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St George's Day, a retrospective

In Britain, there is a country that is not officially celebrated: England. But it has a national day: St George's Day. This was yesterday, 23 April (also Shakespear's birthday by happy coincidence) and an active supporter of England gaining its own government sums up the mood.

Gareth Young
24 April 2012

Commentary on St George's Day 2012 was dominated by coverage of British Future's report This Sceptred Isle.

The report features YouGov polling on what the various nationalities of the United Kingdom take pride in, but what grabbed the attention of the media was the revelation that only 61% of English people associate the English flag with pride and patriotism, while 24% associate the Cross of St George with racism and extremism, rising to one in three of the under 40s.

For the political leaders of most nations this would give cause for alarm, but, one suspects, not for the UK Government; for they, being rather more concerned with Britishness than Englishness, are possibly rather delighted that the English take greater pride in the flag of Britain than they do in their own national flag, with 80% associating the Union flag with pride and patriotism and only 14% associating it with racism and extremism.

Although headlines like 'St George’s flag is a racist symbol says a quarter of the English' and 'English pride in the Cross of St George is at half mast' did not make pleasant reading for those of us who count ourselves as English, the British Future report did make a welcome call for a specifically English national anthem and greater recognition of St George's Day. And the report author, Sunder Katwala, did state that the 'anxiety over the English flag disguises a bedrock of confidence about English pride'.

Where does this report leave those of us who want the Government to pay more recognition to English national identity? It is highly unlikely that the UK Parliament or Government are going to take the initiative on an English anthem. God Save the Queen has never been adopted by Royal Proclamation or Act of Parliament, so it's unlikely that an English anthem would be sanctioned in this way. An English anthem will come about through adoption rather than proclamation, so if you're fed up of the dirge that is God Save the Queen then you should support anthem4england and lobby English sporting associations to make the change. I fear that it's also highly unlikely that the British Government will help normalise the politics of English identity by making England's national day a public holiday. Gordon Brown personally vetoed John Denham's plan for state funding of St George's Day celebrations because he feared there would be a counter-reaction in Scotland. The same anxiety about encouraging displays of English identity are probably shared by the current administration. David Cameron is rather tight-lipped about his views on St George's Day, but he did at least make the effort to fly the flag and put out a St George's Day press release.

Any prospect of English self-government seems a long way off. Despite ippr's recent findings that the English want an English dimension to governance, voices from the left (see Hilary Benn and Mark Rusling) used St George's Day to promote schemes which deny England a national voice and instead treat England as a collection of disparate entities. It speaks volumes that the English had to rely on Welsh politicians to voice calls for an English parliament.

It would be nice to think that St George's Day 2013 will be different; that we will be spared the sneering indifference from the left and the post-mortems from the right, but I expect we'll all be engaging in the same anxious navel-gazing whilst being no nearer to a public holiday, anthem or an answer to the West Lothian Question.

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