"I took her to a supermarket...I said pretend you've got no money, she just laughed and said oh you're so funny. I said yeah? Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here." Jarvis Cocker, Common People.Without being presumptuous it must have been a rather surreal week for Dan Ware. There he is going about his daily business, his only "crime" being that his house is draped in England flags with a white van parked in his driveway and he becomes, through no fault of his own, the centre of a political scandal and resignations.
It's rather ironic for a chap who himself admits he does not vote that he has created more political waves by hanging up an England flag than casting a vote via the ballot box. How very revealing...
Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who tweeted a picture of the house, then compounded the feeling that Labour et al are out of touch by attempted to excuse her faux-pas by claiming that it was an "amazing image". The phrase "you should get out more" springs to mind here. Not unsurprisingly Ed Miliband does not come out of the episode well either as Labour, run by a metropolitan elite, comes under ever increasing scrutiny that it is losing its core working class support.
It's also interestingly symbolic that the flags on Mr Ware’s house were of England, not of the UK, which he had flown to celebrate the World Cup:
The father of four said he had simply put up the three St George flags to celebrate the World Cup, and that it was 'not political'.Here we see an example of this unappreciated and largely unnoticed change in recent years of the increasing tendency of England football fans no longer universally flying the Union flag of the nation team but instead waving the flag of St George. As a national sport, national tensions and issues tends to spill out onto "the terraces" thus it can be a good indication of the nation's woes - a canary down the mine.
Local rivalries are a classic example - the bitterness surrounding Chesterfield against Mansfield is a reflection of the 1984 miners strike and the reasons behind the intense rivalry of Liverpool and Manchester Untied is laid bare by the reference to the Manchester Ship Canal on United's badge.
Thus if we look back to the 1966 World Cup final, it is curious from a modern perspective (aside from England actually winning a trophy) to see the number of Union flags being waved among the crowd in support of England:
...right up to the 1990s. Here are England fans in Italia 1990:
And against Germany in the World Cup 1990 semi-final:
Yet fast forward on 10 or 15 years and we see a complete change, hardly a Union flag in sight. The contrast couldn't be clearer.The World Cup in Japan 2002:
The year of change is relatively easy to pinpoint, it happened almost overnight - 1996, or more specifically the Euro '96 UEFA tournament which was held in England and they played all their games at Wembley.
Euro '96 was a watershed moment where very significant numbers of England fans took to waving the St. George flag and widely ditching the Union flag (below):
The reasons why are less easy to pinpoint. It appears to have been a combination of a reasonably successful football tournament for England where it had a very good chance to win it, the success of the song "three lions", the changing dynamics of football fans with the establishment of the Premier League four years earlier and the embarrassment of the Union flag being tarnished with hooliganism a year earlier. All of which was topped off with an added dash of free England flags and hats handed out by The Sun newspaper.In addition in 1996 there was also the context that the obviously incoming Labour government, against the loser Major, was openingly advocating devolution, particularly to Scotland as promised by Blair's speech in Blackpool 1996:
Devolution was always a Pandora's Box - give politicians power (in this case SNP) and they want more. Labour is now reaping the "rewards" for unleashing consequences that they didn't understand nor anticipated. In Scotland it has lead to the independence referendum, which despite the "yes" camp losing has not settled the issue. Labour is also now under pressure from the SNP at the next election. And in England it has lead to a rise of Englishness which even Miliband acknowledged awkwardly in 2012. He put Euro '96 down to...I vow that, with the consent of the people, we will have devolved power to Scotland, Wales and the regions of England...
Since Euro 96, English football fans have helped to reclaim the flag of St George from the BNP.That may have been the unintended consequences, but Miliband overlooks that instead of reclaiming the flag of St George from the BNP, it is a demonstration of the Union fragmenting and England reasserting themselves.
In this respect Labour has an "England problem" where Miliband's "long-term problems will come from south of the border, and in particular how he deals with the question of Englishness." And this brings us back to the real issue of Emily Thornberry's misguided tweet.