Reflections on St George’s Day
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St George’s Day, Roger Helmer MEP explains what St George’s Day means to him, and why he thinks more people should celebrate it.
Roger Helmer is a UKIP Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands.
To follow Roger Helmer on Twitter – @RogerHelmerMEP
April 23rd is Saint George’s Day – though perhaps too few of our compatriots are aware of it.
I remember it particularly well – along with Saint Patrick’s, Saint David’s, and especially Saint Andrew’s days – as I spent many years in Asia as an expatriate, and the highlights of the British expatriate calendar, in Hong Kong and Singapore and Seoul and Kuala Lumpur and other more remote and less well known places, are the “Tribal Societies’ events”, the dinners or balls for their respective National Days. Here I have to admit that splendid as the Saint George’s Balls usually were, the Scots edged it – and indeed won by a clear margin.
With Scottish dancing, it is simply impossible to enjoy the activity unless you have some idea what you are doing (I remember one Sassenach asking “How many do you need for an Eightsome Reel?”). You do not have to be an embodiment of terpsichorian grace and skill, but at least you need to be in the right place at the right time and grab the correct hand (which may also be the right hand). If you cannot do that, you will have a rotten time, and be a frustration and an embarrassment to your seven dancing partners. Mairie’s Wedding is particularly difficult from this point of view, as you have to keep four points in mind at all times, even though there may be no one standing on them.
Accordingly, it was customary to have eight weekly rehearsals, usually at the British Club (if there was one). These were casual – shorts, T-shirts, and running shoes – and were fuelled by copious supplies of beer and bangers. They were, in fact, a weekly party for two months, and a wonderful opportunity to network, or for newcomers to establish a circle of acquaintance. In Bangkok, I first bumped into the British Ambassador (literally) at one such event. I recall my very first experience of such a session, where I was so embarrassed at demonstrating my total lack of skill and knowledge that for the first and only time in my life I hit the beer determined to render myself (even more) incapable of dancing. But it was not to be: I was dragged onto the floor, and became a fan, though never an expert.
The contrast of the actual event was amazing. All the people you had seen for weeks sweating in the tropical evening in sports clothes suddenly appeared in all their finery. I used to dance every dance. This had the added advantage that one seemed to be able to drink steadily until dawn, and the vigorous exercise negated the effects of the whisky.
For several years I was working with United Distillers (now Diageo) in Asia, so the Scottish Ball had special resonance for the business.
But what does it mean today? There is nothing special about April 23rd (except perhaps that Shakespeare was born – and died – that day). Nothing really special about Saint George, who seems to have been born in Palestine, of Greek parents, and is claimed as Patron Saint by a number of countries, including not only Georgia, Romania, Egypt and Greece, but also (perhaps ironically) Syria, Ukraine – and Russia. And there is no verifiable connection between the Saint and England. And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green? Almost certainly not.
No. But like the Monarchy, like Big Ben, like the Union Jack, like red telephone boxes and double decker buses and roast beef, Saint George’s Day speaks to us of identity. It tells us who we are, and provides part of the common hinterland of our minds.
It is so important that political organisation respects the citizens’ sense of identity. Half the troubles in Africa result from the division of the continent by old white men with rulers in the Chancelleries of Europe in the 19th Century drawing straight lines on the map, in total disregard of identity and ethnicity – and indeed of topography. And this gives us a clue as to why “Democracy at the European level” is a meaningless construct. Democracy can only be legitimate if there is a “Demos”. A people, who as Enoch Powell put it, share enough in common in terms of language, culture, history, and economic interests that they are prepared to accept governance at each other’s hands. That is such a lovely phrase that it bears repeating, prepared to accept governance at each other’s hands.
I am convinced that meaningful, legitimate democracy can exist in the UK, whereas it cannot exist across all the diverse and linguistically distinctive peoples and cultures of Europe. You can have a democratic Europe, but only if it is a Europe of independent democratic nations, trading and cooperating together. That is the lesson of Saint George’s Day. That is why I finally left the Conservative Party and joined UKIP. And that is why millions of our fellow Englishmen and women (and Scots, and Welsh, and Northern Irish) will vote UKIP just four weeks or so after Saint George’s Day.
Published: Wednesday 23 April 2014
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2014
Photograph: © Copyright of Roger Helmer MEP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.