Wednesday, 2 November 2016

By Jingo, we'll turn the clock back

Peter Black, commenting on UKIP's leadership campaign, highlights candidate Peter Whittle's telling a hustings that the law should be changed so that “every school has a union jack and a picture of the Queen”. (Perhaps that is slightly better than Suzanne Evans attachment to the flag of St George which Guido Fawkes, reporting on the same meeting, tells us she wants to see on every house in Emily Thornberry’s street).

This crypto-Fascism is not as alien as younger readers might think. I remember a time when classes in junior schools were faced with a backdrop behind the teacher's desk consisting of a large map of the world (Mercator projection, of course, exaggerating the size of Canada and Australia) with the British Empire's overseas possessions and dominions highlighted in pink. Later, when the empire began to be dismantled and replaced by a more equitable Commonwealth, the maps fell into disuse only to be replaced by (rather smaller) portraits of a young queen. Perhaps my recollection is coloured by the fact that I was largely educated in HM Forces' schools up to secondary age, but I recall council schools being similar.

It is very unlikely that there was a law mandating these displays, though. The education chiefs would need only to have made the maps available as part of school supplies for them to be taken up readily by naturally patriotic school administrators, who, after both damaging world wars would have seen traditional British values triumphant. Similarly in 1952 and 1953 there was a wave of enthusiasm for a second Elizabethan age which would have inspired spontaneous royalist displays.

The point I would make is that though these expressions were understandable at the time, the world and the UK's place in it have moved on. Did educators miss a trick in 1972 by not opening their children's eyes to the other European nations which we had been joined to?

We are still in the top ten of nations, but our status depends more on membership of more than one group (UN, WTO and EU etc.) than the Commonwealth. We have not so much declined as been caught up with by other nations which have raised their game. We may be overtaken by France and India in the GDP stakes, but I see the only threat to our remaining in the top ten is returning to jingoism and an unaffordable isolationist stance.

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