CLEARLY, Gordon Brown does not agree with Samuel Johnson's view that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Rather, he appears to think that the devolved United Kingdom should rally round the Union flag to renew its sense of identity. In his important and wide-ranging speech yesterday to the Fabian Society he insisted that the Labour Party and its supporters should be unashamedly patriotic since to be so encompasses “progressive” ideas of liberty, fairness and responsibility. Mr Brown is slowly coming out of the economics shell in which he has chosen to encase himself for most of the eight years in which Labour has held office. Is he doing this because he realises much of the electorate sees him as a bit of a grouch? Or because he knows he will have a fight on his hands against the smiling David Cameron when the time comes? It's probably something of each, and it's all to the good because Gordon Brown is a man who has thought deeply about politics and its changing role in the 21st century. It is high time that the country got to know better the thinking man who is Gordon Brown. Whether his idea of a national day will catch on is uncertain. Comparisons with the United States' Fourth of July and France's Bastille Day are not really helpful because they are both republics whereas, in a sense, the Queen's official birthday is already a national day in Britain, albeit one more honoured in the breach than the observance. Yet Mr Brown is probably the only leading politician today in a position to make the proposal. As a Scot he cannot be accused of trying to reclaim ground already lost through devolution and, more broadly, he is certainly qualified to argue that in these fissiparous times there is a need to discover “how diverse cultures can find the essential common purpose without which no society can flourish”. A national day would certainly provide the focus necessary for any revival of a sense of Britain as a unified nation. Gordon Brown has opened an important debate.


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