Socialist Worker

Houmous and kebab on St George's?

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1898

"23 April-St George's Day-should be carved on the heart of every Englishman." These are the words of Andrew Rosindell, the Conservative MP for Romford-someone who pops up on numerous TV programmes championing St George's Day. Rosindell likes to present himself as part of a new young generation, a man who can both be "cosmopolitan" in his outlook and at the same time proud to be English. But don't be deceived by appearances.

One look at his parliamentary website tells you all you need to know. There, emblazoned across the screen is a St George flag with the words "Fighting for England" written below and tucked away in the corner is a bulldog. Yep, Rosindell is just a reactionary Tory. Sadly he is not alone.

St George's Day is making a comeback. Media pundits, politicians and sportspeople all line up to extol its virtues. In my opinion much of this stems from the recent and relative success of the English rugby and football teams.

This weekend many pubs will be decked out in flags and banners and a growing number of councils are spending a small fortune on celebrations. Romford, the very town Rosindell represents, will be tripling its St George's Day celebrations budget this year. You will be pleased to know that red and white flags will be festooned on every lamppost.

Supporters of St George's Day say they want it to be more like St Patrick's Day, which is widely celebrated in Britain. But there is a difference. Irish national pride was a form of resistance stemming from the fight against British imperialism-an imperialism which denied the Irish population the right to speak their own language, practise their religion, or in any way celebrate their national culture.

There is one other group that loves St George's Day-the Nazi British National Party. For them it is an excuse to march through the streets intimidating black and Asian people. There are those that argue that we should reclaim the flag from these thugs. But we have to ask, what is there to reclaim?

Waving the St George flag is not about inclusion-it's all about exclusion. What are we supposed to celebrate? The Empire? Or the fact that we live in a society where the levels of inequality continue to grow? All you are left with is David Beckham, Jonny Wilkinson and big profits for the breweries. Not much really. Only last week BBC London News conducted a survey. It asked viewers what made them proud to be English.

The answers make interesting reading. Multiculturalism, free speech and the NHS were the top three. And they are things to be proud of. But none of them have anything to do with being English. All of them have had to be fought for and they are values and ideals that have been opposed for years by Tories like Rosindell.

Lastly, I think celebrating St George's Day is a diversion from the real problems working people face. Rosindell and all the other politicians hope that while we run around waving the flag and singing "Rule Britannia", we just might forget the real issues that blight our communities.

By the way, it's ironic you know, St George was an Arab and he never set foot in England. But whatever you do, don't tell Blunkett-he'd either deport him, throw him in Belmarsh prison, or lecture him on what language to speak at home.

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Sat 24 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1898
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