a stunning achievement of human empathy.
That we rose from those ashes to become a mature, competent trading nation with established peaceful relations across the channel is a great source not only of UK pride but of human pride. On these islands our current mix of races and religions, bound by common purpose, is a stunning achievement of human empathy. Our common yearning for progress, for a better future for our children, for more freedoms; these are the precious British values we see dangled over a dustbin of bigotry.
That is Britishness now: An emerging, modern, fragile set of ideals under dreadful threat from another, older, more sinister set of ideals.
A fragile set of ideals under dreadful threat from another, more sinister set of ideals.
But yes, I am proud. Ashamed of the government, of Brexit, sure, and of all who support them. But still I am proud of Britain and her potential for good. I am proud of everyone who found courage to try and stop this new tide of fascism and still does. I am proud of the return to sense that will inevitably come, sooner or later.
As for those who endevour to throw our progress away, those who feel empowered drop our values of tolerance and partnership in the bin, to actively reverse all that progress, to make the 50-year old Britishness real again… there can be only shame. Utter, bitter, shame.
One final point: From where I see it, one cannot be proud to be British without also being proud to be European. We are one.