In 2013 Darlington held its first Proms in the Park concert; an event aimed at bringing the people of Darlington together and promoting a sense of civic pride in the town. This weekend saw the fourth of these events and brought me back to the town’s South Park.
The local newspaper’s headline from the 2015 event spoke volumes “Best of British on Display” for indeed this is a quintessentially British event; deckchairs and picnic blankets, champagne and ice cream, the gentle jingoism of a military band proclaiming that
The Army, The Navy and The Air Force have made old England’s name
Our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen have always played the game
They’re steady, they’re true and always ready
They fight for you and me
The Army, The Navy and The Air Force leading us to victory.
The irony of British service men singing of what they have done for England went over the heads of most, but this weekend it had a particular irony. We are no longer a united kingdom. We have endured a bitterly divisive political campaign over our membership of the European Union, a campaign marked by lies, distortions and utter disrespect on both sides of the argument and we face an uncertain future. Both of our main political parties are now riven by in-fighting, and politicians who have long know that the public lacked confidence and respect in them have behaved in ways likely to see their standing eroded further. I fear this will result in greater division within the population too as more extremism gains a voice. I may seem needlessly pessimistic – but Michael White, a political journalist who I have always respected if not always agreed with puts it well here.
The regional splits in how the country voted mean that Scotland has a justifiable reason to demand a second independence vote; they voted to remain in the EU. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, will pursue this vigorously, but she may not be alone in wanting to break away from the UK. Across the Irish Sea, a majority in Northern Ireland voted Remain too, giving Sinn Féin grounds to pursue their agenda of a united Ireland once more, the Republic of Ireland being the only part of the EU where we have a shared border.
The band leader who fronted the performance explained that in choosing his programme he had opted for the theme of “music from around the world”, yet we have just turned our back on internationalism in favour of division and subdivision.
I have no idea how most of the audience around me may have voted (though there were some obvious indications), but it already seems that those who desired a Britain apart may well have a Britain torn apart. Those who wanted to reject a European flag in favour of the “Union Jack” had better enjoy their victory while it lasts. That flag may soon be missing the blue and white of Scotland very soon.
All of that seemed far from the minds of those celebrating Armed Forces Weekend and enjoying the music.
Or maybe we were just fiddling while Rome burns.