Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Flying the flag

Sewn Union Jack Flags (6)
Image: flags.co.uk

The announcement last Wednesday that all government buildings will fly the Union flag every day at first sight seems good or even innocuous. In principle it is quite reasonable.

However a few thoughts sprang fairly rapidly to mind, and from an Internet conversation with a friend later in the day I found I was not alone in what I think 

If government and, potentially, local authority buildings are flying the flag every day how will they mark special days such as the Sovereign’s accession, coronation, birthday and other anniversaries? A bigger flag?

As a teenager I used to check and if need be go into the offices of the borough council, and that of a local rural district council based in my home town to get them to fly the Union flag on royal birthdays and such like. Yes, I was ( and am ) that kind of person.

Here in Oxford one is used to seeing College flags and the Union flag flying. Colleges use them in celebration of anniversaries, Eights Week, and, frequently, in mourning. The Union flag is flown as appropriate. Individual colleges  have their own protocol - Christ Church flies  King Henry VIII’s standard for royal anniversaries, Cardinal Wolsey’s for others. Oriel college flies its own flag rather than the Union flag for the Queen as she is a member of the college as its Visitor.

More worrying than the practicalities of signifying particular days is this wrapping of ourselves in the flag that the present government appears so keen on. Far be it from me to defend the wannabe woke presenters on breakfast television, but it has drawn adverse comment on television about ministers with flags prominently displayed in their offices. Every office it would appear. Bojo’s Presidential style briefing room in Downing Street with its background of four Union flags is part of this. I have no qualms about being proud of a national emblem, but dragging it in as a backdrop to everything a minister says invites ridicule of both the minister and, more seriously, the emblem itself. We used to rather look down of countries that were so insecure in themselves that they festooned themselves all the time in national flags rather than reserving such displays for special occasions of celebration. Now it seems we must see the Union flag as we are told by the powers that be ( Lord help us ) what we can or cannot do this week in the pandemic.

As Dr Johnson observed about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel ....

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