Saturday 7 February 2009

Give us an English anthem (for Britain's sake)

The Six Nations is one of the great sporting tournaments, and draws in many people like me who don't pay much attention to rugby for the rest of the year. And the unpredictability and competitiveness of this year's tournament will make it especially eagerly anticipated with the welcome (if uneven) renaissance of Welsh rugby. Indeed, the bookies have four nations priced between 2-1 and 4-1, so there are more potential winners in the tournament of six than in a football premiership of twenty.

George Orwell was not wrong about many things. But in writing that organised sport is "war minus the shooting", he uncharacteristically lapsed into the type of kneejerk leftism he was usually so keen to challenge, most brilliantly in The Lion and the Unicorn with its questioning. Post-national, transnational cosmopolitanism is a marvellous thing - as long as we do not forget that it is always and everywhere the belief and project of those who can take the security of their own identity (and state) for granted.

So there is your progressive, political case for my enjoying the pomp, circumstance and ceremony of the international Six Nations. I have made no attempt to try to get my tiny children, but in the last couple of years they did enjoy being acquainted with La Marsellaise in particular, as well as Bread of Heaven and Flower of Scotland. And their fantastic anthem is at least one area where Italy are already fully competitive among the six.

But what about England?

I know that it took a long time for most of the English to understand that there was a difference between being English and being British. The reasons run deep: it was the non-assertion of potentially dominant Englishness which made the imperial project possible. (For good or bad, I guess that's how some of us came to be English and British too).

But I think everyone has finally got that point now. Those of us who want to stay British (and English, in my case) won't be doing ourselves any favours if we can't bring England and Englishness to the party.

Surely, the Six Nations makes this point obvious. Perhaps not when Italy come to Twickenham today. But what are England doing with God Save The Queen when they are playing Scotland or Wales? And who gains from the pointless stupidity of getting the British anthem regularly booed at Murrayfield and in Cardiff by appropriating it for England? (I think the Irish play the Republic's anthem when playing in Dublin, as well as the stirring official Rugby anthem Ireland's Call for the all-Ireland 32 county Rugby team, so have the British anthem too, when two British teams are playing, if you think it would help. But please then do it for Wales v Scotland too!)

To what? Let the debate begin. Jerusalem, preferably, of course. Swing Low Sweet Chariot if you think it can make the transfer to the official ceremonials. I would even let you go for Land of Hope and Glory, if enough people absolutely insist. (Great tune; not so sure about the message now).

But please give us an English anthem, and quick, and for Britain's sake too.


Nick Anstead said...

Jerusulem, everytime.

Anthony Z said...

I love Jerusalem, but not sure that a poem whose first verse refers specifically to Jesus is right for a multicultural nation. Of course, Land of Hope and Glory has similar problems in that respect.

Rachael Jolley said...

Sunder, I think you are deluding yourself if you think everyone has now "got" the difference between English and British. I heard the English using English to mean British and vice versa all the time on the radio and often in the newspapers, particularly The Guardian. I find so depressing that I actually can't be bothered to complain about it any more, even in my own head.