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Flashback: The Telford & Wrekin Council flag dispute that refused to die down

By Toby Neal | Telford | Features | Published:

2003. A rumbling row in Telford in the early years of the new millennium was sending some folk up the pole.

The controversy over the council's flags policy rumbled on for years.

The bone of contention was very simple. What flags should, or should not, be flown from the civic offices of Telford & Wrekin Council?

And more specifically, was the blue European Union flag a red rag to a bull?

The underlying claim was that the Labour-run council gave preference to flying the EU flag, with all its little yellow stars, over the good old Union Jack.

Some Telford folk complained they were seeing the EU flag fluttering over the council offices at Malinslee House all the time, flanked by the council's own corporate flags, and the Union Jack only appearing rarely.

This was in accordance with the council's flags policy, under which the Union Jack was flown only on designated "special occasions" such as the Queen's birthday.

Councillors Miles Hosken and Jacqui Seymour make their feelings known before a council debate to discuss its flags policy.

In doing so the council said it reflected the contribution Europe had made to the Telford economy, and followed guidelines laid down by the prestigious Flag Institute.

However, that was news to the institute, which when it heard that its name was being invoked joined in the criticism of the council's policy which, it said, was a mixture of misheard information and wishful thinking.

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There was lively and continuing correspondence about the issue in the Shropshire Star's letters page.

They writers were of all ages. One 12-year-old schoolboy wrote that the Britons who fought in two world wars "did not fight to see their national flag lose priority and seniority to a European flag."

However, in a letter published in the Star, Councillor Phil Davis, the council leader, wrote that the council's policy was being misrepresented

A rare appearance of the Union Jack, flying at half mast on the death of the Queen Mother in March 2002.

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The council policy on flying the Union Jack followed national guidelines, he wrote.

"The Union Jack is flown on special occasions, as befits its special status. Any other flag has secondary status. The vast majority of councils throughout the UK follow the same policy.

"Not even Buckingham Palace flies the national flag every day."

He added: "The motivation of some of your correspondents appears to be not so much love of the national flag, but hatred of the flag of the European Union and hatred of foreigners or people who are different.

"These are the forces that drove Adolf Hitler to his monstrous crimes...

"As long as I am leader of Telford & Wrekin Council we will fly both our national and EU flags as a mark of pride in our country and our welcome to the wider world."

All clear, and the end of the matter then? You must be joking.

The council's own emblem and the EU flag flying from Telford & Wrekin Council's headquarters at Malinslee House.

It was a controversy which rumbled on for years. So in the end the council decided to solve the matter by asking the people.

"You may have seen the Civic Offices on the Central TV news on St George's Day, showing us proudly flying the English, national, and EU flags," the council said in Insight, its own little news outlet, published on May 27, 2003.

"As some people have been wrongly claiming that we do not fly the Union Flag, we were grateful to Central for setting the record straight.

"We are here to represent the views of the people of Telford & Wrekin and have decided to ask for representative views on our flag policy."

The upshot was it sounded out Telford & Wrekin Community Panel comprising a cross section of 1,065 residents to find out what they thought.

And when the result was in, it was also clear – they wanted to see the Union Jack flying. So the council caved in and agreed to fly the Union Jack high above its offices, alongside the EU flag and the council's own emblem on every day of the year.

There was further bad news for the EU flag in 2007 when a new Conservative administration decided to scrap flying it altogether, except on one day a year, Holocaust Day.

No flags fly at all over Malinslee House now – the council offices were demolished in 2013 and an Asda supermarket stands on the site.

And before you send in that letter to Star Mail saying that using the term "Union Jack" above is incorrect as a jack is only flown at sea, and that "Union Flag" must be used, check with the Admiralty first.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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