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20 January 2022

Pravina Rudra

Why is it just the left that gets accused of virtue-signalling?

Conservatives are far worse – take GB News’ daily broadcast of “God Save The Queen”.

GB News has decided to broadcast the national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, to kick off its live programming every day. The decision – apropos of well, not much – has sparked ridicule, as well as questions about what type of audience the channel is hoping to win over with the move.

But I have a different question. In the dictionary of hysterical accusations to throw at the left, V for virtue-signalling is so incredibly well-thumbed (right before W for woke). Why – when the right are increasingly guilty of such un-subtle virtue-signalling themselves?

Leaving aside the fact that I’m not sure the Queen (nor, for that matter the God saving her) is particularly moved by GB News’s decision to pay allegiance to her every morning at 5.59 am, this kind of stunt serves no purpose except to signify the channel’s loyalty to the monarchy. It is the very definition of signalling a virtue (in this case, patriotism).

Conservatives have increasing form for injecting pomp and ceremony into vacant and meaningless gestures in order to appear virtuous. Take for example, the performative solemnity around Remembrance Day on 11 November, which extends far beyond the accorded two minutes. For a whole month public figures are judged on the size of their poppies (bringing to mind competitive appendage-measuring) with various conclusions drawn about what that says about their politics today, even though the event largely remembers a war which ended 100 years ago.  And yet, taking the knee before a football match in solidarity with those who experience ongoing racism in today’s Britain, has been described as “gesture politics” by Priti Patel.

Of course, I squirm at the suggestion that waving a St George’s flag or wearing a poppy is somehow bigoted (it’s only ever said by certain type of leftie, who doesn’t know anyone outside their tight social milieu). And it’s not that the left isn’t guilty of virtue-signalling – I’ve seen plenty of “Free Palestine” Instagram posts by young people who have absolutely no interest in Palestinians, and think the Middle East was perhaps a feature of Lord of the Rings. 

But still, I wonder how the right finds it so easy to spot the hypocrisy in rainbow-flagging by corporations that have homophobic practices, but not in Nadine Dorries’s push for more Union Jacks and other “expressions of patriotism”, at a time when No 10 has been shown to display a total disregard for the lives of the everyday Britons that flag is supposed to represent. There’s something strange about Dorries declaring “I am very patriotic”, as she proposes to freeze funding to the BBC (perhaps Britain’s most successful cultural export), and about the disgraced former minister Robert Jenrick needing to have a framed portrait of the Queen and flag in his office.

The “Britannia rules the waves” sentiment currently being given the hard heave by government – and by GB News with its latest gimmick – feels a little desperate, in the wake of a cost of living catastrophe (which, as numerous Brexiteers are increasingly conceding, seems indelibly linked to Brexit), and a Prime Minister who is the subject of ridicule across international press. It smacks of the words of the Iron Lady herself: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Perhaps the same could be said of patriotism.

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