Why English identity should be celebrated
Going into the 2018 World Cup, few expected much from the England team. However, after beating Tunisia 2-1 thanks to Harry Kane’s soon to be golden boot, and thrashing Panama, a renewed sense of optimism gripped the nation. Chants of “it’s coming home” could be heard throughout our surprisingly sun-drenched society, and whilst we might have to wait a bit longer for football to return to its ancestral origin, England did reach the semi finals for the first time in 28 years.
So, what’s all this got to do with politics, I hear you ask? Well, during the tournament, politicians of all stripes seemed eager to drape themselves in the English flag, which is a stark turnaround for the political class. For years, English patriots have been derided and any display of England’s flag is seen as “racist” and “xenophobic”. Scottish and Welsh patriotism are celebrated yet English patriotism is sneered at, exemplified by the infamous Emily Thornberry “Image from Rochester”. Just this week, shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan stated that “I think that many people feel that flying a St George’s Cross is synonymous with far-Right ideology”.
Of course, English identity has been used by far-right groups such as the English Defence League to further their own agenda, but the answer to this is not to cede Englishness to them but to reclaim it as we’ve seen in the last few weeks. People of all backgrounds came together to support our team, who are a diverse bunch themselves, but are all tied together by a sense of doing their best for their country.
This celebration of modern Englishness should be something that continues after the World Cup, not just a temporary blip that subsides. Much of this of course has to come from the ground up, but there are concrete steps politicians can take to show their show of support during the World Cup was not just a cynical bandwagon but actually the beginning of an acceptance of English patriotism as something good and healthy.
First of all, it’s important for prominent politicians to speak more openly about what Englishness means to them, to show that this identity is not owned by a small group of extremists but is something we can all be proud of.
Secondly, St George’s Day should be made a bank holiday. Making new bank holidays was something Corbyn was ridiculed for, but if the economic consequences of a fresh bank holiday would be too great, a nearby bank holiday such as Mayday could be moved. Having a day off to celebrate what it means to be English in the 21st Century would bring us into line with many other countries such as Scotland, the USA and France.
In conclusion, our political class need to step up to the challenge and make sure that feeling comfortable with Englishness is for life, not just for the World Cup.