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PRINT May 1997

LETTER FROM LONDON

Hawking of Britain

I RECENTLY RETURNED from the US to a British news media dominated by a by-election in the Northwest of England. The point about the Wirral contest was that 1) it was an ordinarily safe Conservative seat that seemed about to fall to Labour (which it did); and 2) it was the last by-election before the general election, which by law must fall at most five years after the last one (i.e., by this May). With the possibility that eighteen years of Conservative rule are ending, politics had suddenly become charged. I knew this when I looked at the Labour graphics on the telecasts, and there, right in the middle, was a Union Jack.

In America, where the flag is an object of reverence, this would be of no account. But to many Brits the Union Jack has been a loaded, ambiguous symbol. Many late-’70s leftists and punks remember that the fascist party of that time, the National Front, promoted its rhetoric

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