The Last Night & Modern Patriotism

Marin Alsop - Last Night of the Proms 2015Last night, along with many other I am sure, I had great fun watching & singing along to ‘The last Night of the Proms@, something I have done when possible since my childhood.

This time whoever I was struck by how the event has changed.  Yes we sang all the old patriotic favourites, yes there were many Union Flags being waved in the hall & at the “Proms in the Park” concerts around the country but the conductor was American, we had a soloist from Germany (sing “Rule Brittania”!) and another from Australia.  The flags being waved included the Dutch, Japanese the EU & the UN (I am sure I missed some others).

For me, this is the kind of patriotism I can support, celebrating our past and enjoying our heritage but also being open and inclusive of others, not letting our natural pride in the UK get in the way of welcoming others to join us.

Never let out patriotism become so engulfing as to become exclusive and tip over into Nationalism.  Just as we are proud of some of our shared history, we must never forget the UK has also been guilty of many abuses and dark deeds, even in the not too distant past.  Those from other countries can also be patriotic for their homeland but still welcoming to, and be welcomed by, us

So yes, enjoy the “Last Night” and get behind out sporting starts (many of whom also come from an increasingly diverse background) but also welcome others who are willing to join us in friendship.  Our patriotism should not be exclusive of others but inviting others to share our pride and be willing to share theirs.

And next weekend, I will be cheering on the England team, hoping the Irish, Scots & Welsh do well and looking forward to a festival of sport in the Rugby World Cup and hoping for great matches whoever is playing!

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Has Britain lost its capacity to welcome refugees?

Dead Syrian refugee toddlerI have been away for a few days, camping in a field in Northamptonshire, so have not been following the growing refugee crisis that is engulfing Europe.

Watching the news yesterday for the first time in a week and seeing the dead body of a 2 year old Syrian toddler being tenderly recovered by a Turkish policeman and then listening to David Cameron’s mealy mouthed defence of the UK Government for not being prepared to accept more of the refugees made me feel sick and embarrassed to be British.

What makes a parent take their young, very young, children on a hazardous journey across hundreds of miles away from friends & family?  What makes a parent take those children in a small overcrowded boat at night to cross an open sea?  What horrendous life are they fleeing from that makes taking these dangers seem to be better than staying where they were?  Would economic migrants really risk their lives & the lives of their children just for a better job?

To be honest, I can’t even imagine what drives these desperate people to face such dangers.  I have lived a largely combatable life and my own migrations to live abroad and then to return to the UK were done knowing I would have a welcome and a home to go to.  What I do know is that these people are desperate; forced to flee unimaginable horrors both in the countries they come from and in the refugee camps set up in Jordan, Lebanon & Turkey.

Britain has a long proud history of help those in need of refuge and shelter, from the Huguenots in the 17th century, the Irish & Jewish refugees in the 19th through to those flee the Nazis & the turmoil of war torn Europe 75 years ago, the Ugandan Asians & the Vietnam boat people of the 1970s, England, Scotland & Wales have always been willing to be a safe haven, where desperate people can rebuild their shattered lives.   This is why Cameron’s words were so abhorrent, so small-minded and so un-British.

Yes we do need to find a solution the crisis in Syria & Iraq that is driving mush of the current wave of refugee but does that mean we cannot extent a welcome hand to those who need more immediate help?  Yes the UK is helping in the refugee camps in the surrounding countries but those camps, which offer no long term security or hope to the hundreds of thousands who live in them, were only meant as a short term solution for those fleeing their homeland.

What many of these refugees want is just the same as what people living in the UK want; a warm secure home, a safe place to bring up their children, a chance to live without the threat of war.  Can we as a country not find it in our heart to welcome?  Is it too much to ask each District, Borough or Unitary council across the UK to take 100 refugees each? (This would still be far less than has been accepted by Germany.)   Are we as a country now so hard hearted, so dismissive of those in need around us, so small minded that we cannot do this?

Let’s show Cameron and those that are unwilling to help these people in need that they are wrong about Britain, let‘s show the world that this country still has a warm & welcoming heart for those in need.  We can and must accept more people from Syria, Iraq & elsewhere into the UK as humanitarian refugees.

If you feel like I do, please sign this petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105991