Labour’s “Progressive Patriotism” shows the Party’s desperation
BY CHARLOTTE GILL
Yesterday, in a bid to be leader of the Labour Party, Rebecca Long-Bailey championed the concept of “progressive patriotism” in an article for The Guardian. This expression had clearly been carefully contrived, perhaps by a spin doctor thinking she or he was being extremely clever, to appeal to Labour’s two target markets: woke youngsters and Britain-loving traditionalists. But it completely backfired, pleasing neither group.
For one, the woke youth view “progressive patriotism” as an oxymoron. To them, there is nothing progressive about patriotism, which they perceive as racist and a nod to Empire. On Twitter, this perspective was underlined by one user who wrote that it was like promoting “progressive racism, progressive homophobia and progressive sexism” – and others followed in a similar vein, repulsed by the phrase.
A far greater issue, however, is that “progressive patriotism” has no effect with traditional supporters, who Labour need to win over to ever get back into power again. They are patriotic to their core (though not in the aforementioned sense), and see Labour as indifferent or contemptuous of this fact. It’s a large part of why they did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn, who projected an abject dislike of Britain. They perceive Long-Bailey as more of the same, and do not take her latest pledge for patriotism seriously, seeing it as a desperate attempt to win them back.
The truth is that vast swathes of the electorate are sick of being attacked for patriotism, which is why Labour have an enormous struggle ahead. They have demonised patriotism, starting with when Emily Thorberry laughed at a St. George’s flag on Twitter in 2014 and culiminating in their contempt for Brexit supporters, who MPs like David Lammy have called far right and even compared to “Apartheid”.
The truth is that Britain is patriotic, which explains a lot of why Brexit won, as many have faith in our ability to triumph outside the European Union. Patriotism is not this horrible concept liberals suggest. It is not racism or nostalgia for a backwards age, but simply a love of one’s country, exhibited almost everywhere across the globe, albeit with less self-flagellation. It is tied up with feelings of self-reliance and independence, as well as a respect for cultural tradition.
British patriotism also has to be put in context over the last decade, when our country has had terrorist attacks as well as Russian agents using chemical weapons. Inevitably, Britons have felt heightened emotion about their country. They want to feel safe, and favour leaders who talk about border security. Those promising Britain was “open” – even if they were talking about business – did not hit the right notes.
This brings us onto Jeremy Corbyn, who was one of the least reassuring politicians for Britons. From his relationships with the IRA, to calling enemies of Britain his friends, to being iffy about Remembrance Sunday, Corbyn could not have done more to demonstrate a dislike of Britain. His lack of interest in Trident, our nuclear deterrent, merely added to this, as voters see him as blasé about keeping them secure.
In essence, Labour are now being punished severely for their dismissiveness towards patriotism. Yes, the party’s economic policies and indecisiveness about Brexit were big factors in their loss, too. But a cultural element mattered; Labour MPs rarely backed Britain or acted as if they were proud of our country, even undermining it in negotiations with the EU. They have, overall, played too much to the woke crowd, mistaking liberals’ fashionable dislike of Britain as widespread sentiment.
Long-Bailey’s “progressive patriotism” tactic will never be enough and ultimately demonstrates why trying to please everyone is always a mistake. If Labour want to succeed they must appeal to the majority, and, unfortunately for Corbynistas, that consistently seems to be the proud Brit.
Charlotte Gill is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Mail on Sunday, The Times and The Telegraph. Follow her on twitter: @CharlotteCGill