UK Gov splurges more than £163,000 on Union Jacks in just two years
The UK Government has splurged more than £163,000 on Union Jack flags in just two years, it has been revealed.
The increase in spending on flags has been described as an “apparent escalation of the flag-based culture war” that’s caused tempers to fray in Wales.
The news comes amid a storm of protest in Wales over plans for a 100 ft tall Union Jack on the huge UK Government hub as part of the Central Square development in Cardiff city centre.
Cardiff Council gave the go ahead for the eight-storey high banner on the side of the landmark building, Tŷ William Morgan, which was classed as an “advertisement”.
Giving it the go-ahead sparked a fierce backlash and a 20,000-strong petition from pro-independence group YesCymru who said it was a “blatant political act designed to act as provocation”.
The row came on the heels of new guidance issued in March which said UK Government buildings should in Wales to fly the Union flag every day.
Oliver Dowden, the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture and Sport, issued a decree that in addition the Union Jack must always be flown in a “superior position” to the Welsh flag.
The Guardian newspaper has now revealed that spending on union flags has increased in virtually every government department since Boris Johnson entered Downing Street.
More than £163,000 spent on flags this year and last, accounting for 85% of union flag purchases over the past four years.
The biggest spenders are the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office, which recently axed £2.6m plans for White House-style TV briefings featuring flags, has spent more than £3,000 on union jacks since the start of 2018.
The Treasury has spent nearly £1,000 on union flags since 2018, including three this year at a cost of £607.06. Spending this year perhaps compensates for the purchase of a solitary £3.25 table-top union jack last year.
The information was contained in a response to a Freedom of Information request from the Guardian.
The BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, was given a dressing down in a parliamentary committee hearing by a Tory MP for failing to include images of the flag in the corporation’s annual report.
Another Conservative wore a union flag tie and face mask in the House of Commons chamber to rail against what he described as a “ban” on the display of the flag in the Senedd.
Robert Colls, a professor of cultural history at De Montfort University, said: “I think what we are seeing at the moment from the government is a kind of pushback against devolution and threats to the union.
“There is something to do with Brexit in it as well. Flying the union flag is a way of saying ‘no’ to the EU blue and stars but whether they are pushing back in any effective way is another question. Most people are not political in the way that politicians or commentators are, and they tend to see flag flying in the same way.”
Not surprisingly, Johnson’s flag project causes supporters of Scottish independence to bristle. Tommy Sheppard, the Edinburgh East MP and Scottish National party’s spokesperson for constitutional affairs, said the union jack could be a “divisive” symbol in Scotland.
He said: “People will find it quite odd in the middle of a public health crisis that expenditure on flags is something that has been increasing.
“The truth is that this is a deliberate plot by the government to use the union flag to promote its political ends and it just doesn’t fool people. I’m reminded of the comment by Boris Johnson’s 18th-century namesake that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” he added, referring to the essayist Samuel Johnson.
According to Nick Groom, a professor at the University of Macau and author of The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag, the flag had tended to be a “very flexible, malleable symbol”.
He said: “It’s always been debated and questioned and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s also clearly now gone way beyond being simply a flag of a number of nations. It’s a symbol in its own right, a design classic that can be adapted and adopted in all sorts of ways.
“It’s true that it can be seen as being partisan, especially if it’s used in a very political way. At the same time as the government are increasingly flying it we also have the Olympics and it’s clearly a unifying symbol in that context.”
The UK Government told The Guardian: “The government is proud to fly the union flag as a reminder of our history and the ties that bind us.
“A large number of flags are used for ceremonial and non-ceremonial events, including national commemorations and state visits, and will regularly be replaced when damaged beyond repair.”