The ‘association’ of the Cross of St. George with the far-right

I’m fed up of reading and hearing people saying that the Cross of St. George is associated with the far right, as so many of the articles about the displays of English patriotism around the World Cup keep on parroting (see here and here, for instance).

This is largely a myth, in support of which its proponents provide virtually no evidence. Who associates the English flag with the far right and ethnic nationalism? Certainly not the millions of ordinary people up and down the land who wear England shirts, and display England flags from their cars and homes. They’re just supporting their country in the greatest sporting tournament on earth. It is in fact only the liberal middle class that makes this association, and that has much to do with their unacknowledged, inverted-racist anglophobia and classism as any racism on the part of those parading the English flag.

No, let’s put the record straight: it’s the Union Flag that is the symbol of choice for the far-right racists in England and Britain as a whole. The BNP and the National Front (and with the latter, the skinhead, racist football hooligans of the 70’s and 80’s) have always used the British Flag as their main national symbol, not the Cross of St. George. It’s true that the English Defence League uses the Cross of St. George. But that organisation claims, rightly or wrongly, not to be racially based but to be open to English people of any race or religion, apart from Islam.

In any case, English ethnic nationalism represents a truly tiny fringe of English opinion compared to civic nationalism or the plain-old English patriotism of the England football team’s supporters. And, in fact, it’s those supporters that began the re-claiming of the English flag as a positive symbol of pride in England as an inclusive, multi-racial country by using it at Euro 96 instead of the British flag, which was the one that had in fact become tainted – and still is – by associations with racism and British imperialism.

So when liberals go on about the need to re-claim the English flag from the far right with which it is associated, it is only they who do associate it as an extremist symbol; and it is they who need to rehabilitate the Cross of St. George in their own minds as a positive symbol, because it is only they who regard it as a negative. Every one else is 15 years ahead of them.

Update (15 June): Another example here in an article on the BBC website that is generally sympathetic to English patriotism and to flying the England flag during the World Cup: “On Friday, a friend joked that he didn’t realise I was a BNP supporter when he saw an England flag on my car. It was a joke but also a reminder of how our national emblem was appropriated by racists during the 1970s and ’80s.”

No, Mr Easton, it wasn’t the Cross of St. George that was appropriated by racists during the 70s and 80s, it was the Union Flag; and England supporters always used the Union Flag up until the 1990s. Indeed, the reproach during the 1970s was that they did use the flag for the United Kingdom and not the England flag. You’d see that if you actually looked at the old TV footage. For instance, in the 1966 World Cup, “the English scene was less decked than today”, as you put it, but that was partly because the decking that was used at that time was in the Union colours: during the ’66 final, it’s the Union Jack you see in the stadium, not the Flag of St. George.

I find this collective amnesia to our recent iconic past fascinating as well as frustrating. One of the things it demonstrates is the extent to which attitudes towards English nationalism, or even just the celebration of England as a nation, have become shaped by prejudice rather than fact – hence, even the facts from the recent past get distorted and are viewed through the prism of present-day biases.

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8 Responses

  1. I blogged on this yesterday, and received some criticism for wanting to ‘destigmatise’ the Cross of St George. I do believe that at present, the flag’s sole symbolism is either for sports teams or for a misguided assertion of ‘In-ger-lund’, and that the best way to do this would be to include the potent symbolism of the flag in a new English civic national pride, reassociating the Cross of St George with the abundant achievement, history and culture that England has to offer.

  2. Spot on David.

    There was someone on BBC R4’s Broadcasting House this morning, suggesting that the Cross of St George was now fully rehabilitated and now a welcome sign of “Britishness”. Really.

  3. Too damn right!!!

  4. It would be interesting to see what archive material (if any) the BBC holds on the use of the Cross of St George. As you say, the BNP and footbal hooligans have always used the Union Jack.

  5. Who associates the English flag with the far right and ethnic nationalism?

    The England haters do! They saw us rising up (and in their eyes getting far too cocky and assertive) so they had to invent some myth to make sure all those coming to England (courtesy of them) didn’t WANT TO join the party. Thus, we have the idea that anyone even liking the England flag is racist and to be avoided.
    No wonder I hate the England haters. F*ck ’em!!

  6. Who associates the English flag with the far right and ethnic nationalism?

    England haters do! English people have every right to be proud of themselves, their culture, and their country.

  7. Not entirely true that. The EDL is not disinclined to waving it about in their demos.

    However, it is obvious that they are trying to appropriate the ‘cross’ as did the Crusaders with the Cross of Christ, or the Swastika, as did the Nazis. However, as England has evolved to being more than ‘English’, the meaning attributed to it has to change lest the flag fall victim to narrow and antiquated definitions.

  8. […] manifestation of xenophobic nationalism owing to the flag’s alleged, but in my view mistaken, association to far-right, racist […]

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