Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Unwilling Patriot

As anyone who reads my Tweets, or has read this blog before, will know - I'm not particularly patriotic.  I don't feel any emotional attachment to the country I was born in.  There's no greater purpose which dictated that I should've been born in this country.

But even my hard British heart has been melting slightly as we approach the Jubilee weekend.  On the TV, and sometimes on holiday, other countries proudly display their flags and we look at it and think "look, it's so nice to see the flags everywhere".  And yet for years, flying the Union Jack(*) was the sole preserve of The National Front and their equally odious successors The BNP.  But no longer.

London looks stunning at the moment.  Every city looks great in the sunshine, but London is dressed up to the nines at the moment with the flags everywhere, and it can't help but put a smile on your face.

It's a very British occupation to do things down.  To pretend not to enjoy things is virtually an obsession.  We are brought up and then driven by society to pick out the details which are wrong with the situation rather than celebrate the fundamentals which are usually right.

Living in the UK isn't perfect.  I wouldn't pretend that I like the current government, and living in a recession is pretty unpleasant no matter where you are.  But there are some great things about living in this country and it certainly could be a lot worse.

No matter what the nay-sayers may have you believe, we have one of the most free and open societies in the world.  Despite the desperate protestations of various Christian churches at the moment, religious freedom is great in the UK.  And so is the freedom to be an atheist.  Even though we don't have a secular state, openly saying that you have no religious faith is not a barrier to being being a cabinet minister, or a party leader.  We may complain that most politicians are private-educated and wealthy - but let's not forget that also in prominent positions, we have women, black people, openly gay people.  And whilst we may criticise their policies and their beliefs, let's be proud of the fact that a gay, or female, or black politician can take part in a debate without their sexuality, gender or race being an issue.

Our democracy may not be perfect, but at least we have democracy.  We have elections in which nobody is going to force you to vote one way or another.  We go to great lengths to ensure that elections are fair.  There was a slight issue with postal voting when it first came in, and there are always local squabbles over tactics used by the parties, but let's be thankful that we live in a country where nobody is going to be pointing a gun to your head when you're in the polling booth.

The NHS has been in the news and minds of most people over the past year.  Some things are happening to it which aren't great, but let's be thankful for the fact that it exists at all.  If you fall over in the street, or if you have an accident in your home, you can pick up the phone, and ambulance will come and take you to hospital and you will get some of the best medical treatment in the world regardless of how much money you have in your bank account.  Yes, there are waiting lists, and yes it's not perfect, but the fact that the NHS exists at all is a great thing.

The press have had a rough ride in the past year.  Their own fault, admittedly.  But let's remember that we have a press and media which can freely report what happens, when it happens.  If the government does something wrong, it will be reported and a government minister will be give a grilling on live TV.  In so many places around the world, the news only reports what the government wants it to report, and so many of the stories we see on the 6 O'Clock News would never be reported at all.

Human Rights covers a multitude of things in common usage.  There are countries around the world where people suffer torture because of who they love or what they believe.  Here in the UK as discussion of Human Rights involves talking about whether gay couples should be given the legal right to marry.  It's an important issue, and we do need fair marriage laws, but let's not forget that if  this is where we are with Human Rights, things aren't too bad.

But, the greatest thing about living in this country.  The one thing this country has which nobody else does.  Radio 4.  It's brilliant.  And no country anywhere else in the world ever produce Radio 4.

So, I'm sure some people will read this and think I'm being sentimental or think I'm missing the point.  I know life here isn't perfect.  I know there is still a way to go.

This country is still a work in progress.  But I don't see the harm in taking a weekend to wave some flags and - yes I'm going to say it - be a little bit proud to be living in this country.  The old UK ain't such a bad place to be.


(* Don't try to tell me it's the Union Flag and not the Union Jack - the name "Union Jack" is officially recognised as a name for the National Flag even when not flown on board a ship. So there.)

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