Boris Johnson has something he wants to get off his chest. And it’s not that over-sized checked shirt he wore on his Scottish holiday.
The man who is actually the prime minister, heaven help us, has joined in the latest empty rattle dominating the headlines.
Perhaps you have had your head in a box, or perhaps you ignore the news when it becomes silly. Anyway, the papers have been crammed with potty outrage about how the BBC has ‘banned’ the words of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory, those dirges sung at the end of the Last Night of the Proms.
This bonfire of inanities was lit by a report in the Sunday Times that these dusty old tunes could be dropped from annual classical music event because of concerns about imperialism and the lyric “Britons never shall be slaves”.
The BBC responded that the works would be included this year in instrumental form but without lyrics, partly due to the lack of an audience to sing along. Next year, it promised, everything would be back to (dreary) normal.
At which ‘news’ the usual right-wing BBC bashers rattled their trays, spilt their milky tea and called for matron. This non-story appeared on the front pages of the Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mail, and Sun.
The Sun, you will be flabbergasted to learn, chose a groan-worthy pun for its headline – “Land of woke and glory”.
Should you not be up to speed in the lingo of cultural scorn, and who could blame you, ‘woke’ is the new ‘political correctness gone mad’.
Yesterday Boris Johnson, perhaps forgetting that he is no longer a Daily Telegraph columnist, launched into a small outburst by saying: “If it is correct, which I cannot believe that it really is…”
Hang on there a tatty second. If you cannot believe this is true, why are you banging on about it? Surely the prime minister should know whether or not something is true before he opens his mouth? Oh, hang on another tatty second, I forgot for a moment who we have for a prime minister.
Then Johnson got to the meat in his limp Downing Street sandwich, the thinly spread beef paste of patriotism. It was time “we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness”.
He added: “I wanted to get that off my chest.”
Pardon me while I walk around this damp fire about nothing set smouldering to draw our eyes from conflagrations raging elsewhere.
The Mail, now an unpredictable friend to Johnson, elevates this faux-patriotic claptrap to its front page under the headline: “Boris blasts ‘cringing’ BBC” while the Express limps behind with: “Enough! Hands off our heritage.”
The people who get so worked up about these irrelevances like to dismiss the young as ‘snowflakes’ for being over-sensitive. And yet here they are, melting all over the shop.
Have we always been so prone to blowing our kettle lids in this country? Perhaps we have, but I can’t help feeling that the endless shouting match over Brexit made this tendency so much worse.
As to our history, that should be open to interpretation, not set in stone in the preferred no-questions-asked version. There’s nothing wrong with being embarrassed about parts of our country’s history. It no longer washes when considering slavery to brush it off with a shrug while saying, “Oh things were different back then.” Isn’t history a constant process of evaluation rather than a story with a full-stop?
When it comes to those temporarily unsung lyrics, I’d happily never hear them again.
Mind you, we could always rewrite the opening to one…
“Rule, Britannia! Britannia, waive the rules!
Patriotic Britons always, always, always shall be old fools…”
This isn’t to disparage our country, merely to rub from the window some old patriotic dirt.
As for the Proms row about nothing, I’ll end by passing over to the writer Irvine Welsh, who tweeted with his customary directness to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, “Nobody gives a fuck mate.”