Oh England, my England!

There’s a debate in The Sun today about the moves to make St George’s Day a bank holiday. This would be great for several reasons. One is that it’s my bother-in-law’s birthday and he would quite like a bank holiday. Second is that it’s also the accepted date for Shakespeare’s birthday. But third, more importantly than these, is that it would allow people to be ‘English’ for a day.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like being attached to Scotland and Wales. That’s fine. But they have their own patron saint days and everybody, but everybody, celebrates them. Daffodils and Leeks. Thistles or whatever it is Scottish people have. Nobody would be embarrassed to go to Burns’ Nights celebrations. On Anglo-Info, there was a whole thread of people admitting their Welshness in time for St David’s Day. But to wear a red rose on St George’s Day, or – heaven forbid – to sport the England flag, would be seen now as tantamount to racism. Our flag has become a symbol of racists and a symbol of nationalists and every negative quality they stand for. Unfortunately, if I put a flag up, I become a bigot, a person who thinks England should be elite. Or else it’s a major sports season and I’m allowed.

It’s embarrassing to be ‘English’. It’s like admitting to years of enslaving people, colonialism, unscrupulous expansion and brutality. I feel like we should have a badge saying ‘Sorry’ if I admit I’m English. In fact, I can’t even say ‘English’ on my passport. I have to say ‘British’. I feel the weight of history, for the Unionisation between England and Scotland, the ceding of Northern Ireland, tyranny in Ireland… it’s not done to remember amazing British history. It’s not done to be proud of standing up to Fascism and Nazism and how hard we fight for justice and ‘good’.

The thing is, I think in all the Jeremy Kyle type people, the scroungers, the jobs-worths, the ‘entitled’ and disrespectful ‘yoof’ – the Karen Matthews of the world, the mealy-mouthed social workers in Haringey, the miserable pram-faced girls with their assorted offspring from several different fathers, it’s easy to forget the majority. The majority of English people are great. We’re hard-working and we’re honest.

I didn’t vote for David Cameron, but I think he’s gaining power because he seems honest. Seems. He seems sincere. And Nick Clegg? His sincerity seems now as thin as Tony Blair’s. We actually expect people to be honest. Except footballers. We expect them to be dishonest, lying, drug-taking cheats. You know what I think kept people going through the Second World War? The fact that we believe in Good and we believe in Freedom. And mostly, I think that we’re like this.

For example, there are many unscrupulous leaders now being taken by storm by uprisings across the world. Good. But do you know what? This wouldn’t need to happen in England – because we expect our politicians – naively perhaps – to be honest. We might not riot, but Tony Blair, David Chaytor and so on – they all know how the public feel about dishonesty. Americans were cynical about WMD and a lot of Americans I know say they weren’t at all surprised that Saddam didn’t have WMD. I think the English were. I think the first time we went into the Gulf, over Kuwait, it might have been about oil to Americans, but to us, it was about fairness. It’s just not cricket.

And we trusted Blair. Foolishly. As The Jam said, “you choose your leaders and place your trust…” – it’s so true. We really do. And yes, we’re disappointed from time to time. But in all the expenses scandal, we actually had three politicians punished. That’s fair. In Italy, you only have to look at Berlusconi to know that this just wouldn’t happen. You can be as corrupt as you like. In France, Jacques Chirac is in court on corruption charges, but it’s taken 15 years to get here.

In France, you are expected to be, above all, French first. The true meaning of a secular nation. You can be whatever else you like too – French-Algerian, French-Moroccan, French-Muslim, French-African, but you are French. You learn about France in school and have a very Francocentric view of the world. You must speak the language and adhere to 200 year old laws. Religion isn’t taught in state schools, and no one, but no one would think to say that the French flag is a racist thing, despite Marine Le Pen trying to claim the colours as such. Every mairie, every important building, they all have the French flag outside of it and are proud to do so. Where is the England flag on our buildings? Sure we have the bastardised Union Jack, but it’s not English. For one day of the year, it would be nice to reclaim that flag and celebrate a bit of England.

So I’d love it if we could have a day of being English. I’d love it if that didn’t mean nationalism. I’d love it if the 80% of the English public would rise up and be proud of our bad teeth, our regionalisms, our language, our culture, our heritage. We dragged this world kicking and screaming from Feudalism to Industrialism to Commercialism and we should be proud of that. In England, you are free to be what you choose, free to vote, free to say and do what you want. I’m proud of our loyalty, our inherent belief in honesty, our moral stance.

When Rupert Brooke wrote ‘If I should die, think only this of me/that there is a corner of some foreign field that is forever England’, he meant those values we are inherently – never mind the rodenty sub-species that fills our newspapers – we are brave, we are honest, we are upright, we know Good. We love our country.

Now you might think this is a little rich coming from a girl who lives in France. Well, I’m sick of the usual flag-wielders, and I’m sick of the Jeremy Kyle people. I’m sick of the ‘so unfair’ generation who expect the world to owe them a living before they have even fought for their place in it. I love England and being English. I never want to be anything else. I love France too – but if we’d had the weather, the property prices, the space, the houses, I’d still be there. I’m tired of the rain. I think the sun should shine for one day in England, and that it should be St George’s Day, when we kick people like this into touch. If you live in England, it should be England first, everything else second. And shouldn’t we have a day to celebrate that?

St Paddy’s Day is celebrated across the world. On March 17th, Irish green abounds around the globe, wherever there are Irish communities. Sure, it might be more about Guinness than about repelling all the snakes, or whatever he did. But if the Irish are about community and celebration and singing ‘Oh Danny Boy’, then so be it. Nobody is embarrassed to be Irish.

I wish we felt the same about being English. And before you say we do: our Government doesn’t. Otherwise, it’d be a day off for all its loyal subjects. Shame it takes Dr John Sentamu, a British Ugandan, to say that. See. British first.

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4 thoughts on “Oh England, my England!

  1. Interesting, LJ…I am often embarrassed about my German ancestry, even though my German ancestors emigrated to the U.S. one to two hundred years before Hitler came along…

    I also don’t let a lot of Canadians know I was born in the U.S. I identify more with Canadians, having lived here for 42 of my almost 50 years…

    Wendy

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