How happy would you be waving a Union Jack at a Lib Dem event?

Union Jacks. CC0 Public Domain

Covering the London regional launch of the Liberal Democrat European referendum campaign, I reported:

Appointed to coordinate the Liberal Democrat referendum campaign, Iain talked to the hall in front of both a Union Jack and an EU flag, an appropriate backdrop to his points about how being pro-European and patriotic fit together and complement each other.

Ostentatious use of the Union Jack was a part of the original New Labour reinvention of that party. For them it was part of trying to answer Conservative and media attacks over Labour’s attitude towards defence, security and those hostile and brutal dictatorships whose anti-Americanism nonetheless attracted left-wingers.

For the European referendum it’s a rather different set-up but one with the same campaigning need at its heart: to show that disagreeing with, in this case, Eurosceptics is quite compatible with being patriotic.

If you want the best for Britain, you should be in favour of close cooperation with our neighbours to achieve it. That’s effective patriotism in action, and an important point to make given how powerful the appeal of patriotism can be to many of the swing voters who will determine the referendum’s outcome.

Yet there is a strong traditional antipathy amongst many Liberal Democrats to using the Union Jack, including past disputes over Union Jacks featuring in literature. So there may be some bumps along the road to come for the In/Remain campaign and the presence of patriotic symbols at Liberal Democrat events and in Liberal Democrat communications. Those are bumps worth enduring, however, not only because the prize is such an important one – winning the referendum – but also because many people who happily describe themselves as patriots are also liberals.

There is more about patriotism, the EU referendum and other issues in the excellent How (not) to talk about Europe from British Futures:

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