On 4th August 2012 I sat, like so many other millions of Brits, and watched our country’s achieve its best ever athletic session of a summer Olympic Games as Great Britain won three gold medals in the space of an hour to make a total of six gold medals that day, soon dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ by the press.
While the run up to the games was marred by our country’s somewhat infamous national pessimism of such events such doubts were soon cast away in favour of awe at the game’s show-stopping opening ceremony. From Shakespeare to the internet, from rolling hills to the industrial revolution, the ceremony traced the forging of our nation and the achievements of its people from our turbulent past to our modern future – a story of our patriotism.
But now that patriotism is shifting.
Since the EU referendum, the takeover of the Conservative government by the Brexit wing of the party has spread party policy into what is seen by many as traditionally UKIP territory. The insistence that British firms make lists of their foreign workers, the signalling that international students are no longer welcome to study here, foreign born doctors at risk of no longer be able to find work by the end of this parliament, has begun to narrow the British mind-set and given licence to many that its now acceptable to demonise migrants and refugees. Nationalism, the bastard-child of patriotism, is now rearing its ugly head.
Liberals have often dismissed the importance of patriotism and have felt it belongs in the territory of the Right, but that is to make the mistake that both patriotism and nationalism are the same. While patriotism is a pride in one’s own nation and its achievements, nationalism promotes that pride as superiority over others. As centre parties have failed to champion the former, many other and more extreme parties have championed the latter. If you leave a person in a political desert with no water, they will drink the sand.
If we, as liberals, are to tackle nationalism then we need to provide a credible alternative to it. We need to promote a patriotism based on the unifying, multicultural Olympic spirit that brought the nation together on that August evening four years ago, where a person’s hard work, dedication and passion are what counts, rather than their passport. Where a person is celebrated for their achievements rather than judged on the country of their birth.
It will be difficult, but it is necessary. I am proud to be British not just because of where we have come from but for the potential of what we can become – an open, tolerant and united society. Let’s make sure we have a Britain we can be proud of.