The World Cup proves the Left can do national pride


There’s been plenty of think pieces on the cultural and political implications of this incredible World Cup and of football actually coming home. Among them, claims that a new national English identity based on progressivism has been born, which would be great if it were found to be true. Another, that the World Cup would benefit both the Conservative government and optimism for a hard Brexit, is not so great. But some more obvious takes have been on how the Left is po-faced, that we cannot and will not get involved in the national fervour.

This is in a long series of takes about the Left having a problem with national pride. Hell, I’ve been guilty of it. There’s a whole, frankly annoying Labour faction committed to it. It goes that the Left is fearful of flag and patriotism, and that we can only associate it with ethno-nationalism. Some of this may be true. We have historically been vulnerable to attack by others because we’ve been touchy on the issue, or just painfully clumsy – consider Ed Miliband’s ‘respect’ for the England flag or Emily Thornberry’s equally clumsy and now infamous tweet from Rochester.

But by and large, the World Cup-related sneering just hasn’t rung true. The loudest take on this was by the usually astute Larry Elliott, for, ahem, The Guardian. He wrote:

Labour’s affluent, liberal, middle-class wing tends to find the displays of patriotism during World Cups disturbing, even a tad repellent. As good global citizens and staunch opponents of nationalism they would never dream of driving around with an England flag on their car or draping one out of their bedroom window. 

I don’t recognise this caricature. Personally, I haven’t stopped screaming Three Lions since the Tunisia match; I’m hot for Gareth Southgate and can’t stop singing the revised version of Whole Again. I spent Saturday night yell-singing Vindaloo at cars until they honked it back. All in all, I haven’t been sober for three weeks.

I’m not the only leftist with this jubilant fever. I’ve been watching my Twitter feed and favourite papers: leftists and Labourites from Aaron Bastani and Owen Jones to the amusingly keen Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, who wrote to the Prime Minister demanding big screens all over the country, have all been just as obsessive and meme-minded as the next patriot.

Then there’s Jeremy Corbyn himself. Many leaders could be described as inauthentic, but you simply can’t say the same of Corbyn. The Labour leader is an actual football fan, far more so than fakes like me who only care about it every four years. He has been a champion of football fans, calling for them to have a stake in their clubs, and he’s now demanding a bank holiday when football comes home.

What’s even more odd about the po-faced Leftist caricature is that it pays no heed to Theresa May herself. Theresa May, who hilariously refused to say whether or not it’s coming home. Theresa May, who, let’s be clear, was not biting her nails at the Colombia penalty shoot-out. Apparently she was too nervous to watch it. The Prime Minister is not someone you can picture yelling at a screen in a pub, and that’s fine – but let’s not pretend the Conservatives are better at supporting the home team.

Remember when David Cameron forgot which football club he supportedAnd then you have the (hard) right-wingers trying to capitalise on a moment and a new country they would otherwise detest. Check out Nigel Farage, whose cheers for football coming home ring false given England’s proudly multicultural team, representing a modern England he and his ilk detest. He would, as many tweeters have pointed out, stop it at the border. No, we’ve shown that you can be truly proud of your country without blowing dog whistles.

When football comes home in a fortnight, the team will be welcomed by those liberal metropolitan elites alongside their other countrymen and women. The Right have no hegemony over what it means to be patriotic, and their caricature has been proven profoundly wrong. We love Southgate every bit as much. I certainly do, anyway.

Jade Azim is a political commentator.

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