Monday, April 23, 2012

England should reclaim national pride on St George's Day

As England marks St George's Day, the celebrations will be somewhat calmer than the festivities seen on other national days. While many English citizens are proud and patriotic few will be as overt in the celebration of St George's Day as the Welsh are of St David's Day or the Scots are on St Andrew's Day. In fact there is almost a sense of embarrassment for some with many seeing the English flags as racist.

'Racist' flag

A survey published over the weekend found that some 24% of the English associated the St George's flag with racism and felt more attached the the Union flag as a symbol of national pride. Part of the problem is that the St George's flag has been hijacked by right wing groups from the National Front, the British National Party and the English Defence League who have been accused of "toxifying" the flag.

There are some voices in other political circles who suggest these negative images should be ignored and forgotten and that England should reclaim the flag. Hilary Benn, a Labour MP and shadow Communities secretary, says English people should "talk proudly about being English"

National identity

"Today many people will celebrate St George's Day, but while we are proud to talk about being English when it comes to sport, in politics there has been some reluctance to talk about Englishness in the way that our friends and relatives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland celebrate their national identity. We should change that and talk proudly about being English."

It is reflected in the high street across Britain. On St Patrick's Day public houses up and down the land promote the event, hanging Irish flags and selling Guinness, the well known Irish stout. There are advertisements on television promoting Jameson's whiskey.

But when it comes to St George's Day there is no overt commercialization or celebration. Sales of Bombardier English ale might rise slightly, but there will be none of the razzamatazz seen or patriotism seen in other parts of the UK.

Disunited Kingdom

And there hinges a point. The United Kingdom is becoming ever more disunited. With devolution very much on the table in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England is finding itself not only marginalised and isolated, but finding it is losing its sense of identity. The irony is that many English view the Union flag with far greater patriotism than their Welsh and Scottish counterparts.

Some 80% of the English have positive associations with the Union flag linking it to feelings of pride and patriotism, . On the other hand only 56% of Scots and 68% of the Welsh feel similarly. When it comes to the monarch, there are similar divisions. Again around 80% of the English said the Queen evoked feelings of pride while the Scots and Welsh were far less enamoured by the Queen showing only. As the Queen approaches her Diamond Jubilee only 41% of Scots said they were filled with pride, while the Welsh showed even less enthusiasm with only 35% saying the Queen made them proud.


The English are certainly a different breed from the Scots, the Irish and Welsh. While there is a sense of comradery amongst the latter, there are string divisions and even displays of hostility amongst the English. There is a common feeling of a north, south divide. Many parts of England feel ignored by central government and the further away from London this feeling intensifies. "England remains a very centralised country, and too many decisions affecting the regions of England are still taken within a mile's radius of Big Ben," Hilary Benn writes in the Daily Telegraph.

Benn suggests that English regions should be given more control over transport, infrastructure, skills, and economic development. "All of these will need local leadership with Government giving communities the tools, powers, and finance they require to do the job."

"More decisions taken in England and away from Westminster, would not just be a good thing in itself. It would also recognise our pride in being English and put our trust in the English people to shape their communities and their regions in the way that they want."

Restoring pride

Others suggest that England needs a rousing national anthem of its own to help restore pride in the country. An anthem such as Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, I Vow to Thee, My Country, or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, could be adopted by the English and be used in the same way as Flower of Scotland by the Scots and Land Of My Fathers, by the Welsh. In a report entitled This Sceptred Isle, backed by a number of MPs from all sides of the house, it states, "England, the land of Shakespeare, seems uncertain how to find its modern voice. Historically an understated Englishness has been conflated with being British."

Sunder Katwala, the director of the think tank which produced the report, said, "We've done nothing in the era of devolution to give a voice to England as well as Scotland and Wales, which has left English identity too open to an extremist fringe." [Daily Mail / Telegraph / The Sun]

"St George inspire us"

The very symbols of England could of course be criticised. The flag itself has not only been hijacked by racists in recent years, it formed from the symbol of the bloody crusades in the 12th century. St George and the Dragon, is based in myth and legend, and neither are likely to be directly connected to England.

Nonetheless, many English do look to these symbols with pride and feel connected to them despite the loose links. The tales of St George killing the fire breathing beast is embedded in the English psyche and immortalised in English literature.

"Advance our standards, set upon our foes, our ancient world of courage fair. St. George inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons," Shakespeare wrote in Richard III [act v, scene 3]. Once again St George should inspire the English and again the flag should fly with pride.

tvnewswatch, London, England

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