politics

If Tory MPs want to hear the national anthem more, they can play it on YouTube | Joel Golby


I think it’s vaguely important to revisit the fact that last week, Romford’s Convervative MP, Andrew Rosindell, took up actual time in parliament – I am loth to describe this time as “precious” or anything, because come on, but it does feel like time spent talking out loud in the House of Commons has some sort of rudimentary value – to ask whether British broadcasters should be playing the national anthem more.

“I know the minister will agree that the singing of the national anthem is something that provides great sense of unity and pride in our nation,” Rosindell said, “so in this year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, will the minister take steps to encourage public broadcasters to play the national anthem and ensure the BBC restores it at the end of the day’s programming before it switches to News 24?” It does make you wonder what people get into the MP-ing gig for, doesn’t it? Clearly, it’s to just get up in front of people and briefly make the most embarrassing suggestion in the world for that day.

So it is worth me taking up some of my completely unprecious time to answer the question. Should we play the national anthem more? No. Should the BBC in particular do it more, because they used to do it all the time up until 1997? No. If you want to hear the national anthem so much, just play it on YouTube or something. That’s what I do whenever I want to hear the stupid songs that mean a lot to me, like Friendly Fires – Paris (Aeroplane Remix). I do not submit the entire country to having to listen to it at midnight. I just play it on YouTube and then shut up. It is a system that works flawlessly.

My proclivity for near-eight-minute re-workings of songs that were popular for about two months in 2008 is not the issue, though. The issue is that over the past two years of the pandemic – and sorry to bring that whole thing into it, but it does feel related – the Conservative party has been making strange, creeping, weird, clunking gestures of patriotism, assuming we all want to come along for the ride. Patriotism has never been cool, but in the hands of the current ruling party it has veered towards something particularly un-chic.

This patriotism has been ambient – Matt Hancock’s Damien Hirst artwork of the Queen, ever-increasing background union flags with every MP’s appearance on morning TV – but it’s been overt, too. Who can forget the Joy Morrissey MP x British Monarchists Society collab to offer a free portrait of the Queen to every household or office that applied for one? “I think this is a wonderful, patriotic and unifying campaign for our country,” she said at the time, a justification similar to Rosindell’s. I agree it’s hard to be proud of this country after 11-plus years of Conservative rule and we could do with something to bring us together about it, but I’m not sure the answer is a lot of visual and sonic reminders that we are not actually a democracy.

Who is patriotism for? If England are doing well at an international tournament I can just about muster up an atom of national pride, but other than that the idea of “Great Britain” rarely moves me. I have a fondness for my country but I wouldn’t ever go so far as to call it a “love” – to love someone you have to respect them. If you’re into RAF flyovers, the Duchess of Cambridge’s birthday portraits, the 2012 Olympics, “Brits doing well at the Oscars”, drone renderings of Captain Tom and sitting on Henman Hill: sure, have a portrait of the Queen in your house, go nuts. But for me, being proud about what country you happen by dumb luck to be born in seems like a waste of spiritual and mental resources.

But it’s where this all ends that worries me. I think we should be cautious of too many organised attempts to make us more proud of our country: it feels like a slippery slope that ends with us all having to take Nigel Farage seriously again. If there were a news story about a lawmaker in another country urging the national broadcaster to play its anthem every night, then we would all make overtures about authoritarianism and mind control and be forced to sit through a really long-seeming Spitting Image sketch about North Korea. But because it’s Britain, it lands somewhere between silly and strange, a distracting but thin veil pulled over something harder.

What are we supposed to be so proud about? We can’t pass laws banning forms of protest and being vile to refugees with one hand while saluting a portrait of the Queen with the other. Give us a country to be proud of, Andrew Rosindell. Then maybe you won’t have to force us to listen to the special patriotism song in a bid to make us more patriotic.



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