Patriotism is a quality which right-wingers (in whatever country) believe to be wholly owned by the right. Thus David Cameron, self-proclaimed master of the middle-ground, can accuse Jeremy Corbyn of having a ‘terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology.’
This is going further to the right than Corbyn has ever gone to the left; it’s a statement which could have come (if you substitute ‘Chile’ for ‘Britain’) from Mrs Thatcher’s one-time best friend, the murderous Augusto Pinochet.
Both were ideologues in the sense that they were more tied to abstract ideas than to the natural patriotism of people living in nations and proud of, or at least happy with, having a kinship with their neighbours.
Thatcher’s guiding lights in economics and social organisation were Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian, and Milton Friedman, an American. Corbyn, which is a weakness, is not as ideologically focussed as either of them, so his profile is a lot messier but he seems to favour the stalwarts of the old British left – for example Nye Bevan, CND, his solidly-Labour constituents in Islington and Karl Marx, who was a lot more British, by adoption and sentiment, than any of Thatcher’s heroes.
This makes Corbyn open to accusations that he is a relic of the 1970s and 80s, but actually this might be applied to all modern politicians. The big arguments that started with the rise of Thatcherism were about the size of the state and the worth of taxation, trade unions and the public sector. They still are.
Cameron’s Conservatism is not a reasoned advance on Thatcherism; it’s Thatcherism unchained. It’s Thatcherism as it would have been if the lady herself hadn’t realised that upsetting doctors and nurses, the disabled, the police, the army and the working poor would not be an election-winning strategy.
She was also had very good luck. The 1982 Falklands war, for old-fashioned patriotic reasons, made sure of her victory in the general election of 1983; the non-accidental destruction of Britain’s industrial base in the 1980s was cushioned by the cash from Britain’s North Sea oil reserves.
Now the Cameron Conservatives appear to be going through a Thatcherite re-enactment exercise; they can’t put the squandered oil back in the ground but they can allow unrestrained fracking as an alternative to using renewable energy (which, heavens knows why, the Anglo-American right don’t like); they can’t fight the Falklands war again, but they can square up to all sorts of dodgy brown-skinned people, particularly Syrians, Iraqis and Libyans; they can’t take on the miners, as they did in 1984, but they can attempt to destroy whatever is left of the unions by vicious, and quite unnecessary, limitations on their ability to strike.
There is a part of the Tory party which has no respect for Britain’s two most remarkable institutions, the NHS and the BBC; they would rather our information and entertainment came from the international Murdoch organisation and that our heath system was offloaded to private American companies. Yet the Thatcherites still claim to have a patent on patriotism; they say the left is hopelessly inadequate in defending national interests.
I am a leftie who loves England, particularly last week when I wandered through the gentle autumn rain taking comfort in the fact that even a big city like Leeds has so many trees in it that I scarcely got wet. I also like canals, railways, Britain’s great industrial heritage its humour and its wealth of dialects.
Something upsets me about the way we can lose our great steel industry with hardly a word of regret; that it’s been decided we no longer have the skills to build or operate nuclear power stations or railways or teach our children maths.
This condemns me as a hopelessly-outdated British patriot; the patriots of the right are made of sterner stuff; they don’t get sentimental about the loss of so much Britishness under the advance of the global corporations. They enjoy waving the flag at war commemorations and the high-camp entertainment provided by the monarchy but their view is that British history began when Mrs Thatcher became prime minister in 1979 and would end abruptly if Jeremy Corbyn were ever to do the same – which I hope he does, just so I can enjoy the paradoxical sight of herds of true-blue patriots queuing to leave their own country.