The flag of St George is a symbol of pride and not of prejudice
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St George’s Day, the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP explains what St George’s Day means to him, and why he thinks more people should celebrate it.
David Blunkett is the Labour Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. He is the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Home Secretary, and Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
To follow David Blunkett on Twitter – @DavidBlunkettMP
It is 10 years this spring since I, as Home Secretary, attended Euro 2004. The event was held in Portugal and I was the official government representative. Yes, a blind man representing the Government at a major football tournament. At my own expense, I had two of my older sons with me and, as we were staying at the British Embassy, we cut the cost to a very bare minimum.
But the reason it springs to mind as we approach the World Cup in Brazil this summer was the spirit and atmosphere of the English fans, and the complete change that we had seen in just a few years in behaviour.
Instead of the lager-swilling, shaven-headed thugs who had created such a terrible impression across the world over the previous 20 years, and in part as a consequence of legislation which I had overseen, a very different cohort of supporters and in very large numbers were present in Lisbon.
What was particularly encouraging was the use of the St George’s flag. Not as a right wing symbol of xenophobia or worse, but instead as a badge of pride in what is best about being English.
The St George’s flag laid out across the famous square in the centre of Lisbon was signed by all the leading players and celebrities. I count myself as neither a celebrity nor self-evidently a player, but a lifelong supporter of football. I was proud to put my signature as Home Secretary alongside the thousands that demonstrated their adherence to a symbol which, after all, touches Turkey and the Lebanon, depending where you think St George originated!
The chants over the two days I was there were friendly, often amusing and in the spirit of an inclusive nationalism, which was about a shared joy and pleasure in the game and a support for the English team.
Joy, that is, until of course the final minutes against France. None of us could quite believe what was happening, although you could almost feel it coming as the fatal goal sent us home. Defeated, but not bowed, regretful but not resentful.
That is the spirit which I hope will prevail this 23rd April in the run up to European elections, which have been, in my view, marred by a distortion of the debate around immigration and an unpleasant undertone of anti-foreigner rhetoric, which we can really do without.
Yes, there are major issues to be debated and rational issues and attitudes to be explored. But the flag of St George is a symbol of pride and not of prejudice.
For there is one simple truth; those who have genuine pride and affection for their own history and culture, for the music, art, sport and yes, democracy we treasure, allows us to be welcoming and inclusive of other cultures, other experiences and other people’s opinions. True adherence to nationhood, to a sense of identity and belonging, gives us that strength and, yes, confidence not only to embrace the differences that make our society the vibrant and living entity it is, but also to see off the weak-minded and self-justifying bigotry of those who see themselves and their nation as victims, and the challenge of globalisation as an excuse to wallow in nostalgia for the past.
For the dragon that St George needs to slay today is the evil of intolerance, the cancer of hatred, and the turning of one human being against another.
Oh and yes, one further thought. The Scots do not need to vote on 18th September to break away from the United Kingdom. They too are strong enough in their culture and in their history to be able to be genuine partners in a modern, forward-thinking union of people with a common language and a common future.
The English, the Welsh, the Scots and, yes, the Irish are big enough to be able to embrace the joys of celebrating heritage whilst recognising the reality of our common home.
Published: Wednesday 23 April 2014
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.