Socialist Worker

Flags swing low for any old chariot

by James Meadway
Issue No. 1881

A FRIEND who played rugby union for Lancashire insists there are two ways to get onto any rugby team. One is being able to drink 15 pints and piss in your own mouth. The other is being vaguely good at the sport.

England's current squad was sufficiently competent to see off the motley selection of ex-colonies (plus France) that make up the curiously named World Cup. With loud hurrahs from appropriate quarters and much general ballyhoo, a victory parade was arranged.

Not wanting to miss a spontaneous display of nationalist fervour, I went along to have a look.

Rugby union has never entirely broken away from its fart-lighting public school image. But between disaster in Iraq, crumbling public services and crap weather, there's precious little else likely to stir the stout hearts of true Brits.

A few of them had spent the night before sleeping in Trafalgar Square to get the best view. You know the sort. They can be found shouting 'Come on, Tim' at Wimbledon, wearing suits apparently made entirely out of plastic Union Jacks.

'Cool Britannia'? Erm, not exactly.

There can be fewer things more likely to turn anyone off nationalism than another inane TV interview with a furry-hatted weirdo who has nothing better to do than camp outside Kensington Palace to mourn the death of Greg Rusedski (or whatever). Still, these made up only a fraction of the turnout, thankfully.

For a crowd in London, it was noticeably white, to the extent that the few police on display looked like a model of diversity. A strange experience indeed.

In fact, it all felt like some crazy topsy-turvy world.

The cops looked on smilingly as uniformed school students clambered all over the bus stops and statuary decorating Trafalgar Square. The last time I'd seen this many bunking schoolkids they were being beaten soundly by the police, who were, thinking about it, still smiling as they tore up anti-war banners.

But here they all were, despite promises of truancy clampdowns, swarming over giant likenesses of vicious British imperialists long since departed.

Actually the risk of serious injury that swinging from General Napier's nose might involve was probably the only way to introduce a small element of excitement into the proceedings.

I hadn't realised just how dull these events are. Along with everyone else, I stood around freezing, unable to see very much. Occasionally someone would start singing something stirring, but no one seemed to know the words.

Two giant screens showed the O2-sponsored bus progress through central London. Another open-top bus advertised the Sun. Assorted whistle sellers, hot-dog vendors and T-shirt floggers stalked the crowd.

After the initial spectacle of the thing wore off what else could we do? No one seemed to know.

My fingers and toes were going numb and I couldn't help thinking that the crowd should show the same initiative the anti-Bush protesters did to fend off the cold. A nice big bonfire would've gone down a treat, and there was no shortage of flammable materials around.

But for some reason waving flags seemed more popular.

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Article information

Sat 13 Dec 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1881
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