We have explored earlier the unsatisfactory legal status of the Wyvern flag under London rule. We have noted the reluctance of the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles to consider any deregulation that might permit ‘regional flags’ to be flown without express consent. We have also noted that, under pressure, Pickles floated the idea at the start of this year that the flags of ‘current or historic UK traditional regions’ might be flown after all.
Today his department announced plans to deregulate a strictly limited range of territorial flags. Has Pickles managed to reconcile the need to give ground with the need to avoid endorsing the virus of English regionalism, which poses a far more vital challenge to the regime than even the sum total of Celtic devolution? Can you have regional flags without setting the ball rolling towards a truly democratic, decentralised England?
The outcome, from our point of view, is a very good one indeed. The draft proposal to deregulate the flags of ‘traditional regions’ is gone, along with any ambiguity to which that phrase might have given rise. In its place is an explicit reference to ‘the flag of Wessex’, along with those of East Anglia and certain local areas. The ‘R’ word is avoided, but the ‘W’ word, we suggest, will prove to be a far more potent concession. The new regulations are planned to take effect on 12 October. Get your flag ready now! Coming just two days before we remember Harold Godwinesson’s stand at Senlac, against the vanquishers of old Wessex, that timing could hardly be better.
Spare a thought for other regions though. We and the East Anglians are recognised, not because we did everything by the book but because we defied the book. We have flown our flag to the point where it can no longer be ignored. As is so often the case, the law has had to be changed to keep up with reality, not to shape it. So if other regions wish to follow our lead, they too need to ignore London law. It seems that the only way to get the law on your side is to break it, on as big a scale as possible. It would be so much simpler to say that ‘the flag of any territory’ may be flown, regardless of whether that territory is local, regional or national, here or abroad, recognised or not. But no, control-freakery didn’t leave in Gordon Brown’s suitcase.
The change in the regulations makes no practical difference to any committed flag-flyer, beyond providing the assurance that no joyless neighbour will report them to the council and be heard. The real difference it makes is to recognise that Wessex is not some underground movement whose existence is to be officially denied. Little by little, the mantra shrieked from on high that ‘you do realise, don’t you, that there is no such place as Wessex’ is falling still. We exist, and very soon that fact will be law.