If we’re properly aware of the words – ‘Britannia rules the waves’, ‘wider still and wider’, and so on – it’s only to remind us how different things are now; how pathetic these sentiments sound in the 21stcentury, and even sounded at the time, if we know anything of our history; and how low Britain has fallen – or, by my way of looking at it, how far she has advanced – since the days of Thomas Arne and Edward Elgar. Almost no-one takes the words seriously, surely? They’re just fun to sing.
What certain people do seem to be taking seriously is the idea that certain po-faced Leftists are trying to ban them as ‘politically incorrect’, as part of a general campaign against ‘free speech’ which has decent ‘patriots’ afraid to go out at night. That’s the line that our right-wing tabloids are taking; with Prime Minister Boris Johnson – after a fortnight of saying nothing about anything really important – now latching on to it in order appeal to his more xenophobic voters (https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53902065). Johnson ties it in with a general lack of what he regards as ‘patriotism’ in the country, which he seems to think depends on our being uncritical about ‘our’ history in every regard. Personally, the low points in Britain’s history – which I’m a chronicler of, as well as of the good parts – are likely to make me feel prouder of my country, simply for the fact that we’ve come out of them. That is, if I could ever feel ‘proud’ of a history that was too long ago for me to have any responsibility for.
Incidentally, among the ‘good parts’ I would include the anti-imperialist discourse which was the subject of my first book; invented in Britain – that is, as a general theory – and immensely influential thereafter.
I do wish the young Lefties who object to imperialist songs and statues – however few of them there may be – would shut up. For a start, they’re usually grossly uneducated about the realities of British colonial history. And secondly, their effect is only to goad and encourage our proto-Fascist Right.