John Harris

Journalist & Author

English politicians are waving the union jack, but its meaning is tattered and torn | John Harris

The constant hoisting of the flag into public view serves only as a reminder that the union is all but over as a political entity

The new “briefing room” in 10 Downing Street reportedly cost an eye-watering £2.6m to commission and build. Its technical elements were supplied by a Moscow-based company called Megahertz. But aside from those two details, there is nothing terribly surprising about it: done out in a mixture of very Tory blue and natural(ish) wood, it prosaically replicates the basic visual stylings of the Johnson government, something reflected in the presence of no less than four union jacks.

Is there now any escape from the red, white and blue? Last week, after being gently mocked for the size of his flag by the BBC presenter Charlie Stayt – which caused an achingly predictable social media storm – the local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, insisted that he was using “a symbol of liberty and freedom that binds the whole country together”. Towards the end of 2020, it was reported that ministers had tried to put the flag on packs of the Covid vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca (which, contrary to the recent impression that it is somehow a branch of Her Majesty’s government, is actually an Anglo-Swedish company with a French chief executive). Labour, too, has got the bug, as evidenced by Keir Starmer’s recent appearances in front of his own union jack, and February’s news of internal documents pushing the idea that his party should make as much use of the flag as possible.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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