Darcus Howe fears English nationalist passions

The English display nationalist passions as though they were an insecure new nation

We live in frightening times. Windows are stuffed with the flag of St George, which also flies from thousands of car aerials. Broadcasting studios are transformed into houses of nationalist propaganda. One Sky reporter flapped his way through a recent news report in the manner of a cheerleader as England's football representatives fumbled and stumbled their way through Euro 2004.

Journalists and broadcasters have encouraged exaggerated expectations. A teenager, Wayne Rooney, was suddenly transformed from a fine and promising player into the greatest ever - until he lost his boot, as all children with improperly tied laces do. And his predecessor in the "greatest ever" ranks, David Beckham, limped across the field of play, lame of mind and body, paralysed by allegations of marital infidelity, his eyes everywhere except on the ball.

It was only a matter of time before all this passion spilled over into a vicious attack on a perceived enemy - any group, that is, which stood in the way of these urgent aspirations. After Portugal had defeated England, a baying mob surrounded a Portuguese pub in the small town of Thetford, Norfolk, where babes in arms wailed and screamed for protection.

Throughout this flag-waving, I buttoned my lip and went about my business with a great degree of caution, keeping my views on the inadequacy of English football to myself. I blinked as my son, who had returned to Britain after a four-year sojourn in Trinidad, appeared on the front page of a local paper in one of

London's suburbs, draped in the cross of St George and extolling

the virtues of the English. During his absence, he had, to my mind, slipped into third world social behaviour. And that is the point: the English are displaying nationalist passions as though they were an insecure new nation in the developing world.

Perhaps that is precisely what we are. We were stifled for centuries by aristocratic rule. Now, a new caste is in power, but it reflects all the weaknesses of third world leadership - mainly an exaggerated sense of their country's importance.

A football team allows all the complex emotions involved to be vented on a huge scale. I see similar problems elsewhere in Europe, as far-right parties make electoral gains. Minorities across the Continent and in these islands need to be aware that the storm clouds are gathering.