When the Covid public inquiry inevitably rolls around, it should devote some of its time to ask how much of the £355billion pandemic spending went on flags.
Last year, Matt Hancock appeared to be broadcasting from a home study that resembled Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain. Boris Johnson delivered wheezy “I’m fine, honest” videos from a shabby Downing Street office with peeling paintwork. And Therese Coffey cancelled Piers Morgan while, it seemed, locked in a public loo with a giant bog roll.
But now, flags can be seen garnishing the interiors of Whitehall offices as well as ministerial homes. Allegra Stratton’s lavish £2.6m media briefing room-cum-school nativity play has four.
Presumably, as leading politicians tend to double up on the number of kitchens, ovens or nannies that might reasonably be needed, there is a pandemic stockpile of the things, in sizes ranging from the smaller ‘mildly jingoistic’ to the XXXL version ‘invade France’.
They were always a bit flaggy, this lot. There was a heavy undertone of Make Britain Great Again in everything they said, be it about Channel migrants, Cheltenham races, or the benefits of Brexit for the secondhand bassoon industry. No-one ever seemed to notice that Britain isn’t a country.
But let a pandemic cross your wilfully-open borders, and suddenly there’s a need for flags to cover up the bare-arsed naked stupidity of people who would otherwise look like they were Making Britain Significantly Worse (Again).
And should a BBC news presenter make a tongue-in-cheek aside about the smallness of the flag in view, and thus the smallness of the brain which found it necessary to install, they will be accused of being ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘disrespecting the flag’.
Pop quiz, flag-freaks: does the Queen have a flag on her Zooms?
But it’s not Charlie Stayt who’s got the flag frotters frothing. It’s the brown lady he works with who, thinking she was off-camera, had a giggle at his joke and later committed the heinous crime of ‘liking’ a tweet about people who – well, let’s say ‘become enraptured’ – by flags, and had to issue an apology.
Naga Munchetty was born in the UK, went to school here, pays taxes here, and works for the BBC. That all makes her slightly more British than Boris Johnson, and he has yet to apologise for anything, to anyone, ever.
Yet he is a man who brought the flag into disrepute by using it to cover up a Brexit that couldn’t be and hasn’t happened, the illegal closure of Parliament, lying to the Queen, lying to the nation, the removal of civil liberties, cronyism, and the real reasons for the deaths of 125,000 people, to name just a few.
Now he’s using patriotism and the need to “save Downing Street for the nation” to wallpaper the fact his fiancee has insanely expensive taste in home decor.
There are two types of people who have flags in their houses.
1) The type who bought one from a petrol station during a sporting tournament and stuck it in a drawer when their team lost
2) Tommy Robinson fanboyz
Nobody else owns one. The flagpoles of the UK are on municipal buildings or actual castles, and some can be found in the wilder bits of Gloucestershire. Your granny doesn’t own one unless she also owns a crown, and if that’s the case she’s got LOADS.
The Welsh care about dragon flags, and leeks, and St David’s Day. The Scots love St Andrew, and unicorns promising independence. The Cornish have a flag they adore, and the Northern Irish and Irish have been rowing about whether flags should have orange bits for centuries. The English don’t give much of a damn except for reasons of football or racism, and all of this is because the whole point of a flag is to separate people.
Every war in the world has fundamentally been a demarcation dispute, with a flag to mark the limits of humanity. Flags dot both Poles, the Moon, and at some point soon they’ll be jostling with each other on Mars.
It’s sort of awe-inspiring that our exploration of the cosmos will be based upon which bit of rock, on one planet, in one solar system, in one galaxy, out of the many zillions there are, astronauts from our perpetually-disappointing species originated from. Like E.T. will care.
When you see a flag, you usually see somebody’s limits. You see how far they will go to stoke a culture war, who they will refuse to help, and the insecurity which makes them feel shaky on whichever pedestal they have perched themselves.
And in the case of politicians, you see the ease with which they will blindly follow an instruction to “put a flag in the background” in the hope it will make a privately-educated, middle-aged millionaire look more like he comes from a place that doesn’t exist.
Either the government comms team is satirising its own ministers in a way that would make The Thick Of It writers weep into their macchiatos, or want people to poke fun so they can reply “aha! You hate Britain!” and shore up votes from their base.
It’s a trick that’s been used so often it’s easy to mock, but perhaps by crypto-fascist accident this government has got something right.
Because the Union flag is one of those that does not define a limit. Like the Stars and Stripes, or the EU’s starry circle, it is a symbol of change – expansion, equality, and mutual respect between like-minded people.
It’s a nice thing to see, and it’s rotten to see it abused by the sort of fools that for some reason Naga Munchetty has to be nice to, both on camera and on Twitter, where women who aren’t on Clapham Common are policed as though they are.
One day, a flag that embodies humanity as a whole will be on the Moon, and Mars, and further astarfield. But even then you can guarantee that some stupid Earthman will wrap himself in it while wondering why the Klingons have got the hump and the Romulans are laughing at him.
But good on Naga for upsetting people who don’t understand flags. Perhaps one or two will think about them, instead.