Let's not hand over our national symbols so easily to those on the far right who would destroy this multi-ethnic, multifaith nation
The half-hearted celebration of St George's Day is something that we should bemoan. Pies at Leadenhall Market and the flying of flags on London cabs do not really capture a sense of national commemoration or equate in scale to Irish celebrations of St Patrick's Day, Welsh celebrations of St David's or American celebrations of 4 July. No offence to cabbies who try their best, but can you imagine Dublin or Cork abandoning St Patrick's Day parades in the same way that, say, Sandwell council has done with the borough's St George's Day parade this year?
The low-key celebration of England's national day seemingly centres on concerns that some people are offended by the flying of the St George's flag as it was hijacked and used by the far right back in the 1970s. Personally, I am offended by the far right. How dare they take our national symbols and sully them in the name of their bizarre racial supremacy theories. Not that the BNP or National Front are known for their logic, but St George, a 3rd-century Lebanese-Palestinian Christian with probable Jewish ancestry seems an odd figure for a group of neo-Nazis to get excited by.
Perhaps we need a model for our celebrations. Perhaps a huge parade? A national holiday? Why not use the model of the England rugby world cup victory parade when 750,000 individuals from different religious and ethnic backgrounds lined the streets around Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus all decked out in red and white and not a neo-Nazi in sight. No one had a problem on that day with the flags, or singing a plethora of English national songs projected onto a big screen courtesy of the television companies covering the event.
The far right have an agenda to exclude minorities and are all too happy to occupy ground that the mainstream surrender. They don't want minorities feeling comfortable dressed in red and white and flying flags. Apparently Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, has now decided to march in the now unfunded Sandwell parade. Evidence, as though it were needed, that where the mainstream withdraw, extremists tend to triumph.
Sir Basil Henriques had an interesting approach to all this. In 1914, he formed the Oxford and St George Jewish youth club in the East End (apparently named after his university and the local parish). Today it would be thought of as odd to have a Jewish group named after a Christian saint and even odder to name the attached place of worship the St George Settlement Synagogue, but he did and was unapologetic about it. His youth movement was set up to create a sense of responsibility among the poverty-stricken Jewish children of the East End. Records show that at the core of its ethos was a belief that these children of early 20th-century migrants should feel both Jewish and English. In a postmodern world some would no doubt wish to express "concerns" that Henriques was not being true to himself, or being jingoistic or culturally insensitive or something of that sort, but that misses the point – he reclaimed St George, a dragon-slaying warrior knight, as part of his national myth and instilled in the boys and girls under his charge a sense of national identity – let's call it a "Cry God for 'Henriques, England and St George'" approach.
So, St George has religious overtones, so does his flag, and yes, he may have been a little militaristic and imported by Crusaders who were not exactly champions of religious pluralism – and no doubt Harry Potter fans might be a little upset to hear that dragons were hurt in the making of this myth but he is ours and quite frankly is harmless fun – and on the day after the budget we definitely need a bit of fun.When the fascist Blackshirts tried to march past Henriques's club in 1936 in nearby Cable Street they were beaten back by Jewish and trade unionist activists to the cry of "they shall not pass". They didn't and we should keep this in mind today. We should be able to celebrate our national history, tell and retell our stories, participate in civic society and use our vote or we will let them pass.
Let's not give away or hand over our national symbols so easily to those who wish to destroy this nation that we in multi-ethnic, multifaith Britain have worked so hard to create together. Let's tell our national story, including the tale of George and his dragon and the sonnets of Shakespeare, whose birth and death anniversary is on St George's Day – and perhaps to take matters forward someone could decide at last to give us the day off next year.
To those from the political mainstream who are championing St George's Day let us say raise our finest ale and say cheers.