Illustrations by Hannah Robinson.
To many, the 23rd of April – St George’s Day – is viewed as the most apt occasion to forget or denounce one’s Englishness.
With the start of Ramadan falling on the same day as St George’s Day this year, the opportunity to brush England under the carpet was greater than ever.
An entertaining case of forgetfulness came from Jeremy Corbyn. Two years ago, in a rare show of patriotism from the then-Labour leader, Corbyn promised to make St George’s Day a bank holiday. Some thought this was evidence of his belief in the importance of celebrating the day. Rather, it was just a failed bid to win some votes. Accordingly, this year, Mr Corbyn only managed to tweet his well-wishes to those celebrating the start of Ramadan on the 23rd of April, making no mention of his would-be bank holiday.
Similarly, the Royal Family also put out a calculated message on St George’s Day. They too used their platform to hope that the Muslims of Britain had a pleasant start to their month of fasting, with no mention of St George’s Day in sight.
Whilst wishing British Muslims a happy Ramadan is a message of utmost importance, the lack of recognition for St George’s Day is concerning. Surely the Royal Family, who are supposed to represent the very essence of Britain, ought to recognise such a day?
Yes, the St George’s Cross is worshipped by fringes, including the all-but defunct English Defence League (EDL), as a mark of English exceptionalism. However, this is no reason to detach ourselves from a national emblem or our national day.
I would argue that we should take inspiration from the LGBTQ+ community, who have proved just how effective reclaiming a word or emblem can be. Their reclamation of the word ‘queer’ has been fantastically used to reject homophobia and dispel connotations of this word as a slur. Reclaiming and normalising the St George’s Cross could be the perfect means of hammering the final nail into the EDL coffin.
After all, we should remember that the Union Flag, that currently covers thousands of cushions across the nation, was used by the National Front in the 70s and 80s. This is another example of a highly successful reclamation.
The 2018 football World Cup is a prominent reminder of how reclaiming the cross of St George could unite so many people. When Eric Dier scored the winning penalty against Columbia, every household in England was flying the flag. They were rallying behind the nation, not the EDL.
There ought to be nothing ‘vaguely EDL’ – as someone once remarked to me – about having an England flag in your bedroom. Just as there is nothing ‘vaguely National Front’ about your Union Flag mug.
The fact that St George himself was born in today’s Turkey, and is also patron saint of Ethiopia and Georgia, makes him an even more suitable figure to represent a diverse, multicultural England.
By avoiding the subject of St George’s Day, the media and people that represent the nation are reserving the St George’s Cross for the use of groups such as the EDL. It is time to stop this calculated refusal and make England’s flag commonplace. Corbyn was right; it is time to make St George’s Day a bank holiday.
A subtle tweet from the Royal Family may be the best place to start.