WHAT’S your proudest achievement? And if it involves flags, what on earth have you been doing with your life?

The news that Tory leadership contender Matt Hancock is beaming with pride to have “got Union Jacks on the Edinburgh festival” during his time as English Culture Secretary has come as a surprise to many – not least those running Edinburgh’s festivals, along with everyone who was under the impression these festivals took place on dry land.

In Hancock’s defence he was only Culture Secretary for six months, so can’t possibly be expected to realise that there is no single “Edinburgh festival”, but rather a collect of distinct August festivals welcoming performers from around the globe.

The Edinburgh International Festival has been quick to shut down any suggestion that his flag-flying chat was a reference to any of its initiatives, but presumably he was meaning the Edinburgh Fringe Hancock when he referred to “the UK’s biggest and best festival,” given the Fringe is in fact the biggest in the world.

So has he – or anyone else – succeeded in inserting Union flags into the mammoth open-access festival, which hosts thousands of shows every year? Let’s have a look at the programme, shall we?

There’s a lot happening on the front cover, so careful inspection is required to confirm the absence of any red-white-and-blue ensigns. The closer you look, the more you see, like a Where’s Wally spread. There’s a snake, an acrobat, a hotdog, and man wearing a full-head shark mask with his hands in his pockets. Perhaps that’s Matt Hancock, ready to pull out Union flags as part of an avant-garde clown show about his time as Minister of State for Portsmouth.

Perhaps we’ll have more luck looking inside for flags. After all, with 3841 different shows on offer there will surely be plenty celebrating the greatness of Britain and the strong, stable and united nature of these isles? Perhaps there will be a Theresa May biopic titled A Matter of Deep Regret, a musical about migrant fruit-pickers called Jam Tomorrow? Or a stand-up show in which a comic with limited range and a large wig collection plays all 10 unsuccessful Tory leadership candidates.

And… jackpot! There’s a Union flag in the picture accompanying the listing for a show called Immigrant Diaries, which should definitely be on the must-see list of any Tories heading to Edinburgh for August. “Immigration, migrants, the refugee crisis: hot topics dividing a not so United Kingdom of Brexit,” says the blurb. “True, sublime stories from a Fringe full of bloody foreigners.” A rotating cast will perform at 3pm at The Stand Comedy Club until August 12.

And now look – two Union flags in one poster! The Eurosceptic Song Contest is apparently “a Eurovision for Brexit that features intimate live performances from Borrissey, Farage Against the Machine, Snoop Mogg, Maydiohead, David Davis Bowie, Corbzy, Leadsome Zeppelin, Fleetwood McVey, Otis Grayling and somehow even more”. This definitely sounds like the kind of show Matt Hancock would be keen to endorse, despite the fact he’s not relevant enough to be parodied in it. Because anything with a Union flag on it is a glowing endorsement of the United Kingdom, right?

If that’s not enough to get Tory toes tapping, the creators of Boris the Musical are back with Now That’s What I Call Brexit at the Gilded Balloon. However, their promotional picture incorporates both EU and UK flags, possibly cancelling out the visual endorsement. When reminding the world’s arts lovers about the Great British Edinburgh Fringe (or would North British Fringe be a snappier title?), it’s probably best not to remind them about the looming threat of no-deal.

Of course, symbols aren’t the only things that matter to Matt Hancock; he’s also conscious of “the hard policy of improving people’s lives”. But remember this chap – who has held no fewer than eight ministerial posts – managed to keep a straight face when he declared the imaginary bedecking of a festival in Union jacks [sic] “one of the proudest things I’ve done as a minister”. What kind of proud achievements might await should he succeed in becoming prime minister? Changing the wallpaper at Number 10?

It should go without saying that an arts festival – especially one that organically emerged as an anti-establishment pushback – cannot simply be branded “British” by stamping a flag on it. The Edinburgh Fringe is not a bag of spuds or a punnet of strawberries. It’s a vibrant, exhilarating, punishing and exhausting performance environment in which artists can test out new material, experiment, win awards, fall flat on their faces or die on stage every night for three weeks. It’s a place where local, national and international acts share the same performance spaces and dressing rooms. Where forgotten stories are brought to life and hot-button issues go from page to stage within weeks; where stand-ups weave yarns celebrating our common humanity or rage against the governments of the day.

The Edinburgh Fringe provides a fantastic showcase for Scottish artists and those who flock to the capital from elsewhere in the UK, but dozens of other countries are also represented and the notion of stamping “Made in Britain” all over the festival is not just absurd, it’s offensive.

Matt Hancock should come and experience the festival for himself – he might learn a thing or two about how others see us. But he should leave his flags at home.