(nul) pointing fingers

The Labour Government last week tried to pull the wool over our eyes. Through cheap PR tricks, showmanship and spin, Tony Blair’s announcement that he was going to step down deliberately drew attention away from the real news. I’m not talking about some supposedly damning performance figures, but of the really important stuff that Tony tried to undermine: Eurovision.

Last week’s papers were full of Blair retrospectives. Our radios blaired out interviews (see what I did there?) with everyone from Opposition members (Frankenstein voice: ‘Tony bad!’) to New Labour stooges (Homer Simpson voice: ‘Mmm…Tonilicious’), all detracting from what I like to think of as Terry Wogan’s International Diplomacy School. I think it may have affected Scooch (the UK entry)’s chances.

Yes, I know Wogan, with his trademark humour and casual racism (‘foreigners talk funny! Finland has too much snow!’) suggested that the reason for our almost nul point humiliation (called by various papers a ‘laughing stock’, a ‘nosedive’ and a ‘crash landing’) was political block voting. He may be right (and after all, what the sinister ‘Balkan block’ as he calls it really needs is less solidarity, friendship and love), but my money’s on Blair. The effect on Scooch morale of being ignored by the press is the only explanation for such a poor performance from such giants of artistry, depth and talent. Man, I love air-hostesses. 

But the Prime Minister’s announcement did not just make writers at the Mail froth at the mouth and political journalists earn their salaries, it also gave us a laugh. Towards the end of his speech Mr Blair said that he believed Britain was the greatest nation on earth, causing Ian Hislop of Private Eye to add in: ‘God bless America.’ It’s not just that our Tony seems to have become so American I expect him at any moment to take a gun to school that makes that comment interesting. It’s that laughing at it may upset some people. Yes, these islands have produced Shakespeare and Magna Carta, but they also enjoyed slavery, colonialism and S-Club-7. So before you shout ‘treason!’ or say you’ll see me on 5 November (I’m not sure what this means but it makes me a little uncomfortable), hear me out.

The thing is, one of the greatest characteristics of this country is precisely the fact that it does not, as a rule, believe unquestioningly in its own greatness, despite its many achievements. British weather is not even defended by members of the BNP or UKIP (Kilroy-Silk, while he was still in it had either been travelling to get that tan or had clearly been ‘Tango’d’). Newsreaders make jokes about English sporting defeats. An entire tradition of British comedy is decidedly, if affectionately, critical of British society. And it is this rare, if not unique talent for self-criticism, that has made Britain more self-aware than the USA, and thus more able to sustain healthy liberal democracy.

Patriotism is fine, as long as it remains either reasonable or theoretical. I defend my country from attack because I love its people. I support my country in the World Cup because, er, it’s my country. But when it becomes ‘my country, right or wrong’, when we start worshipping the flag or seeing human beings from other countries as less valuable than people we have arbitrarily decided are ‘our own’, I believe Christians need to make that beeping sound of reversing lorries and shout ‘woah, back up!’ Be it assuming Portugese police are inept, being unwilling to prosecute our own or seeing a civil war elsewhere as an acceptable risk to protect our interests, national chauvinism is not just foolish, it’s wrong. Christians have forgotten that in the past. Let’s not do that again.


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