St George’s Day – A day to celebrate England, Englishness, and all things English

St George’s Day – A day to celebrate England, Englishness, and all things English

St George’s Day – A day to celebrate England, Englishness, and all things English

In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St George’s Day, Greg Mulholland MP, explains what St George’s Day means to him, and why he thinks more people should celebrate it.

Greg Mulholland is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Leeds North West and is Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for St George’s Day.  He is also Chairman of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group and the Save the Pub Group.

To follow Greg Mulholland on Twitter – @GregMulholland1

St George’s Day is an occasion when we should celebrate England, Englishness, and all things English.  Yet how many English people actually take the time to celebrate, to commemorate the event, even by that most English of pastimes, by popping for a pint of England’s national drink, beer, in one of our most distinctive of English institutions, the public house?

It often seems to me, surely strangely, that the answer is fewer than the number of people who live in England and celebrate St Patrick’s Day.  It is not only the Irish Diaspora communities who celebrate this, so why is it that not more English residents, whether born and bred or not, choose to celebrate our national day?  I enjoy a pint of Irish style stout (as long as it is hand-pulled, such as the superb Celtic Glory, brewed by WharfeBank Brewery, in my constituency) and a chorus of the “Wild Rover” as much as the next Englishman, but when it comes to 23rd April each year, I want to be doing more to celebrate our own cultural identity.

It is pleasing that more and more areas now organise St George’s Day festivals, including in my own constituency, where there is a very enjoyable annual family orientated St George’s Day festival in Otley.  Yet somehow, many English people seem happy to allow our national day to pass by without so much as a hurrah for St George, a chorus of “Engerland, Engerland, Engerland” or a pint of English ale.

Is it because it is part of our very make-up that we do not like to make a fuss of things and would rather have a cup of tea?  Or is it more sinister?  Are some still put off by the misuse of the English flag, the cross of St George, and English identity by far right groups?  If it is the latter, then that is the worst possible response.  It is essential that all of us who are proud, English patriots and who believe in the values of freedom, democracy, and tolerance that England has often, if not always, stood for, must not allow those who oppose these values to hijack our flag or our identity.

Alternatively, is it because we are still not always clear what it means to be English and many English people continue, to the ongoing annoyance of those in Scotland and Wales who support the Union, to confuse and conflate England with Britain and the UK?  There is no doubt that this continues to be a factor as to why we are not louder, clearer, and prouder of a modern, English identity and culture, based on our history, both good and bad, as I believe we should be.

Too many people do not help with this.  Politicians and commentators, for example, call William Shakespeare a ‘great Briton’.  He was great certainly, but not a Great Briton.  There was no Great Britain in his day; he died in 1616, 91 years before Great Britain was formed via the union with Scotland.  He was and is a great Englishman!

Similarly, the RFU continue to persist with the nonsense of having England singing the British national anthem, which equally belongs to Wales and Scotland, at Six Nations matches.  Perhaps it is out of a sense of loyalty to the monarchy?  Yet the truth is that what does most disservice to the Queen is when England teams and fans who wrongly use it against Scots and Welsh teams get roundly booed.  They boo their own UK national anthem, yet they sing it when the British Lions take to the pitch.  You can imagine how confused foreigners are when we cannot even get our different identities straight ourselves.

So let us start with a simple move.  We, the English, have now realised that when we are being English and representing England, that we use the English, not the UK flag.  So now it is time to reserve “God Save the Queen” for the Olympics and Paralympics, for UK and British teams, and any time we are proudly representing the UK or Great Britain.  Then, let us, when are we representing England, be English and sing as English men and women, players, athletes, and fans.  We need a strong, English song to sing when England take to the sporting pitch, so we can be proud of representing or supporting England.

This autumn sees the Rugby League World Cup 2013, the first major international sporting tournament played on these shores since the inspiring London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics, when we rightly stood together as the United Kingdom.  This time, as the fittest and fastest in world rugby league come together, we will see Wales, Ireland, and Scotland taking to the field alongside England who kick off the tournament as perennial favourites (though not currently world cup holders) against Australia in Cardiff on Saturday 26th October.  When they play, Welsh players will stand and sing the inspirational “Land of My Fathers”, the Irish the rousing and uniting “Ireland’s Call”, and the Scots the English defeating “Flower of Scotland”.  So will co-hosts England, when they take to the pitch in the magnificent Millennium Stadium in Wales, sing a suitable rousing English anthem all English rugby league fans can be proud of, or will they wrongly and lazily sing the UK anthem, “God Save the Queen”, which of course is equally the UK national anthem of co-hosts, Wales?

Until we are clear who we are when we take to the sporting arena, I fear we will still not understand never mind celebrate and promote what it truly is to be English.  So I hope that we will see from the Rugby Football League the kind of courage and no nonsense attitude that rugby league as a sport has had to show throughout its fascinating history.  It would be a sad cop-out from the games administrators if instead of making history they timidly decided to stick to the status quo, something rugby league has rarely done.

So could this be the year when we at last start to realise that when we are English, we are English and not British, in exactly the same way the Scots and Welsh always have?  I hope so and if it is the progressive and passionate sport of rugby league that leads the way for football and rugby union to (happily and appropriately) follow I shall be a very proud English rugby league supporting MP.

For now, this St George’s day I will be doing my usual and the one thing we English folk do get right, finding a nice, proper, English pub and toasting my nation and the hopes of the England rugby league team with a nice pint of real English beer.  Altogether now, “And did those feet…”.

Published: Tuesday 23 April 2013

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