Politics

'Flags won't feed people': Experts decry growing outrage over Team GB's 'woke' Union Jack flag

'Flags won’t feed people,' campaigners have warned, as Tories go rabid over a ‘woke’ new Union Jack design

One of the British Olympic Association's flag designs. It has provoked anger from Tory politicians. Credit: twitter

“Flags won’t feed people,” campaigners have warned, as right-wing pundits and Conservative politicians have gone rabid over the British Olympic Association’s ‘woke’ new Union Jack design.

As the cost of living crisis grinds on and child hunger reaches unprecedented levels, the government and its media acolytes have identified the real threat to our once-great nation: the colour pink.

The British Olympic Association has been engulfed by a culture war after launching a new Union Jack design featuring shades of pink, light blue and patterns of dots.

“Fans say flag has been ‘butchered’ amid ‘woke’ rebrand!” the Sun newspaper warned.

“’They want us to basically be ashamed of who we are as people, not proud,” warned Nigel Farage, former serial-waver of UKIP’s purple Union Jack.

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“I’m proud of our national flag – can everyone leave it alone & keep it just as it is,” urged Conservative minister Esther McVey.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged British Olympic Association “not to mess” with the classic ensign, while British javelin star Fatima Whitbread said she was “disgusted” with the changes.

The design – which has been used in world championships and is sold on some merchandise – will not be used on the Team GB kit this summer.

But the row surrounding it is “beyond absurd,” say campaigners. It’s a shameless distraction from the real issues, said Dan White, Disability Rights UK’s policy and campaigns officer.

“While disabled people and carers skip meals, turn off the heating and have their rights violated (according to the UN) many politicians seem to more disturbed and angered to the point of ridiculousness about some lines and some colour being altered on the flag,” he said.

“This shows us the materialistic and regressive attitude running right through government and a few tabloid commentators. Flags won’t feed people or provide homes and support. What a detached society we are becoming.”

It’s not the first time that sporting bodies have come under attack for supposedly ‘progressive’ uniform choices.

Before the last World Cup, England were slammed for wearing rainbow armbands. And in March, some incensed commentators accused Nike of ‘wokery’ for adding blue to the red St George’s cross on the back of England shirts.

But kits have always been altered, insisted Alan Lester, professor at the University of Sussex – for example, the London 2012 kit was “predominantly blue.” It’s only the outrage that’s new.

“It’s a culture war which has been deliberately fostered by hard-right Tory MPs, a number of conservative think tanks and lobby groups, and certain newspapers,” Lester said.

“Issues which in other times might have not been politicised, which nobody would even notice, suddenly become a pretext, essentially, to attack progressive changes in politics and changes in society.”

The word ‘woke’ is now used to attack both the trivial and the serious, Lester added – from National Trust scones baked with margarine to genuine causes like anti-racism.

The BOA said have assured enraged fans that “all Team GB athletes will wear the Union Jack as normal in Paris.”

Team GB said that it had received “very positive public feedback” for the pink flags, but added that it “doesn’t replace the Union Flag, which we will wear with pride later this summer.”

But the broader debate sheds light on the electoral calculus of the Tory party, said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

“You might think government ministers have got rather more important matters to attend to than a commercially-led design decision by a sporting body. But that would be to ignore the panic in Tory circles over the drift of some of their erstwhile supporters to Reform UK and, indeed to the Labour Party,” he said.

“They’re clearly hoping to stem the flow by mobilising what are widely-shared cultural concerns among that subset of voters who long nostalgically for a Britain that, in their view, is fast disappearing.”

But it’s probably not going to work, he warned.

“Whether that approach – especially on an issue as inherently trivial as this one, however symbolic it may be of wider worries about the country ‘going woke’ – will be enough to bring them back into the fold is pretty doubtful,” professor Bale added.

Lester echoed this warning – but added that “last gasp” culture war politics will not disappear when the Tories are booted from power.

“Once the Tories are in opposition, I think this form of social conservatism will become one of the main planks of opposition to a Labour government,” he said.

“Whether the extreme culture war orientation will remain within the party or defect wholesale remains to be seen. But it’ll be something Labour will have to deal with.”

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