The Great British Bake Off: A Patriotic Showstopper

In his 1997 report, “Britishness and British Foreign Policy”, historian Keith Robbins asserted that “the foreign policy of any country must necessarily be a reflection of its own sense of identity”. The question of Britishness is more important than ever as we decide what our foreign policy should look like as we leave the European Union. However, the issue of national identity, inextricably tied to the notion of patriotism, remains a thorny and politically charged issue to the detriment of our national story. It’s about time we embraced what being patriotic should mean, and what better place to start than The Great British Bake Off.

The Great British Bake Off is back (admittedly on another channel) and its warm reception is a cookie cutter template of what being patriotic should be. From the Union Jack bunting adorning the trademark gazebo, to the awkward innuendos, to the bakers from all backgrounds and regions participating in a competition named ‘The Great British Bake Off’, the show is unashamedly British, and the public are on board.

The opening episode attracted an audience of over 6 million, with viewers excitedly taking to Twitter to share their love for #GBBO. One tweet proclaimed the show to be “the best thing about being British”. For the most part, viewers feel a sense of collective pride when watching the show. They identify with what they see on the screen, and feel comfortable celebrating it. That collective appreciation for something outwardly British is exactly what patriotism should be.

Patriotism and nationalism have often been used as interchangeable terms. This perhaps explains a reluctance amongst some in the UK to embrace any form of patriotic feeling. However, as George Orwell wrote, these concepts should not be confused as “opposing ideas are involved”, and they produce vastly different outputs. It doesn’t take much backtracking through the news to see the degenerate nature of nationalism. In August, images of far-right nationalists protesting in a violent Charlottesville rally filled our papers. Closer to home, recent arrests were made of serving members of the Army under suspicion of being members of a banned neo-Nazi group. On the other hand, patriotism is responsible for such happy occasions as street parties being held up and down the country during the Royal Wedding, or over 14 million people tuning in to watch The Great British Bake Off final. If we want to see more events such as these, we must make a clear distinction between patriotism and nationalism.

Furthermore, it’s time we acknowledged that patriotism is not a monopoly of the Right. Many would recognise there is a prevailing feeling of squeamishness about patriotism amongst left-wingers in the UK, and whilst attempts have been made to galvanise a sense of patriotism on the Left, such as the Red Shift movement, they have failed to gain prolonged support. Yet, if patriotism is a love for your country, it’s intrinsically open to everyone who is from, or lives in that country, it should not be tied to an individual’s particular political persuasion.

It is essential we begin to embrace patriotism earnestly for the sake of our foreign policy. How can we possibly drive the perception of ourselves abroad if we don’t first understand, and appreciate who we are as a nation? Patriotism allows us to embrace the things we are proudest of in our collective, national character in order for us to showcase them on the global stage.

However, there is much work to be done.  A NatCen British Social Attitudes survey, published in 2014, revealed a marked decline in the proportion of the public who say they are very proud to be British, down from 43% in 2003, to 35% in 2014. Furthermore, a study by Oxford University academics, revealed the decline in pride in one’s country is “generational by character”, revealing it’s the younger generation who hold less patriotic attitudes. Some argue this points to a shift in a feeling of English patriotism, rather than a rejection of patriotism outright. However, if we are going to transition through Brexit successfully, a united patriotic vision would work in our favour.

As the Next Generation UK report shows, the decline in patriotic feeling, particularly amongst the younger generation may be partly due to the hyper connected globalised world in which we live.  However, the report also suggests that there does not need to be a contradiction between our British and global identities. With Brexit looming ever closer, this assertion is key if we are to create a national story we believe in as a nation.

The Great British Bake Off, the 2012 Olympics, the Royal Wedding, The World Cup have all aptly demonstrated that patriotism is a force, however it’s up to us whether we harness this force for good or ill. If we don’t want the rest of the world to write our national story for us, it’s time we write our own, starting with what we collectively admire about our nation, whether that be pride in our Foreign and Commonwealth’s efforts to end the death penalty globally, the NHS, British pubs or simply the joy of watching The Great British Bake Off with a cup of tea.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
Alice Campbell
alice.campbell@bfpg.org.uk

Alice Campbell is a Researcher at the British Foreign Policy Group. She is a recent graduate from the University of London Institute in Paris where she studied French and History. After graduating from university, Alice worked for a Paris based tech start-up, working in Communications and Community Management. She has lived in The Gambia, France and the UK and is fluent in French.