In My View… by Simon Parker of South East Cornwall Labour Party
A few days before the European elections, a Labour poster in the back window of my car was obscured by a large Union Jack sticker. I don’t know who stuck it there – or why. Had it been another party’s poster pasted over mine, I’d have considered it legitimate political rough and tumble. But this felt different – and troubling.
What was the sticker meant to imply? Was it saying the Labour Party is in some way un-British? Because if that was the intent, it’s way off beam. Labour, in office, works to implement policies to improve the lives of everyone in this country – and you can’t get more ‘British’ than that.
No one needs another history lesson about Labour’s creation of the welfare state and the National Health Service, but it’s also worth remembering the party’s more recent achievements. I’m no fan of Tony Blair and in particular his disastrous invasion of Iraq, but it should not be forgotten that during his premiership Labour brought in a huge raft of social justice legislation, including record spending on health and education, the minimum wage, tax credits for the working poor, increased police numbers, and support for renewable energy – not to mention sustained state funding for the good things in life like sport, the arts, open spaces and nature conservancy. Looking back, it was a golden age.
All of those principles – helping the less fortunate, valuing world-class healthcare and education, espousing tolerance, celebrating our national culture and character – are quintessentially ‘British’ values.
I suspect the person who stuck a Union Jack over my Labour poster may support a party that likes to fly the symbols of ‘Britishness’ while displaying none of the qualities. It is not ‘British’ to be intolerant, it is not ‘British’ to be isolationist, it is not ‘British’ to favour a powerful elite over working people, it is not ‘British’ to make others feel unwelcome, and it is not ‘British’ to suppress free speech with the crude gesture of a national flag sticker.
We saw the result of this shift away from traditional British values after the votes were counted at the weekend: the horrifying fact is that many in this country lent their support – albeit perhaps as a temporary gesture of frustration – to the far-right. Is that really who we, the British, have become?
Just for a moment, think back to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in the summer of 2012. Remember the joy, the music, the innovation, the tolerance, the dynamism, the specialness, the industry, the inclusivity, the hope? We all felt proud to be British that day. Then ask yourself this: has that true spirit of ‘Britishness’ really been swept away by a fairytale party’s notion of something as abstract as ‘sovereignty’? And wouldn’t we all, in our heart of hearts, really rather return to a golden era, epitomised by the London Olympics, when a progressive, forward-looking country, at ease with itself, was the envy of the world?
That sense of a society at peace is what Labour is trying to achieve. Perhaps poorly expressed, certainly misrepresented by those with malevolent agendas, Labour’s message of common sense, integrity and national harmony needs more than ever to be heard if we are to regain our proper sense of ‘Britishness’.
First published in the Cornish Times, 31/05/19