The Current Crisis

A Taste of Britishness

A report from Gordon Brown's UK.

By 7.12.07

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LONDON -- There seem to be two fundamental political issues here this summer: how much more tightly to entoil the United Kingdom with the European Union and how to defeat Islamist terror, much of it home grown.

The first issue is not easily apprehensible to a Yank visitor. Suffice to say that if London's ties to the EU get much tighter, the UK will no longer be an independent country and its special relationship with the United States will be but a memory. The ordinary British citizen probably opposes further integration in the EU. On the other hand, politicians -- even many conservative British politicians -- surreptitiously invite further integration. As with the hubristic bureaucrats now running the EU, many British politicians see themselves as superior to the electorate. They believe in "progress" and ever since the end of World War II, one of the ingredients of progress has been integration of all the nations of Europe into one vast continental government. The continental government's regulations, however, are beginning to offend local ways of life, which explains the rejection of the EU constitution by the French and the Danes and my suspicion that Britain's electorate would reject further integration into the EU.

This scheme to insinuate Britain further into a grand continental government is also colliding with Britain's need to defend itself against Islamist terror. The country's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, has prescribed "Britishness" as an antidote to the Islamofascists who tried to blow up two cars in the heart of London and in desperation rammed a gasoline-laden Jeep Cherokee into a terminal at Glasgow airport, hoping it would blow them to Kingdom come and all the welcoming virgins. By Britishness he means a renewal of patriotism and civic virtue, a reverence for British history and the flying of the Union Jack. Yes, Brown actually called for the flying of the flag.

Now Prime Minister Brown is a member of the British Labour Party. It was founded on ideas of "progress." It has long been a party of the left, and flying one's national flag has never been a progressive thing to do. In fact, it is actually quite reactionary. I fly the Stars and Stripes with relish seven days a week. Need I say more?

What has turned the leader of the Labour Party into a flag waver? Well, London is under more grievous threat from Islamist terrorists than any city in Europe, and Brown understands that patriotic fervor is apt to bring the British citizenry -- Christian, Jew, non-believer, and Muslim -- together and isolate the terrorists. But this will not be sufficient to repress the suicide bombers. Hence this week in London we are hearing a refrain that Americans have been hearing for several years, the refrain lamenting "Our Porous Borders."

"Our Porous Borders Are Exacting A Terrible Price," is how Monday's Daily Telegraph titled its lead editorial.

It is fascinating to see how Labour has moved away from so many of the misconceived ideas of progress. Brown seems to have little in common with the bubble-headed socialists, pacifists, vegetarians, and other zanies who founded his party. I suppose this should not surprise us. Any party of the left that has wanted to win high office has discarded its left-wing enthusiasms of yore. Think of the Clintons in the Democratic Party. They came to political maturity -- if that is the term for it -- in the late 1960s abounding with the ideas of the likes of Saul Alinsky, various Marxists, and other proponents of utopia. Those of us who in the 1960s adhered to the ideas of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman have never had to cover our intellectual tracks. The Clintons have, and today, at least on a good day, they intone some of the values of Buckley and Friedman. Alinsky and Marx are forgotten.

How far to the left Brown was in his youth I do not know. But there was one embarrassing lapse during his summons to the flag. When he first brought the matter up in public he said there was a rule against government buildings flying the Union Jack more than 18 days a year. "We've got to get rid of the rule," he vowed. A day later he embarrassedly admitted that no such ban existed. The actual rule required the flag to be raised on buildings on 18 specific days. Well, cheerio, now the flags are flying from every government flagpole. They look very good to me. Not only is it a handsome flag, but it is an indication of British grit against terror, which frankly I never doubted.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.