If we are ever going to eradicate child poverty (again), remove the need for food banks, reduce inequality, improve educational and life chances, solve climate change and engage constructively on global issues, we need to elect a Labour government.
The Tories have been in power in Westminster for nearly 11 years – the SNP for almost 14 in Holyrood – and the damage they have done is clear for all to see: an underfunded NHS, struggling with winter capacity even before Boris Johnson’s historic mishandling of Covid; a hard-right Tory Party that yanked us out of the EU by provoking anti-immigrant sentiment and peddling populist lies; councils stripped to the bone of funding; culture wars inflamed at every opportunity; and widening gulfs between the countries of the United Kingdom.
The situation has been desperate for many people for a long time and will not improve until there is a Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street. That is true for families in Peckham and families in Sunderland; families in Glasgow, families in Bassetlaw and families in Bridgend. For Labour to have a chance at winning back the huge number of seats we need at the next general election, the party must appeal to voters across Britain.
Labour will have to make tough decisions when it comes to forward policy and political direction over the next couple of years. When complex or nuanced issues arise, it is right that we discuss and debate the best narrative path for our party to take – one that stays true to our values but does not lose sight of our goal. But let’s be clear: whether or not the Labour leader should stand in front of a British flag for a speech is not one of those issues.
Keir Starmer has faced criticism this week from elements of the party because there was a Union Jack in the backdrop during his party broadcast. It is hardly radical for a Labour leader to advocate for a united Britain or show pride in the UK. In the face of increased support for Scottish independence, coming off the back of five years of leadership in which Labour was seen by the voting public as unpatriotic and out of touch with regular Brits, in a political climate where nationhood is an unavoidable issue, what sensible Labour leader would not want to make clear that we are the party of a united, progressive Britain?
We don’t need to compromise our values, and nobody is suggesting that we should. We need to remember what it is to be British. We need to take back the flag from the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. To be British is to be open and caring, to be accepting and forward-thinking, to believe that we will progress more quickly towards equality and prosperity if we work together. That is the British vision that Labour needs to set out, and one simple but symbolic step to take is to reclaim the British flag from the isolationist, xenophobic narratives deployed by the Tories.
The simple fact is that at least two thirds of Brits are proud to be British. If Labour wants to reposition Britain as a positive global force whilst dealing with inequities, underfunded public services and cultural ruptures at home, then it is right and proper that we are proud to be British. Instead of running from the Union Jack, we should embrace it and make the most of the opportunity to recast post-Brexit, post-Covid Britain as anathema to division and isolation, and as a symbol of progress, equality and aspiration.
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