Watching the procession of Ronald reagan’s coffin in Washington late last night (it was midnight here) was a strange experience. In the past couple of days the initial enthusiastic tributes have given way to more sober appraisals, including reference to his record of presiding over a growth in poverty in the USA (as thatcher did here), the Iran Contra affair, arming Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, and his insistence on discussing the threat of alien invasion at the start of a crucial summit with Gorbachev, much to the latter’s concern.
But the passing of any leader is a private, national affair and the real analysis will wait until he is laid to rest. The feeling here is that whether people deify him or villify him, either way it will not be good for Bush. The first scenario will only serve to show his successor up as being a pale imitation, while the second will tar him with whatever brushes come out.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, we are voting for a new European Parliament this week, and apathy is as high as ever. The only real enthusiasm for Europe seems to come from the European Cup – yes it’s the football (or soccer, to some) and in England something once rare but increasingly common is happening: the nation’s flag is flying from houses, shops and cars.
I don’t know if foreign visitors ever remark on the lack of flags in England, but compared to other countries – particularly the USA where it seems almost to be a crime not to fly the flag – we are quite shy of being patrotic. The English flag, a red cross on a white background, is often seen as a racist symbol, and displaying it perceived as an insult not only to immigrants and their British-born descendants, but also to our partners in the UK, especially the Welsh and the Scots – both of whom fly their respective flags seemingly at every opportunity. St George’s Day, 23 April, passed once again without a national holiday or any sort of public celebration. Contrast that with St Patrick’s Day, the Irish national day, and even Australia Day. which are greeted with all sorts of festivities in England and you begin to wonder why we’re so shy of being English for at least one day a year.
Internationally, the Union Flag, quite a clever combination of national flags, is well known, and that is what tends to fly from most public buildings here. However, it is nice to see the cross of St George out and about again. Our success in winning the Rugby World Cup earlier this year has helped make it respectable again. Beating the West Indies and New Zealand at cricket this year gave it a boost. If England do well this year, and if Tim Henman does well at Wimbledon, maybe the English will start being able to be patriotic agan without being accused of nationalism and racism.
Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | A cross to bear: “I can recall precisely when I stopped fearing and started loving the flag. It was a damp Friday afternoon two years ago this month. This was the summer of the Jubilee and the World Cup, and the country was seemingly drowning in St George flags. The England fans in Japan and Korea had been behaving themselves, Beckham was still untarnished and – the crowning triumph – England had just beaten Argentina that afternoon. Walking through the streets of Luton, it was impossible not to feel euphoric. When I saw the cars with their St George flags fluttering in the air, when I saw young men drunk on delirium singing for England, it was not fear that I felt – it was envy. I wanted to feel that I could join in the jubilation, but I secretly feared that I would be laughed at. I desperately wanted to wear a T-shirt with the England flag on it, but was not sure if I was allowed to.”