by Paul Embery
Wednesday, 21
September 2022
Debate
11:45

Labour is right to embrace the national anthem

The party has a patriotism problem — and Keir Starmer knows it
by Paul Embery
Labour needs to become the patriotic party again. Credit: Getty

If the decision were theirs alone, would the massed ranks of delegates attending the Labour party conference next week really wish to have the King saved, whether by God or anyone else? Most likely not. Which is why many among them will be more than a little unsettled at the leadership’s decree that the event be opened with a rendition of the national anthem.

The chances are that even Sir Keir Starmer himself wouldn’t exactly die in a ditch to ensure any monarch was long to reign over us. He was, after all, once captured on film professing his own republican sympathies.

But the decision to have conference sing the anthem is, if nothing else, shrewd politics. Let’s be frank: we all know that Labour has a “patriotism problem”. Millions of voters still view the party, not without reason, as being populated by anti-British, “progressive”, citizen-of-the-world types who sneer at any demonstration of patriotic sentiment. This perception is especially prevalent among voters in Labour’s old Red Wall constituencies, whose support the party must regain if it is ever to win power again. And Starmer probably understands that it is among these working-class communities that monarchy enjoys some of its highest levels of affection.

While, of course, republicanism is not inherently antithetical to patriotism — we need only look to France to disabuse ourselves of such a notion — it is undeniable that voters in Britain often associate support for the Royal Family with love of country. It is an attitude that probably explains why, shortly after becoming leader, Jeremy Corbyn was condemned as “unpatriotic” for having kept his lips sealed during a rendition of “God Save the Queen” at a commemoration service.

Tony Benn once explained that while Labour’s ranks had always contained a good number of socialists, it had never been an explicitly socialist party. In the same way, it might be said that although the party has always played home to its fair share of anti-monarchists, it has never represented a vehicle for outright republicanism.

In the days when Labour was proudly conservative, its pro-monarchy stance was probably one of straightforward conviction. Clement Attlee, for example, dismissed republicanism as a middle-class pursuit borne out of that demographic’s own sense of inferiority. “Capitalism, not monarchy, was the enemy,” he once wrote.

In modern times, however, the position probably owes itself more to crude electoral calculation than to principle. The more sapient within Labour’s ranks, whatever their disdain for hereditary power, know that any party that proposed abolition of the royals wouldn’t stand an earthly chance of winning a general election. Which is doubtless why Tony Blair, though content to go around ripping up vast chunks of the constitution, didn’t dare threaten the monarchy.

Naturally the toytown revolutionaries inside Labour — many of whom flooded in after Corbyn was elected leader — are already wailing and gnashing their teeth at the decision to kick off conference with “God Save the King”. (For such people, even Jerusalem, which is traditionally sung at the closing of conference, is a bit too nationalistic.) But it can hardly be considered controversial for a party that aspires to govern a country to have that country’s anthem played at the commencement of its annual get-together. And, after all, Labour does have an election to win.

So, for now, the party’s anti-monarchist tendency will just have to suck it up. Or, when the anthem rings out in Liverpool next week, do what Benn always did when called upon to swear an oath to the monarch in parliament: recite the words while keeping a smile on his face and his fingers crossed.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
16 days ago

“Toytown revolutionaries” – brilliant!
Right up there with “those people whose idea of “being on the left” is to giggle along to Marina Hyde articles” – I’ve forgotten where this came from, but also absolutely spot on!

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
16 days ago

Suddenly turning on the patriotic tap is not credible.

N Forster
N Forster
15 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

More to the point, it is not possible. Expect some sort of childish demo from those who cannot put the country before their own republican fantasy.

Last edited 15 days ago by N Forster
Roy Mullins
Roy Mullins
15 days ago

The monarchy is the only thing that has saved our country from fracturing, like some other large countries. If you don’t like our country you won’t like our monarchy. The Labour Party singing the National Anthem will not fool anyone.

Last edited 15 days ago by D M
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
16 days ago

“Millions of voters still view the party, not without reason, as being populated by anti-British, “progressive”, citizen-of-the-world types who sneer at any demonstration of patriotic sentiment. This perception is especially prevalent among voters in Labour’s old Red Wall constituencies”
Voters are not perceiving so much as observing what many prominent Labour politicians, activists and supporters actually say. Watching the Queen’s funeral service, my reaction to Liz Truss reading the lesson was one of great relief that it was her standing there rather than Johnson or, perish the thought, Corbyn!

Last edited 16 days ago by Al M
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
16 days ago

To say that she isn’t the most gifted orator, I thought Liz Truss acquitted herself well.
I did feel a certain level of sympathy with our late Queen – the end was clearly nigh and to have the possibility of your eulogy being delivered by a stuttering, blustering Johnson sounding like a mobile phone on vibrate must have been like the sword of Damocles hovering over you.

Last edited 16 days ago by Katharine Eyre
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
15 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Upvote for the splendid depiction of Johnson at the pulpit!

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
16 days ago

Not having the National Anthem might make Starmer look a little ungrateful since he was knighted by the current monarch.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
16 days ago

I’m not saying all republicans are unpatriotic progressive lefties, but almost all (if not all) unpatriotic progressive lefties are republicans. Labour needs more people like Paul Embery in them before they’ll get more small c conservatives like myself in who have become disillusioned with the Tories for more or less ignoring anyone born after 1965.

odd taff
odd taff
16 days ago

Sir Keeler may regret this particular stunt. I can remember watching the Labour Party singing the Red Flag. When the camera went across the audience it was obvious that many members were not very enthusiastic. This could be a disaster.

Sophy T
Sophy T
16 days ago

I don’t think there are any plans for a referendum on whether to keep the monarchy, so maybe to gauge public feeling the Labour Party should fight the next election on an ‘Abolish the Monarchy’ slogan, just as Boris fought the last election on ‘Get Brexit Done’.
I’m sure Labour would get in with a landslide!

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
16 days ago
Reply to  Sophy T

Tee Hee!

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
15 days ago

The French, of course, must choose the government they think best. But note that their first republic was founded with great bloodshed and terror in 1792. Their fifth, the current one, dates from 1958. That wasn’t a happy time either.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
15 days ago

Now Madleson is gone, surely no ” God Save The Queen”?

Kevin L
Kevin L
16 days ago

As a matter of policy, I think the Monarchy is corrosive to our democracy. As a matter of politics, I agree that it would be crazy for the Labour Party to appear anything but patriotic if it wants to ever win an election again.
However, Starmer enforcing the singing of the national anthem at the Labour Party conference is sure to backfire. It will inevitably cause the looney left wing to make a big fuss and bring the culture wars to the conference. It would have been far more sensible to stick to tradition and just pretend that it was ever an issue. Now it’s an issue.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
14 days ago
Reply to  Kevin L

Yeah, they should’ve just ignored it! If they sing the anthem it’s going to appear really cheesy and false. The Labour party needs to promote policies that will attract the working class vote, not pandering to the MSM.

Roy Mullins
Roy Mullins
15 days ago

Unintended duplicate – don’t know how to delete. Sorry

Last edited 15 days ago by D M
sean Mahony
sean Mahony
11 days ago

It is a step in the right direction. it was not so long ago when they sang the Red Flag, which was their Anthem

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
15 days ago

Isn’t it time that a new national anthem was composed! An anthem that represented all the four nations of the UK, and worshipped it’s diverse population rather than an over privileged hereditary monarch.

Kevin L
Kevin L
14 days ago

And one with a decent tune too!