AT the climax of today’s St George’s Day festival, hundreds of people will celebrate the community groups who make this great English city a good place to live. Like many people, I’ve always felt proud to be English, and I’m proud to be at the heart of today’s festival. But we English haven’t always bothered much with our national day. We left that to the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh.
Perhaps just being the largest nation in the United Kingdom was enough.
But, with devolution to Wales and Scotland, and England itself changing fast, more and more people want to take pride in our English identity. Today, the great majority of those living in England say being English comes before being British or any other national identity. Like many cities, one of Southampton’s strengths is our diversity. Around the year we welcome the Sikh Vaisakhi, the Chinese New Year, the Mela and other festivals. It does seem odd that the one thing we don’t celebrate is the identity that more of us share than any other.
St George’s Day is a chance to celebrate this confident Englishness.
April 23 is also Shakespeare’s birthday and we’ll celebrate England’s greatest gift to the world; the English language.
It’s people who make nations, and people who make a city. St George’s Day films by Solent students range from street pastors to local green groups, from the scouts to pensioner health groups, from small business advice to victim support. Across Southampton community groups, charities and pubs are marking the day in many different ways.
St George is a mythical figure, but all the stories say he slew a dragon.
The week we were told that a million people had turned to food banks is a good time to ask what modern dragons we need to slay. Poverty, inequality, greed, selfishness, intolerance? Our answers will help shape England’s future.
We’ll celebrate our past and we’ll look to the future. Throughout history this island has taken in new people and new ideas and made them part of England’s story. It’s still happening today. One Polish incomer told the BBC’s Nick Robinson ‘I’ll be Polish until I die, but my children will grow up English’. We all know that’s true because it’s happened so many times before; we will celebrate the new as well as the traditional.
There’s no place for racism or bigotry in modern Englishness, so no one should be scared of waving the flag or being proud of who we are. When people say, as they sometimes do, ‘you’re not allowed to say you are English any more’, let’s say ‘of course you can’! And if you weren’t part of it this year, there’s always next year.