Patriotism: Cultural attachment to one's country and its values
In this week's second debate between Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, and Nigel Farage, the public face of Ukip, Farage clothed his desire to withdraw from the EU in the language of patriotism. While superficially appealing, his policies were the very antithesis of the patriotism he tried to claim.
For a British politician, being patriotic implies a deep understanding of British culture, values and national interest, and the willingness and ability to stick up for those values. Farage demonstrated a total misinterpretation of British culture and history and the values on which that culture is based.
One of his statements was that he was 'fed up' of British military engagements overseas. His line was 'it's none of our business.' Maybe no other statement so definitely underlined his disconnect from British tradition. Britain has, for centuries, led the world in its global outlook, with deep involvement in geopolitics and, where necessary, has, in partnership with others, used its military muscle both to defend its national interest and, as the world's oldest parliamentary democracy, to stand up to tyranny and authoritarianism.
Were Farage to have been in charge when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, he would no doubt have said that 'it's none of our business' - much like he is doing now with Ukraine. Where would that have left Britain's national interest? What sort of world would the British people be living in today? Would it have been 'patriotic' simply to look away with criminal indifference?
When Napoleon marched through Belgium in 1815, a Farage lookalike would have ordered the Duke of Wellington back home. The military cooperation between the British, the Prussians, the Dutch and armies from Hanover, Brunswick and Nassau would never have happened and Napoleon would not have been defeated at Waterloo thereby restoring a measure of order and security to Europe. Again, would the British people have been better off then or now with Farage's 'it's none of our business?'
We are now in the 21st century and the shape of international relations has changed - but the principles have not. Countries still act in their national interest and tyrants still exist. They still attempt to increase their power base and undermine the interests of other countries including Britain. Economic warfare through sanctions and, in the last resort, military intervention remain important tools of geopolitics. Upholding and defending British interests and Britain's political and cultural traditions of being at the centre of the geopolitical map in cooperation with those who share our interests and values remains a vital part of contemporary politics. Farage does not seem to have a clue about any of that. But then it's not surprising. By his own admission during the debate, he's a businessman not a politican.
Immigration was, predictably, the other element that Farage tried to cloak in the mantle of patriotism. Again, unlike Nick Clegg, he showed a deep misunderstanding of British culture. There is no doubt that uncontrolled immigration raises issues that affect many. From those who feel displaced from job opportunities to those who fear a breakdown in social cohesion to the deep unfairness of benefits tourism, there are many practical issues that have not yet been tackled. And our politicians need to recognize and tackle these issues vigorously and with flexibility. They can no longer hide behind statistics and general statements that immigration is a net positive for the economy. Serious efforts need to be made to ensure that immigration does not benefit the few at the expense of the many. We have barely made a start down the road of finding ways to address these issues. Mainstream politicians and the EU need to show more commitment and determination to do so than they have done so far.
But all that is a far cry from attempting to portray immigration as an issue of patriotism. The World Values Survey puts Britain among the higher scoring countries on values of openness, tolerance and participation. The British people score higher than, say, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and even the Netherlands on these values. And that is not surprising. Until recently having both the largest empire and the widest trade links ever to be seen, Britain has a deep culture of openness to others. Many from other countries come to Britain not just to seek jobs but out of a deep admiration for what Britain is. British higher education remains a strong attractor of overseas students. This not only creates a £60billion a year industry but, together with other institutions like the BBC World Service and the British Council, is an important element in maintaining and broadening British influence overseas. For many Brits, it was a source of great pride when the London Olympics turned out to be the first ever Olympics where the host nation was home to people from every single participating country. It is the strength of this diversity and Britain's ability to be open to it, manage it well and draw strength from it that led Nick Clegg to declare that, unlike Farage, he was proud of contemporary Britain and what it stands for. The task of the type of politicians we want is not to destroy Britain's cultural tradition of openness and diversity, as Farage wants to do. Rather it is to make sure that there are the means and the policies that continue to allow it to flourish without unfairly affecting some sections of society and leading to social dysfunction.
In Wednesday's debate, Nick Clegg was the only patriot on the stage. Farage showed that he lacks even the most basic understanding of British national interests on the global geopolitical stage and of the importance of protecting, and projecting, British values and British cultural traditions. Farage is no patriot. Rather he represents a perversion of the concept of patriotism to what Samuel Johnson famously described as "the last refuge of a scoundrel."