On the conundrum of patriotism and Brexit

There is little a Tory MP can do to shock me these days, but the dubious honour of achieving precisely that goes to Andrea Leadsom MP, Leader of the House of Commons. Leadsom was invited onto Newsnight, and the conversation was dominated by talk of Brexit and the government’s apparent failure thus far to define to the EU precisely what Brexit would entail. Speaking to the BBC’s Emily Maitlis yesterday, Leadsom said:

It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic…The country took a decision, this Government is determined to deliver on that decision.

The clear intimation of those words is that Leadsom expects the media to back the government unquestioningly, dressing up that undemocratic request under the guise of patriotism. I am outraged that she dared try to exploit that concept for the preservation of a weak and failing government. As quoted in the Independent today, outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said that Leadsom’s comments were “a sinister threat to the free media” and likened her words to something from a George Orwell story. I couldn’t agree more, and though it may be crediting Leadsom with intelligence and a talent for manipulation she doesn’t possess, the way patriotism has been used in politics of late has shown an alarming trend.

It is all too clear now that patriotism has been hijacked by the far-right as a vehicle to justify and advance the politics of hatred and division, not only in this country but abroad as well. Nigel Farage’s UKIP and Marine Le Pen’s National Front are far from original in doing this. Nazi propaganda of the 1920s and early 1930s was heavily patriotic, playing on the resentment of the German people after WW1 to promote their cause of putting the country first – a very similar call to that which was drummed into us during the Brexit referendum. Patriotism is used thusly as a weapon to mobilise the masses and bend them to the will of the political elite. Once they have a tenuous grasp on power, the tone changes to frame any dissent against the cause as unpatriotic, and all too soon the people pick up on this to do the government’s work for them. I’m sure I’m not alone in being decried as unpatriotic when I discuss the need for the electorate to have the final say on Brexit rather than trusting the Tories to see this through.

Leadsom’s comments mark the heightening of a dangerous era for British politics. The use of patriotism to silence dissent is the first step on a path that will see the media and those of the electorate who seek to democratically protest portrayed as enemies of the state, and thus of the people. It is a path that we cannot and will not allow the Tories to continue down unhindered.

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