LONDON — It began final week when the host of the BBC’s morning present mocked a cupboard minister, Robert Jenrick, for the Union Jack hanging conspicuously behind him, subsequent to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The flag, the host cracked, was not “as much as standard-size authorities interview measurements.”
The host, Charlie Stayt, and his co-host, Naga Munchetty, who chuckled alongside, had been shortly in sizzling water. After the BBC got here below hearth for disrespecting the British flag, each had been reprimanded. Ms. Munchetty apologized for liking “offensive” Twitter posts that joined within the mockery of the minister’s flag.
By no means one to duck a culture-war skirmish, the Conservative authorities of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seized on the flag flap to attempt to maintain opponents on the defensive and the dissolution of the UK at bay.
On Wednesday, it decreed that, henceforth, the Union Jack ought to fly on all authorities buildings daily of the 12 months, reasonably than merely on designated days. The one exception will likely be regional holidays when, say, the Scottish flag, the Saltire, would fly in Scotland on St. Andrew’s Day.
“Our nation’s flag is an emblem of liberty, unity and freedom that creates a shared sense of civic pleasure,” mentioned an unbowed Mr. Jenrick. “Individuals rightly count on to see the Union flag flying excessive on civic and authorities buildings up and down the nation as an indication of our native and nationwide id.”
The federal government, in its revised steerage on flags, famous that in the USA, the Stars and Stripes flies year-round, not simply on federal buildings but additionally at faculties and in entrance of polling locations. Likewise in Australia, the nationwide flag might be flown daily of the 12 months from federal and state parliaments.
Britons are typically much less demonstrative about their flag than the residents of their former colonies. Not like People, they not often hold it in entrance of their properties. The Union Jack arouses ambivalent feelings amongst some on the left, who affiliate it with Britain’s imperial previous, and in elements of the UK, significantly Scotland, the place pro-independence emotions run sturdy.
That, in fact, is exactly the purpose for a authorities that’s determined to avert one other referendum on independence for Scotland after elections there in Might through which the Scottish Nationwide Social gathering is predicted to win a robust mandate.
The destiny of the UK apart, the flag furor is a helpful culture-war concern to maintain the federal government’s adversaries, actual or perceived — such because the opposition Labour Social gathering or the BBC — on the defensive. Whether or not the dispute is over the lyrics of patriotic songs or revisionist views of historic figures like Winston Churchill, Mr. Johnson and his allies not often miss an opportunity to wield patriotism as a cudgel.
A number of days after the BBC hosts apologized, their boss, Tim Davie, was taken to activity by a Conservative lawmaker, James Wild, for not publishing a picture of the Union Jack within the broadcaster’s 268-page annual report.
“Do you discover that shocking?” Mr. Wild requested, to which Mr. Davie replied, “No, I feel that’s an odd metric.”
A former advertising and marketing govt who was chosen due to his capability to get together with the federal government, Mr. Davie identified that the BBC promotes Britain worldwide. The Union Jack, he mentioned, flew proudly from its London headquarters.
Critics on Twitter misplaced no time lampooning the brand new reverence for the flag. They coined an off-color hashtag and attributed it to unhealthy nationalism, post-Brexit insecurity or cynical politics.
“This can be very ‘twentieth Century’ of me,” posted Simon Fraser, previously the senior civil servant on the International Workplace, “however I do fear when politicians begin getting obsessive about flags.”
Danny Wallace, a comic, mentioned it was like “watching a rustic in a midlife disaster.”
“We left our associate, mentioned we’d be higher off, then our new relationship didn’t work out, so we deceive everyone about how nice we’re doing after which get a tattoo,” he posted.
Clare Hepworth, a commerce unionist, quoted Bill Moyers, a broadcaster and former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who as soon as mentioned of politicians who brandish flags, “They’re counting in your patriotism to distract you from their plunder.”
And, in fact, it was one other Johnson, Samuel, who within the 18th century famously mentioned, “patriotism is the final refuge of the scoundrel.”
At a time when the federal government is successful broad public help for its coronavirus vaccine rollout — the nation’s largest mass mobilization since World Warfare II — a manufactured row over flags might sound pointless.
The Labour Social gathering is already struggling the political equal of oxygen deprivation, its leaders reluctant to criticize Mr. Johnson throughout an all-consuming well being emergency. However within the acrid aftermath of Brexit, analysts say that the prime minister has calculated that stoking these points nonetheless has a political payoff.
Final summer season, Mr. Johnson criticized the BBC for proposing to air two beloved patriotic songs with out their lyrics as a result of they evoked a colonial previous that’s at odds with the values of the Black Lives Matter motion.
“It’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our historical past, about our traditions, and about our tradition,” Mr. Johnson mentioned indignantly. The BBC backed down, and one of many songs, “Rule, Britannia!,” was sung with phrases.
On Monday, the prime minister is scheduled to carry his first information convention from a White Home-style briefing room in 10 Downing Avenue, outfitted at a reported price of two.6 million kilos, or about $3.5 million. He will likely be flanked by no fewer than 4 Union Jacks.