Patriotism noun "the vigorous support of one's country"
So today Theresa May will trigger Article 50 - our notice of an intention to leave the EU. Like most on the left I voted to remain and like many others I am bereft at the path my country is taking. But in line with my intention to talk in positive and constructive ways about what it means to belong to the British left I wanted to write something today about what internationalism means and why it's a vital part of who we are as Britons.
For centuries England, later Britain, proved herself immensely able at taking over other people's countries, exploiting their natural resources, growing rich from their economies, exploiting their trade routes and in some cases enslaving their people. Just 90 years ago - in 1927 - the British Empire included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guyana, Cyprus, Honduras, Swaziland, Rhodesia, Gold Coast, Kenya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Burma, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, the British Antarctic, Grenada, the Mosquito Coast, Fiji, Brunei, Borneo, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Cameroon, Mauritius, Hong Kong, the Northern part of Ireland and all of the territories within the Great British mainland.
That is our imperial past. We cannot run from it - though god knows we do a good job of hiding it from our children - but it is not our future. The British Empire is a thing of the past. And yet many people in Britain are profoundly influenced by their experience - or imagined experience - of being at the heart of Empire. They remain fondly attached to an idea of Britain as a great and influential nation, where the best parts of other people's cultures (normally meaning food, historical artefacts and sometimes fashion) flowed towards us and we exported the best of ours (normally meaning literature, media and education). This is the dream, this is the romance. And yet Brexiters have chosen a path of isolation, they have chosen to remove themselves from the co-operative body of their own continent and to become an island in every sense of the word, floating free from the ties of Europe but this time without an empire to boost their economy and political relevance in the world. It's almost as if they don't realise just how small we really are.
So here - in relatively pithy form - is how a post-empire country reforms itself in patriotic fashion.
Influence We take pride in having influence: in exporting our values of democracy and secular multi-cultituralism and our cultural products - film, literature, radio and television. To remain relevant we need to exist, to negotiate with and to trade within the international bodies and systems which allow us to retain old links and forge new ones. That means being a part of the EU and being a part of NATO, G8, G7, G20, the OECD, the WTO and the United Nations Security Council. There is a separate argument to be had about the ethical stance of many of these groupings but the fact remains that if the small collection of islands known as the UK wish to retain influence in the world we need to strengthen our ties - not sever them.
Cultural, scientific, environmental and academic co-operation All over the world we are moving with great speed away from manufacturing economies and towards knowledge-based economies. Trade in knowledge, knowledge-based collaboration and the effective intellectual protection of knowledge rights are all heavily dependent on our place within co-operative frameworks such as the EU and outside of those frameworks we will struggle to remain relevant, to invite funding, to advertise ourselves as relevant partners in scientific or cultural partnerships. If the UK wishes to be at the heart of the new economy it must strengthen ties - not sever them.
Peace The European project was designed to make it extremely hard for European states to go to war with each other, to provide an economic disincentive to conflict. The threat of conflict never truly subsides and it never will. Patriotism - vigorously supporting one's country - means keeping her secure from conflict. In the language of the right this often becomes about funding the military or spending on nuclear warheads. And the left is sometimes shy of talking about safety or security - because it 'isn't our thing'. But maintaining peace means - yes - properly funding a standing army but more than that - so much more than that - it means strengthening our bonds of economic and political co-operation with those nations who we might finds ourselves in conflict with. Protecting our country - protecting our citizens - means not having to go to war. It means compromise and co-operation, it means maintaining our part in the messy bond which constitutes the European Union. If the UK wishes to maintain the security and safety of its citizens it must strengthen ties - not sever them.
In other words:
Patriotism means staying relevant, staying peaceful and staying 'employable' in a rapidly changing world.
Patriotism means co-operating and staying engaged.
An isolated country is a weak country and none of us want that.