David T Breaker is studying Politics, Philosophy & Economics at the University of Essex and blogs at News Junction. After initial scepticism, he concludes here that there are good reasons why the English should celebrate St George's Day today.
Every year it comes and, every year, it passes largely unnoticed. Today, of course, is St George's Day, a day in search of a purpose within a nation in search of a day (bear with me and I'll explain).
To the Irish… St Patrick; to the Americans… 4th July; to the French… Bastille Day; even to largely devoid of history Australia… Australia Day; but to England (and Britain)… errrr…
The United Kingdom, you see, is the only country whose Bank Holidays are arranged on totally made-up dates, the result of one Sir John Lubbock and his desire to watch cricket without throwing a "sickie", so he arranged the dates of holidays around his local cricket calendar (and subsequent equally unimaginative revisions). So we have the last Monday in May, the first Monday in August etc. And of course May Day, introduced in 1978 to placate left-wing cranks.
So we don't have a proper "National Day".
On the one hand, I'm not bothered. All that flag waving, face painting, overly cheerful mass revelling… it's just not us (or am I just boring?). How awful would it be if 23rd April ended up an over-hyped pub crawl like Saint Patrick's Day (but with red instead of green, fewer kids dressed as leprechauns and more Morris dancers). We don't need "a day" and associated actions or activities to remind us who we are; we don't have a national identity crisis. No identity crutch for us please, we're British/English/Scottish/Welsh (delete as appropriate). Even the search for a national motto was won by "No motto for us please, we're British."
But am I wrong?
In this post I've deliberately involved reference to the UK and its constituent nations. Maybe we do have a national identity crisis, both as being "British" and also as being "English/Scottish/Welsh", marked by the rise of nationalist/separatist parties and the increasing momentum to celebrate Patron Saints' respective days, a largely new phenomenon.
People are forgetting our history and many of the young are never learning it, aided by the Government's total contempt for this country and all it stands for. Gordon Brown's idea of a British Day was dropped because Labour couldn't agree on a day – being ashamed of our history and/or afraid of upsetting someone – and reducing our "values" to vague goody-goody notions shared by everyone except murdering sociopaths.
So perhaps a dedicated day each year would reinforce and inspire, stir interest, and provide a focal point for integration, just as 4th July does for America. Most of all, it would reclaim the flags and the nation's heritage from the fascist thieves whose claim to it is zero, and save it from the politically correct apologists who seek to destroy it – such as those who ban St George and those who ask endlessly "what is Englishness?".
England is a great country, and our inability to define "what is Englishness" – just as for Britain and "Britishness" – is a result of that very greatness. There isn't a checklist of tick boxes (not even tea!) or a universal stereotype or even a set of values, because our historic ancient liberties with our non-codified "living" constitution – built over a thousand-year organic process of evolution and set out in documents such as Magna Carta – have created a free nation of individuals rather than a homogenous group.
And it is this freedom – unheard of to most of the world now, let alone in the past – that has created the plethora of great "things" and "values" with which we associate England and Britain, and wrongly try to use to define Englishness and Britishness.
It isn't warm beer, the shades lengthening on county cricket pitches, and old maids cycling through the morning mist to communion talked of by John Major, but rather the freedom to drink beer of any temperature, to play cricket and for old maids to cycle to communion full stop; it isn't Shakespeare as cited by Dan Hannan or our language as cited by Boris Johnson, but the freedom to use it, the freedom that created so many great works.
Yes, what typifies our country are the ancient freedoms that allowed human nature to flourish in a million different ways. And no matter how much under assault our freedom is by the current Government, its meaning is eternal.
And maybe that's why St George is Patron Saint of England as – according to tradition, and that's what counts in mattered to those in the past who decided these things – he died in AD 303 for the freedom of his religious belief.
The more I think about it, the more I feel there is something to be said for a national day (or national days, as there should be a UK day as well – I suggest Churchill's Birthday or 5th November). And the Patron Saints' days fit the bill rather well. But let's please keep it from hooliganism and tickbox stereotypes, because it's so much more than that, it's about freedom.
Happy St George's Day.