Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

13 March 2008

Is England the New Red?

Recently, there’ve been mutterings of revolution in the English-nationalist blogosphere. Doubtless, such fighting talk has got the minions at the Home Office who track potentially ‘subversive’ publications feeling twitchy. They do actually do this, or at least they used to back in the 70s and 80s when the threat they feared was that of presumed-to-be Soviet-backed revolutionary organisations and their antithesis: racist British nationalists. So we’d better be careful what we write: Big Brother’s most junior civil servants could be watching us. And if you’re reading this, chaps, hello and I hope you enjoy it. Gosh, I wouldn’t actually mind reading English-nationalist blogs for a living! (Well, I suppose you can get too much of a good thing.)

Joking aside, is English nationalism on the government’s radar as a serious threat to ‘this country’s’ stability, on a par with, or analogous to, terrorism? You could say that English nationalists are viewed by the liberal establishment as something of a combination of the two threats they used to be worried about 30 years ago: left-wing and right-wing extremism. Left-wing because of our defence of the English people, betrayed and ignored by a conservative New Labour that pursues its own mainly middle-class-orientated ideological agenda without a mandate, and ignoring the needs of the working class it used to speak for; right-wing because of the automatic assimilation liberals make between nationalism and racism, and hence between the often in reality rather liberal English nationalist and the in fact extremist BNP.

So when the government contemplates the world of English nationalism as it presents its case on the world-wide web, does it see red? That’s if it’s bothered to keep any sort of watch over what English nationalists and the English people as such are saying to them; because the extent to which the very existence of England as a nation is ignored in official government publications and policy could lead one to the conclusion that England isn’t on their radar in any shape or form.

The association of England with the colour red, and the radical political positions traditionally linked with that colour, is perhaps not just a trivial one. It was suggested in a local Campaign for an English Parliament blog recently that the English flag is genuinely and widely regarded as a health and safety risk, presumably because of its use of red. Anthropological studies have indeed concluded that red is associated with danger, violence and death – obviously because of the association with blood. For this reason, one academic report I heard about yesterday suggested that wearing red kit gives football teams a psychological advantage, because it’s a form of intimidatory display of male aggression. The report cited the fact that the three most successful English football clubs throughout the history of the game – Liverpool, Manchester Utd and Arsenal – all wear red as their home kit; and the study apparently backs up this observation with statistical analysis.

Much as it pains me profoundly as a Spurs supporter, I had often wondered myself whether wearing red gives teams something of a psychological boost for this very reason. And though I have an unfounded pride in the fact that the England national team wears Spurs’ colours for their home kit, maybe we should contemplate switching to our current second kit as the home kit: red shirt and white shorts. After all, we did win our only World Cup victory wearing the red shirts. Similarly, when the English Army was still known as the English, not British, Army, the uniform was also bright red; and it must have been quite an intimidating experience coming up against young English lads – who, let’s face it, have always enjoyed a bit of a ruck against Johnny Foreigner – bedecked in red in the field of battle. In fact, I seriously doubt whether the migrant-besieged citizens of Peterborough would have displayed the same level of aggression towards English military personnel – if they were English – than they are reported to have recently shown towards uniformed members of the British RAF.

Whatever you think of this sort of colour theory, it is an observable fact that the colour red is out of fashion: in design, corporate branding, the fashion industry proper, graphic art and politics. Red is used much more sparingly than it used to be. Think back to the 1980s when our streets were filled with bright-red cars; children’s toys were very often bright red; and people actually wore red clothing from day to day, rather than just on special occasions such as Christmas parties or, let’s be honest, when women want to draw the male eye. At that time, of course, the Labour Party was proud to sing the Red Flag (and its members used to actually know the words) and to sport red as its tribal colour, when it still laid claims to being socialist. The ‘rot’ perhaps came in when they opted for the red rose as their symbol, backed by inoffensive greys and beige.

Seriously, though, when did this decline of red from being a ‘popular’ colour – indeed, the colour of the people – to being a despised colour begin? It seems to me that it’s about the same time as the communist-socialist political ideal died a death in the early 90s, with the collapse of the former Communist Block and the end of socialism as a realistic, electable proposition not just in Britain but in most Western European countries. The end of the socialist dream also saw a realignment in people’s values, which became focused more on individual ‘aspiration’ rather than placing one’s hope for a better life in a collective political undertaking and a ‘better society’. Aspiration is about desire: not just sexual desire but about imagining a better future in which you can not only have everything you basically need but realise all your ambitions and possess all you want. Socialism, on the other hand, is about making sure everyone’s basic needs are met: to each according to his needs.

And the colour red is also about basic need: in addition to being associated with violence and death, and for the very same reasons, it is associated with everything that is most vital and indispensable for life itself – our life’s blood, and all that sustains life and resists the threat of suffering and death. Hence, the symbol of the great humanitarian organisation: the Red Cross on a white background. Which, of course, also happens to be the symbol of England. Because red is associated with basic needs, rather than with the aspirational aspects of our culture and our politics, it is also generally thought of now as a ‘cheap’ and ‘crude’ colour. Think just how widespread the use of red is to advertise or serve as the brand for goods and retail stores that are thought of as cheap or ‘on sale’.

So when those Home Office tea wallahs or serious liberal politicos visit English-nationalist websites to be regaled by the prominent use of red everywhere, including proud displays of the Cross of St George, are they put off by the dual associations of red with extreme left-wing, even revolutionary, politics, and with a crudeness of design reflecting a supposed crudeness of thought and expression? Are any would-be liberal middle-class converts to the English-nationalist cause put off by its apparent appeal – symbolised by the use of red – to populism and the supposedly ill-educated, rude and aggressive English working class? I think there can be little doubt that such class and cultural factors are at work in liberal squeamishness towards English nationalism, and the reluctance of liberals to even consider that fair, representative democracy for England is actually a natural liberal cause.

But really, we’ve got to look beyond image and consider the substance of the matter: that substance being the real needs and wishes of the English people that the British political establishment has ignored for so long. This is not necessarily a socialist argument, but it certainly is a demand for social justice; and an insistence that neglected English working and non-working people, with all the huge social and personal problems they face, need to be at the forefront of political thinking and policy, and not the despised margin. And for this reason, we should be proud to display the red of England: a reminder that England needs to be heard.

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