St George’s Day – A day to celebrate a modern, vibrant democracy, confident in itself, proud of its identity, unapologetic about its Englishness
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St George’s Day, John Mann MP explains what St George’s Day means to him, and why he thinks more people should celebrate it.
John Mann is the Labour Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw and is Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for St George’s Day.
To follow John Mann on Twitter – @JohnMannMP
There is an identity crisis for many MPs. When asked by overseas politicians where they come from, there is often a fear of stating England. Instead, Britain, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom are regularly trotted out. I share no such embarrassment. I am English, a Yorkshireman, proud and defiant on both counts.
I do not recall any Irish obsession with St Patrick, his origins or his roots. I doubt if Welsh school kids can real off St David’s achievements. And I doubt if many Scots know or care who St Andrew was. Patron saints are emblems, needing no explanation, historic quirks from bygone eras. And so it is with St George, a man who clearly preferred to travel the world than build his own country.
But symbols are what they are, not substance or relevance in themselves. The real identity is of England, a large proud country, seemingly unable to assert itself as the country we are. Having clung to our empire, our political leaders have seen no advantage in proclaiming their Englishness. It has been convenient to allow fruitcakes and oddballs to grab the symbols of our shared identity. Yet we come together as a tribe for our football team, our cricket team and we need to be relaxed about reclaiming the rest of our living heritage. We are who we are, because of where we are from.
It is one of the gradual changes of recent years that we English have started to reclaim our identity from the oddball cocktail of extremists who have tried to claim the identity of Englishness for their own political ends. We are the English, an incredibly tolerant people, a welcome and open nation, a generous and neighbourly community.
England is not just country mansions and bowler hats. It is mining communities looking out for one another; manufacturing industry getting its hands dirty, it is seaside towns, local authority parks, adventurous young people. We are the most inventive nation of them all; the most successful at modern popular culture; the most sporting.
We come together more than any other nation, in our shared identity, whether out on strolls, on deckchairs, at work or at leisure. Yet we fail to properly celebrate our national identity.
It is that time of year, every April, when cheap £1 Chinese made flags of St George suddenly emerge behind a handful of unwashed and dingy windows.
Somehow these super patriots hope to tell us all that they are more English than us, more British than us, more English than British or more British than English. They get confused.
There is no confusion about the message – tatty flags for tatty fascists. I therefore, as I do this year, call on people to wash their flag for their country. English made, washed, and ironed flags are what defines our national identity, and every fascist should therefore hide their filthy Chinese imports away, while we celebrate our St George’s Day. Have a look around and spot the tatty flag, knock on their door and tell them to stop disgracing our emblem.
Throughout my time in Parliament I have initiated and supported calls for our national day to be a bank holiday. It should be celebrated by the whole nation. Not just a handful of self proclaimed Englanders, who purport to be more English than the rest of us.
My suggestion is that as part of it, every school should become the focus of community activity with a full schools sports programme of activities, engaging the community, a culmination of school sport through the year. Schools football finals could be played, perhaps in some cities in iconic stadiums, while St George’s Day would be the perfect setting for the London Marathon to be only slightly rescheduled.
I would also make it a charity day, again perhaps rescheduling one of major charity fundraising events, such as the BBC Children in Need programming, to focus on a day where the nation can celebrate everything that is English.
I can already hear the complaints. What about the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh. Well they can continue working. They have their own days to celebrate, and in the case of the Irish, they seem capable of attracting plenty of temporary day passes in order for the English to join their celebrations.
A modern country should have the confidence to reach out and celebrate its own identity, not with some fogeyish throw back to a country that never really existed, but as a modern, vibrant democracy, confident in itself, proud of its identity, unapologetic about its Englishness.
Published: Tuesday 23 April 2013
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Endeavour Public Affairs or any of our clients.