With the World Cup underway, the media has reverted to type. The newspapers are either awash with St George’s Crosses and jingoist tubthumping or fretful, self-loathing analyses of Englishness.
As the home of hand-wringing, The Independent predictably leads the camp for the latter, with a subtly derisive and negative article decrying the ‘national madness’ to come as England’s campaign begins this evening.
In some senses- and entirely not the ones that are mentioned in the article- they clearly have a point. Sights such as this house in Knowle West, Bristol, reveal the bombast of the sudden release of repressed national pride:
It is a dreadfully sad image to behold; a striking depiction of a national pride with no other logical manifestation than a football tournament, which is itself underpinned by cynical capitalist interests. It is indeed an act of national madness that we have allowed our pride in our country to be sublimated to this degree. In just one hundred years, the impression of the nation has come full circle, as the Independent article succinctly notes that
“the nation’s physical, economic and mental well-being will be judged for the next month through the prism of England’s efforts in the glittering new stadia of South Africa.”
Furthermore, the kind of outward displays of confused patriotism of the kind seen in Knowle West are to many people, including some of the most ardent England supporters, a garish and unbecoming sight to behold. On first glance, they represent nothing but an over-compensation of pride for a country that has had its identity sublimated in an unequal union, and grasped by unreasonable guilt over a distant past.
But reader- do not despair. One thing that such displays demonstrate is the desire for an English resurgence. It becomes apparent with every passing St George’s Day or important England international that there is a real national desire for a genuine recognition for England as a nation. Contrast, for example, the Union Jacks of the World Cup Final of 1966 at Wembley’s old Empire Stadium:
… with the prominence of England flags at Wembley in 2008…
… and it is apparent that a strong sense of England as a nation freed from the shackles of Union has never, in living memory, been so prevalent over that of ‘Britain’. As Andy Ormrod notes in the Independent article:
“It is genuinely pleasing to see people and organisations take pride in the English flag in a way that perhaps they hadn’t a few years ago.”
So, what methods to stem the tide of superficial and temporary jingoist hysteria and bring about a more constructive, meaningful and considerate everyday English civic nationalism?
Firstly: a national day! Simple as it may sound, (and whilst I’m not necessarily angling for an extra day off…) a national day would bring about a landslide of other benefits to the country and its people. It is not outside of the realms of likelihood that the media, particularly the BBC, would greet this new holiday with educational programming relating to English culture and history. Note that I don’t call for St George’s Day as the aforementioned national day: it is imperative that we choose a day that is inclusive and possibly even secular in order to foster a sense of maximum inclusion. This approach is also more democratic.
Secondly: the recognition that the most effective way to destigmatise the flag of England, and English nationalism itself, is to be openly proud of English institutions, ingenuity, and culture: to be proud of what we have given, and still give, to the wider world. It is the best possible way to lift pride in the country out of the hands of vile, narrow-minded hatemongers who presently plague our society and actively damage our sense of ourselves as English people.
Thirdly- and more unlikely- would be moves to re-evaluate England’s place in the United Kingdom, and its right to be recognised as a nation-state in and of itself. As it stands, England’s political handicap also inhibits its sense of identity, and we need only to look at the examples of our fellow home nations to understand the advantages of political secession from the dated entity of the United Kingdom as it presently exists.
We have, in this age, a great opportunity to rediscover our sense of self, to rescue its damaged reputation, and to reconcile ourselves in the present with our past and our heritage. It is perhaps unfortunate that it may take football tournaments to recognise this, but let us seize this opportunity to realise that our cultural legacy and the inheritance bestowed upon us by our ancestors is of too great a value, significance and importance to be only half-realised at every bi-annual corporate hypefest.