The left and ‘institutional patriotism’

By Jade Azim / @JadeFrancesAzim

british patriotism

My generation has not known the welfare state or public ownership as our parents did. We have rarely known public institutions that are completely public. Whether that means growing up in the aftermath of Right To Buy, rail privatization, the PFI boom or academisation under Cameron, I fear that my generation does not have the commitment to public services and the public good that generations had before it. We will not grow up with a commitment to a just Britain wherein taxation is a subscription to a just society.

Richard Titmuss identified what he would call the ‘NHS Principle’ – a principle of universalism within British society that meant citizens had a commitment to one another based on being within a cycle of the sick and the healthy, the dependent and the independent. Such a principal of ethical-universalism does not and cannot exist within the market or the competition state that I have always known and lived in.

As an Opposition during this time of crisis for our steel industry, all we on the Left and within Labour should demand and make the case for intervention and, in this case, public ownership and accountability. We must then hope the Conservatives, as their postwar predecessors saw, take it upon themselves to be pragmatic instead of ideologues. I hope we get such a concession for the steel industry. And I believe we can. While the Tories are innately ideological, regardless of rhetorical adherence to centrism, the economic and political case for intervention is too strong for them to resist. Indeed, laying waste to steel communities would be fatal for the common sense they are trying to craft.

For us, a much greater cultural change is needed, one that – if it were entrenched now – would carry with it even more anger over what has happened in Redcar and what is now happening in Port Talbot: we must make the patriotic case for our industries and institutions to be in public hands and to be stronger for it, and for the state’s role to be to ensure their survival.

This is about making the case for Titmuss’s universalism and for a commitment to public services, industries and institutions. A cultural project of revitalizing the debate over public ownership. Not as we’ve known it, necessarily, but exploring new ways: be it cooperatives, mutualisation, or what Lisa Nandy simply described as ‘democratisation’, and where needed, pragmatic nationalisation.

Combining this mission with patriotism – making the case that it is in the national interest – also helps the Left clear a deficit in the one area it is considered most weak.

As a Leftist, I personally take pride as a patriot in the British institutions that we can be proud of -and indeed the majority of Britons avowedly are. The NHS, the BBC and the taxpayer-funded cultural landmarks it has created (Doctor Who, anyone?), and indeed our heavy industries, even National Parks. It is these public institutions, so many of which are not just symbols of Britishness but symbols of British social justice as well as innovation and ingenuity. It strengthens my resolve, and my socialism is innately patriotic: it strengthens British institutions too.

Our Labour ancestors knew the power of this: Attlee, Wilson, they fought on tickets of patriotic socialism, and not only did Labour win, but industries and institutions of the left also triumphed.

It is not only emotional, it is logical: saving our industries and boosting our vital manufacturing sectors simply makes sense for the greater good of Great Britain. We are largely a service economy, with ailing productivity, which is the shadow that haunts the very basis of Osbornomics and prevents us closing the deficit. Elsewhere, the assets we sell to try to make up for this and gain a quick fix are given to stronger, more interventionist economies on the continent. As James Bloodworth noted, British free market dogma “so often boosts the state-owned industries of other nations at our expense.” We do not benefit from letting our industries fail or selling them off. There is no economic sense to it. And, what’s more, not only is our case in line with patriotism, but the Tory case, it would seem, is in contrast highly and evidently unpatriotic.

Making the case for public services, institutions, and ownership now, at a time of national crisis and personal crisis for our workers, can give us the new opportunity to create a new national, patriotic commitment, and a new -and at the same time, very old- type of patriotism: an institutional patriotism. In doing so, Labour clears its deficit with patriotism. It also makes the case for a new national debate on public ownership and accountability for the millenial generation, just when we as a nation and our workers most need it. Mutual beneficiaries: something, I am sure, Titmuss would be proud of.

Jade Azim is the Editor for Open Labour.

If you liked this article, you can sign up to support Open Labour at

You may also like

Identity or class politics? It doesn’t have to be a choice. by Open Labour | 25.01.17 | In: Comment By Emma Burnell / @EmmaBurnell_ There has been much excitement recently among some lefties about the death of “identity politics”. Let me correct that... Read More
Solid Modernity – A personal and political reflection on Zygmunt Bauman by Open Labour | 16.01.17 | In: Comment, Editorial By Alex Sobel / @alexsobel Alex and his family enjoy a moment with Zygmunt My family’s journey mirrored that of Zygmunt Bauman’s: from Poland to Israel... Read More
Tata to British Steel: The Folly of Pandering to China by Open Labour | 07.04.16 | In: Comment By Peter Kennedy / @kennedy121 According to Tata Steel’s own announcements, the plant at Port Talbot has a maximum of six weeks’ life left in it before... Read More
Saving our steel means demanding a strategy by Open Labour | 30.03.16 | In: Comment By Tom Miller / @TomMillerUK A plan to nationalise steel was put in place by the Labour government in 1949, but after the defeat of the Attlee government,... Read More