Having just enjoyed an Easter Weekend with some glorious weather, two bank holidays to look forward to next month, not to mention the football season coming to a close – hopefully with a happy ending for Brighton and Hove Albion! – and the cricket season just starting it is perhaps understandable that St George’s Day gets overlooked.
But what does St George’s Day stand for?
Unlike St Patricks Day in Northern Ireland and St Andrews Day in Scotland, St George’s Day isn’t currently a Bank Holiday. Hopefully that will change when a future Labour government makes it a Bank Holiday!
So how do socialists and progressives celebrate Englishness without descending into nationalism or celebrating the worst elements of Empire? Let me offer a few thoughts.
Englishness is a national identity, not an ethnic identity. No matter where you or your parents were born you can join the millions of people over two millennia who have chosen to make England their home. Thankfully the Norman Conquest in the 11th century was the last time England was invaded but since then immigrants have made England their home and helped shape our national character.
From the Roman’s bringing us roads and sanitation through to more recent immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe who have graced us with their professional talent and added to our ever developing cultural.
You might not be aware that today is also William Shakespeare’s birthday and has been delegated by UNESCO as World English Language Day. As any GCSE English Literature student who has read Shakespeare will concur, the English language has developed extensively since the Bard’s career.
Since Shakespeare the ever evolving lexicon of the English language has given us poets such as Wordsworth, Milton and Keats through to lyricists such as Lennon and McCartney, Davies, Weller and Gallagher. More recently American Rap has been anglicised through Grime MCs like Dizzee Rascal and Stormzy.
Worthing itself was host to the great Oscar Wilde whilst he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest, naming the protagonist Jack Worthing. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, lived in Castle Goring.
One of our finest urban myths is Billy Idol – who did go to Worthing College – wrote Rebel Yell after attending a Worthing FC football match and being impressed with the level of noise the crowd were making in support of their team!
Keith Emerson of progressive rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer was brought up in Worthing and went on to own a record shop in Crescent Road. More recently Preston from the Ordinary Boys and the band Royal Blood have gone onto global fame having started life locally.
The progression in our language from Shakespeare to Stormzy has been influenced by other languages. The Vikings brought Old Norse and blended it with Old English. Words such as Juggernaut are derived from Hindi. Hebrew and Arablic have also had an influence. More recently American English has heavily influenced (English) English.
In exchange English has become the most widely spoken language on the planet.
While the last few months haven’t been it’s finest period, Westminster is the Mother of Parliaments. The Magna Carta has influenced documents such as the American Constitution. We still spend 0.7% of GDP on Overseas Development even after nearly a decade of punitive austerity.
Like all liberal democracies we have had a historic struggle between progress and those wanting to hold us back. While England has a reputation for being (small c) conservative it was also the home of the Peasants Revolt, Tolpuddle Martys and the Battle Of Cable Street. While the authorities initially covered up the Hillsborough Disaster, thirty years of never giving up by the relatives and city of Liverpool eventually got to the truth. Orgreave will surely be next to have light shone on it and the truth revealed?
Last year’s World Cup had a team representative of a modern England led by Gareth Southgate. While the Premier League is too commercial, it is also shows how an English product can be the best in the world when it looks outwards.
But enough of our past. England needs to come together after Brexit. We need to engage with left behind communities in former industrial areas. Our public services need rebuilding to ensure our streets are safe and a safety blanket exists through social security and the NHS.
Locally we face major challenges in homelessness and housing. Worthing Borough Council’s Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) were aimed against the homeless and go against one of the core values of Englishness: looking after those less fortunate than us.
An Englishman’s home might be his castle, but too many people in Worthing don’t have a home and too many of those who do live in appalling conditions they are too scared to complain about due to fear of eviction.
Brexit revelled differences between young and old and town and city. John Major once suggested England would still be a country of Warm Beer and Cricket pitches in 50 (now 30) years time. While that might be true it also needs to be a place that is equally comfortable in it’s vibrant inner cities and rolling countryside.
We have to push back against the Far Right taking ownership of the Flag of St George. England is an outlooking nation capable of incorporating global influences into it’s timeless values of fair play and decency that the likes of Nigel Farage and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon are an insult to.
Stand up for decency and fair play and be proud to be English.
Happy St Georges Day and vote Labour on May 2nd.