Robert Jenrick has slammed BBC presenters for daring to gently mock his size, Grant Shapps has a small plastic replica of it on his bookcase, while Matt Hancock associated it with a photo of Damien Hirst from the Queen.
At the time of the Zoom interview, it appears government ministers believe nothing signals their patriotic credentials like a strategically placed union flag in the background.
But far from vacant rooms in ministers’ houses, the new spending figures also underline the growing adoption of the flag by the government under Boris Johnson’s government – whether motivated by Brexit, Scottish nationalism or self-government. saying culture wars.
Spending on union flags has increased in virtually every government department since Johnson entered Downing Street, with more than £ 163,000 spent this year and last. It represents 85% of purchases of Union flags over the past four years.
The lion’s share came from two departments: the Department of Defense (MoD) – whose spending has increased every year since 2018 and has stood at £ 118,000 since early 2018 – and the Department of Digital Culture, media and sports (DCMS). Over 83% (£ 54,420.89) of DCMS spending was last year, which he said was due to the need to replace many flags due to wear and tear.
Other ministries also got their supplies. At the Cabinet Office, which recently scrapped £ 2.6million plans for White House-style TV briefings featuring flags, more than £ 3,000 has been spent on Union Jacks since the start of 2018, including the purchase of eight in the last financial year at a cost of £ 1,999.47
The Treasury has spent almost £ 1,000 on union flags since 2018, including three this year at a cost of £ 607.06. This year’s expense may make up for the purchase of a single £ 3.25 table jack last year.
The purchases – detailed after an access to information request – come against the backdrop of another apparent escalation in the flag-based culture war when Culture Minister Oliver Dowden announced that the flag national flag should be hoisted daily on all British government buildings, and urged councils to do the same.
BBC Managing Director Tim Davie was attacked during a parliamentary committee hearing by a Tory MP for failing to include images of the flag in the company’s annual report, while Another conservative wore a union flag tie and face mask in the House of Representatives. The House of Commons denounced what it called a “ban” on flying the flag in the Welsh parliament.
“I think what we are seeing right now from the government is a kind of pullback against decentralization and threats against the union,” said Robert Colls, professor of cultural history at De Montfort University.
“There is also something to do with Brexit. Flying the Union flag is one way of saying ‘no’ to the EU’s blue and stars, but whether they repel effectively is another question. Most people are not political like politicians or commentators are, and they tend to see the flag flying the same way. “
Unsurprisingly, Johnson’s flag project bristles supporters of Scottish independence. Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East and Scottish National Party spokesperson for constitutional affairs, said the union jack could be a symbol of “division” in Scotland.
“People will find it quite strange in the midst of a public health crisis that spending on flags is on the rise,” he said.
“The truth is, this is a deliberate government conspiracy to use the union flag to promote its political ends and it just isn’t fooling people. It reminds me of the eighteenth-century Boris Johnson namesake comment that patriotism is the villain’s last refuge, ”he added, referring to essayist Samuel Johnson.
Elsewhere in government, the Department for Transport has spent £ 1,100 since 2018 on union flags (including £ 700 last year) and the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government in Jenrick said they spent 90, £ 05 for flags this year, with no records of purchases. in other recent years.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy stocked £ 392 in flags this year and for the last time – zero in previous years – while the Department for Work and Pensions spent £ 1,045 over the years. last three years (zero in 2018). The Department of International Trade’s Union Jacks spending was £ 653.05 this year and last year.
Surprisingly for a ministry that can be seen as being at the forefront of the culture war, the Education Ministry only bought flags in 2019 for a total of £ 134. The Wales office has spent £ 824 since 2018. This included £ 597.50 in 2020-21, and the same amount again on the Welsh flags.
However, the flag embrace is not necessarily associated with Conservative governments. In his first statement to Parliament as Prime Minister in July 2007, Gordon Brown ordered all government buildings to fly the flag daily to help engender a sense of British identity.
Nick Groom, a professor at the University of Macau and author of The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag, said the flag tended to be a “very flexible and malleable symbol”.
He said: “It has always been debated and questioned and there is nothing wrong with it, but it has also clearly now become much more than just a flag of a number of nations. It is a symbol in its own right, a design classic that can be adapted and adopted in all kinds of ways.
“It’s true that it can be seen as partisan, especially if it is used in a very political way. At the same time that the government is piloting it more and more, we also have the Olympics and it is clearly a unifying symbol in this context.
A government spokesperson said: “The government is proud to fly the union flag to remind us of our history and the ties that unite us.
“A large number of flags are used for ceremonial and non-ceremonial events, including national commemorations and state visits, and will be regularly replaced when damaged beyond repair.”