AN insider in the London media scene, whose name we have changed to protect their identity, writes for The National about their frustrations trying to get the industry to stop seeing England as Britain...

THERE is a school of utopian thought which longs for a world without flags. Strip the poles, free the people, goes the rhetoric.

My late father, a prominent agitator and adherent to the tenets of the Clydeside Anarchists, certainly felt that national colours were inherently bad news. “All they do is perpetuate xenophobia, division and militarism, son!” he would froth.

While that may well be true, I have nothing but love for our Saltire and Lion Rampant. Having lived in London for 25 years, to see either of these little emblems on the back of a car doesn’t half elevate my commute.

I must confess I do not have the same feelings of warmth for the Union Flag. Very little stirs inside me when it flies. Sure, I might root for our Olympians every four years, but that’s really the extent of my fealty.

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Indeed, to some around the world, that geometric amalgam of red, white and blue may be forever tarnished, given its history as the last splash of colour the peoples of many annexed lands saw before everything went dark.

However, the thing which bothers me the most about this fluttering badge of (dis)honour is the fact that those who wave it or stand under it don’t seem to have any idea what it stands for. And by that I don’t mean its ideology, but what disparate kingdoms those three colours actually represent: Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Wales doesn’t get a look in, but more of that later.

Many years ago, I was freelancing at one of the Fleet Street broadsheets. Someone Quite Important on the paper had written a column in which he referred to the England men’s football team as “our lads” and “the pride of Britain”.

After I had Sellotaped my computer monitor, which I had gymnastically headbutted in reaction to this nonsense, I thought I might have a word with him. I wandered over, counting to 10. Twice.

He was, of course, Oxbridge. Much tweed and leather detailing. Quite pipey. You get the picture.

I asked him if he thought it might be ill-advised to refer to the England team in this way, as not only was it geographically preposterous, it was also erroneous mince.

He looked perplexed and a little amused. I forced myself to blink and persevered. Did he really see no difference between England and Britain? He chuckled: “Ah. Yes, I suppose I am awfully old-fashioned, but I’ve always conflated Englishness with Britishness. I think you’ll find most people do.”

They do? Oh, they very much do. Footage of England winning the World Cup in 1966 speaks to this, with a good proportion of the fans in Wembley Stadium waving Union flags.

Moving into the present, if none of England’s Barmy Army of supporters brandishes one during the current Ashes cricket series against Australia, I’ll be amazed.

The National: England's Barmy Army cheer on their team in Perth

Talking of cricket, I once had a warmish discussion with someone senior on another national newspaper about how it should react to England winning a previous Ashes series. He wanted the front page teaser graphic to read: “Our boys beat the Aussies!”

I said to him: “This is a British national newspaper. If you claim ownership of the victory, you’ll alienate readers in those segments of the Union that aren’t England. You can’t think that’s wise. Why not just change it to ‘England beat the Aussies?’”

He looked at me like a beagle that had just been asked to divide 342 by 17.

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They ended up keeping the headline the way it was. Of course they did. I was so cross I wrote an opinion piece for the same paper.

I have spent one-quarter of a century trying to make the London-based media understand that this kind of linguistic choice is counter-productive but, in all honesty, my endeavours have been a fail you could spot from the International Space Station.

Sadly, where we may see a problem with this exclusionary behaviour, in my experience many English folk just don’t.

They can’t see why we, the Northern Irish, and the Welsh get so irritated by being corralled into their self-congratulation when we were probably supporting the other team. Or neither team!

In truth, all I have been able to do is change the odd word here and there, maybe water down the assumption that everyone in the UK is delighted whenever anything good happens to an English team.

It’s not much and I can only apologise. But there is, at least, one crumb of positivity.

We may be under-represented and overlooked by the very media meant to reflect our lives back at us. But it could be worse. At least we’re ON the flag. Unlike Wales.

*Tom Merry is an alias which we are using to protect the journalist’s identity