Over many decades, few Union Flags have been seen in public as a matter of course. They may come out for special occasions, but then are put away again.

It has been as if we fear offending people by an outward display of pride in our nation, symbolised by its flag, or might be embarrassed by people finding out we are patriotic.

Many on the Left, certainly, have been uncomfortable with the flag being flown domestically, possibly because of a worry that it might seem to be a celebration of our imperialist past.

Our military do routinely fly our national flag, so is it wrong to be associated with military activity? Does nationalism lead inevitably to extremism?

No, emphatically, to both!

Our military are just that – OUR military. If you don’t approve of our armed forces’ involvement in places like Kosovo, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan or Libya, this is not the fault of our forces, but the choice of our politicians. And we either elect or tolerate those politicians.

Our armed forces are there to defend us and to protect our interests, so of course we should be associated with that!

I remember the woolly thinking of some of my comrades on the Left in the 1980s, refusing to wear Remembrance Sunday poppies, insisting instead on wearing the white poppies of peace. I had no problem with white poppies, but it was as if some of my comrades blamed our service men and women for wars! Kind of missing the point of remembering OUR fallen and wounded.

So, does nationalism lead inevitably to extremism? No. But lack of public patriotism can.

For decades, the extreme Right has appropriated the Union Flag. Some people will worry its display could be taken as showing BNP (previously National Front) sympathies. And by avoiding positive statements that we are British and proud of Britain, we have allowed that appropriation.

Nationalism may be a bit random, mostly the result of geographical or cultural accidents: countries are not, by and large, assembled on purpose. Most countries are there as they form a reasonably logical geographical or cultural entity, very often both. Britain is one such, with some variations on the theme (politically the UK, geographically Great Britain or even the British Isles). And most British people can identify with that organisational and cultural unit.

To let the Right steal the symbol of our nation – incidentally one of the best known brands in the world, and (because of our historical crimes) the most easily misunderstood – is to allow the world to identify their extremist tendencies with our nation. Our reluctance to declare our identity with our nation, to show our patriotism, can actually encourage extremism.

There is a lot wrong with our country, a lot the Left would want to change. But there is a lot to be proud of, a lot of reasons not to be ashamed of being British. We must not allow the far Right to appear to represent Britain.

With events like the Olympics, the Para Olympics and – yes, I have to admit it – even the Diamond Jubilee, this year has given us a lot of excuses to proudly show our flag, without being misunderstood at home or abroad.

2012 has been a fantastic opportunity to wave our flag, and I hope that continues, so we can reclaim OUR Union Flag for the whole nation.

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