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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

National flags “should not be messed with” according to PM Rishi Sunak - Oops!

Updated: Apr 2

I’ve been following the furore over the new England Football kit design with mild amusement. I have zero interest in the game itself, which I find tediously boring to watch – I don’t understand the tribalism and competitiveness and I have witnessed the obnoxious and terrifying behaviour of football hooligans far too many times to want to have any engagement with the sport. Memorable incidents have been; walking home after an England match, and encountering a group of shrieking lads two of whom had their trousers around their ankles; being locked inside a café in Hillsborough as a full-blown street brawl erupted directly outside, including police smacking football fans with truncheons; police on horseback trying to disperse a street fight in the city centre of Sheffield; and a lad who was screaming foul language at a tram full of away fans across the road before walking into a lamp-post (which was comedy gold - I wish I had been filming).

So, my fascination with this particular public debate is not the football but the re-designing of the England Flag – given my recent, playful attempt to design a hybrid flag for England and Wales. The new design features a version of the St George’s Cross with a mixture of red, blue and purple. My Dad was my first source of this information, he had a rather cynical (but probably correct) analysis of the decision, which was that Nike needed to vary the design of the shirts in order to sell more. And they certainly seem to have achieved this aim, according to the Guardian, ‘the controversial shirt has proven a hit with shoppers, despite its detractors and, also, its price tag. Retailing at a minimum of £84.99 for adults, a top of the range kids’ shirt is on sale for £119.99.’ However, as a result of the public backlash and pressure from politicians, Nike later apologised in a statement: “We have been a proud partner of the FA since 2012 and understand the significance and importance of the St George’s Cross. It was never our intention to offend, given what it means to England fans.”

Personally, I prefer their redesigned flag – but then, I would. For me, the St. George’s which has been co-opted by the British far-right is a toxic symbol which I associate with fascism. Red is also one of my least favourite colours, so the addition of blue and purple provide some welcome variety. Nevertheless, the outcry over this “traitorous” act has been fierce…

In an article for the Independent, titled ‘Changing the St George’s Cross on the England kit? It’s practically treason’, Sean O’Grady writes about a BBC show hosted by Nicky Campbell which invited viewers to react to the new design. He reports on one viewer, who ‘even suggested that the English nation must, like the United States, have the right to bear arms – and take up those arms against whoever it was who turned the ancient flag of England into a bland little corporate logo’, which seemed to me like rather an extreme reaction.

O’Grady writes, ‘People are proud of the flag as a symbol of nation and would prefer if it weren’t mucked around with. Warriors fought and died for it a long time ago, before it was replaced by the Union Jack – and they retain a visceral, tribal loyalty to symbols and flags of Englishness and Britishness.’ He highlights how, as a result of football fan’s behaviour, the England flag ‘became a symbol of drunken nihilistic violence’ and ‘has been stolen by knuckle-dragging fascists’. He explains how ‘the Union Jack – perhaps because it was associated with a less ethno-nationalistic concept of identity – gradually became supplanted by the red and white flag’ in the far-right’s fight against ‘phantom “woke” mobs’.

Despite the sensationalist title of the article, I am in agreement with all of the above – where I differ from his perspective is his belief that ‘we should be trying to win it back. We should work together to make it a symbol of a very civilised form of English inclusiveness, standing for the values of tolerance and a multicultural society.’ That’s not because I entirely disagree with his intention, but because I believe this is unrealistic, if not impossible. Even the Union Jack represents a symbol of colonialism and oppression to many people across the globe – we cannot disregard the past and pretend it never happened – similarly, we can’t just ignore all the violent EDL thugs waving the St George’s Flag. And as much as I would like to wish them away, they will always exist to one extent or another. Nevertheless, O’Grady claims ‘the way to do that is through action and civilised behaviour – not by erasing it altogether and inventing a logo that means nothing to anyone. You can’t really modernise the England flag and it’s foolish to try’. To which my response is; I guess I am a fool then – no wonder someone tried to pull my flag down at the interim show!

The reaction from politicians has been astounding, but again not surprising given the Tories progressive slide into populism since they have been in government – and Kier Starmer’s disappointing attempts to appeal to the nationalists.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that National flags “should not be messed with” in response to the redesign (oops - that’s me in hot water then!). Former Conservative chair, Lee Anderson MP, who was recently ejected from the party due to a racism scandal has blown a fuse over the re-design, telling the Daily Express(one of the papers featured in my “PIG’SWILL” bucket) ‘The left have a nerve to ask me why I want my country back… This virtue signalling, namby-pamby, pearl-clutching woke nonsense must stop… Any more of this and I'll be on the first flight to Rwanda.’ Kier Starmer had a more moderate message, as reported in the Independent, saying that ‘he believed the flag was a “unifier” and insisted the sporting brand should “reconsider” the decision to modify it.

Most hilariously, was the reaction of chronic wannabe edge-lord, Laurence Fox, who organised a rally over the dispute and called for a boycott of Nike…. Whilst wearing Nike trainers! You couldn’t make this stuff up!

I’ve particularly been enjoying the memes and AI generated content being posted on social media by the “woke” lefty progressive accounts I follow, here are some of my favourite examples:


I've also seen the following graphic circulating - which highlights the hipocrisy of the right-wing out cry over "messing with the national flag"... Funny how it's not a problem when the Tories or UKIP change the colours...

Sometimes the lack of self-reflection is astounding...

Jumping on the Band-Wagon

Unsurprisingly, the gutter press are milking the faux-outrage for its maximum sales potential - The Sun putting the Team GB flag design on it's front cover with the words 'AFTER ENGLAND KIT... UNION JOKE'. The front page also includes two E X T R E M E L Y helpful bullet points; the first intended to incite anger and the second stating that 'red, white, blue axed' - despite the fact that the flag design is... red, white and blue. Ummmm.... Sorry, whut?

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