`The Progressive Patriot' is Billy Bragg's first book but I suspect it will not be his last. Following on from his previous album `England, Half English' he is continuing his theme of what is national identity in a multicultural society, fuelled by the far right BNP being elected onto the council of his native Barking and the realisation that the London suicide bombers were British Nationals, Billy is looking for an inclusive patriotism that welcomes all under the National Banners.
The contradictions of what is traditionally considered to be British Patriotism from the Whig histories and the fact that the mother of all democracies did not have universal suffrage until the twentieth century do not make this an easy subject and Billy attempts to bridge the gap of his own ancestry and experience and how although that it could alienate him from the English genius instead it shows how it can give us an inclusive citizenship. Billy leads us through his family history and fits this into the history of both Barking and the Nation. Coupled with this Billy shares with us his formative years and shows us how, somewhat bizarrely, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan informed his love of English folk music and The Clash informed not only his politics but also his internationalism.
The book is very timely and while the government considers such ludicrous suggestions as to introduce citizen tests and school children pledging allegiance to the Queen, Billy Bragg is taking the lead with realistic ideas that are not impositions but a realistic appreciation and inclusiveness.
Reading this book made me think of my own ideas on patriotism and my ancestry with a similar stand point to Billy Bragg with our both being lovers of George Orwell's `The Lion and the Unicorn' and having both being politicised by music. I brought to mind my Grandmother rushing home in the thirties to avoid Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts marching through Leeds. She got the heel of her shoe stuck in the tram lines and had to break it off to get away. History has never felt so relevant.
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