The news that a tourist souvenir shop in Muswell Hill, the sort that sells the kind of tacky tat that is of little interest to anyone who actually resides in the UK, has been targeted by the Puritan ‘ism’ brigade as some sort of retail outlet for ‘Britain First’ simply because the establishment happens to be called Really British is an interesting measure of how patriotism as manifested by an object bearing the national flag has once again been designated as the province of extremism and rendered a no-go area by the PC branch of the left. The symbolism of the Union Jack seems to swing back and forth every decade or so, and we now appear to have returned to what it represented in the 1980s.
I remember a classmate of mine once being sent home from school for arriving in a Union Jack T-shirt; it probably didn’t help his case that he had the kind of crew-cut then associated with skinheads and the far-right puppets the tribe had become in the early 80s. Today, of course, having a shaved head is no longer a pointer to one’s political stance, though I doubt the kid in question had any political stance other than getting off on the provocative lyrics spouted by the unlistenable ‘Oi’ bands he claimed to like, anyway. He was no doubt simply doing what a lot of teenagers do by selecting a musical style and fashion guaranteed to get up the noses of his elders.
Fifteen years earlier, the Union Jack had been appropriated by Swinging London and its musical foot-soldiers such as The Who as an ironic and characteristically cocky ‘up yours’ at the establishment in the same way that early Mods nicked the cranial crown of the upper classes, the bowler hat. The mock-military outfits available on Carnaby Street, which The Beatles later adapted for their Sgt Pepper alter-egos, were a similar tongue-in-cheek play upon Victorian and Edwardian Imperial costumes; it was all about dipping into Colonel Blimp’s dressing-up box rather than expressing affinity with an outdated and archaic ideology associated with an Empire that was already consigned to the history books. For a while, the Union Jack had become a cool visual insignia with the same kind of potency that the smiley face had for the Acid House generation at the end of the 80s.
Ten years later, the absorption of a youth cult that had once danced the night away to Jamaican Ska and Reggae into the thuggish embrace of the National Front rendered the national flag something to be ashamed of in a way that other nations would find baffling. The rise of the right-on alternative media and its po-faced spokespersons in the 80s further alienated the flag from polite conversation, reduced to the desperate jingoism of the chinless wonders who force their way to the front of the stage during the Last Night of the Proms on one hand and the ugly unapologetic racism of the far-right on the other.
This attitude still lingered as late as 1992, when Morrissey made the front cover of the NME for wrapping himself in the Union Jack on stage and igniting fresh controversy in the process. Within three or four years, however, the pendulum had swung back again.
From Noel Gallagher’s guitar to Geri Halliwell’s dress, the Union Jack was reclaimed by the apolitical in the middle of the 1990s and rebranded as the ensign of Cool Britannia. Britpop may have been manufactured as a movement by a cluster of music journalists too young to have experienced the negative connotations the national flag had possessed for well over a decade, but its return as a symbol of chic frivolity was something few saw coming. Twenty years on, the climate has changed to the point whereby it’s hard to imagine Harry Styles or Jessie J (or whoever it is the Kids are listening to these days) utilising it in a similar fashion without being bombarded by the same accusations that showered down on Morrissey in 1992.
According to Chris Ostwald, proprietor of Really British, one incensed (not to say unhinged) customer entered his shop and proclaimed the word ‘British’ should be banned because of what Jo Cox’s murderer allegedly shouted as he slaughtered her. Social media has also facilitated the tunnel vision intolerance of this mindset, with numerous comments along these ludicrous lines, and how long before a Facebook campaign is launched to boycott and ban the premises? It’s probably already happening as I write this.
The post-Brexit timing of the shop’s arrival on the streets of Muswell Hill is unfortunate in that some are actively seeking emblems of ‘hate crime’ to vindicate their desperate stance, and Mr Ostwald has delivered as far as they’re concerned. He can’t be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ when it’s his own culture, so that culture has to be condemned one way or another.
Of course, London has always pandered to the misplaced sentimentality for Olde England that certain overseas visitors love and Really British is just another extension of that industry. For remoaners incapable of accepting the decision of the people to latch onto a shop as somehow embodying everything they regard as racist and unacceptable about this country will serve to drive any celebration of quaint, old-school Britishness back into the arms of the far-right, which is presumably what they want.
It’s only a matter of time before a delegation of Britain First morons lead a precession to the shop and claim it as their own. But in upholding the divide & rule tactics of the powers-that-be, both parties are playing into their hands and ensuring that fighting amongst each other will keep them from aiming their ire at the common enemy. And what could be more British than that?
© The Editor