Today is St George’s Day. I think I should remind you of this
since, unlike St Andrew’s, St David’s and certainly St Patrick’s Day, it
usually slips by unremarked except by the Royal Society of St George,
which gathers this evening to celebrate our glorious history. If it
isn’t careful, this England will soon be erased from our maps in the
devolved UK. According to the Sun, the EU has already done for
Shakespeare’s ’blessed plot’ by carving England into eight regions
without acknowledging its continued existence as a country alongside
Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
We English are, of course, a notoriously relaxed pack of mongrels.
According to the late Ted Hughes, the Poet Laureate, who was brought up
in the next village to mine, those of us from the Pennines are the
product of Celts who sailed up the Mersey, Vikings who pillaged up the
Humber and rogues and vagabonds who sought refuge in our Bronte
vastnesses. Those who know this mongrel say that explains everything.
Yet throughout England, you get a similarly explosive GM cocktail which
is curiously slow to anger and swift to turn a blind eye.
Dr Gallup has just discovered that four out of five of us English
couldn’t care less that Tony Blair has seven Scots in his Cabinet and
well over half of us don’t see the need for an English Parliament just
because the Scots, Welsh and, we hope against hope, the Northern Irish,
are each going to have one. True, over two-thirds of us don’t think that
Scottish MPs at Westminster should be able to vote on English
legislation when English MPs can’t express a view on Scottish Bills. But
that only goes to show how fair-minded as well as tolerant we are.
In a dissolving Britain, we have reached the stage when everybody else
is proud to be Scots, Welsh, Irish or one of a rainbow of other races
and nationalities while the English are frowned upon if they unusually
exert themselves and honour their patron saint. They are accused of
being ’little Englanders’ with minds to match and over-reacting to the
Government’s untidy pattern of devolution. Only soccer hooligans wrap
themselves in St George’s flag. Only Yorkshiremen, the Anglo-Saxon
awkward squad, demand their own Parliament.
In short, we English are being sat upon and, being English, are
disinclined to do much about it. Being a Yorkshireman, I feel we must
rescue the English from themselves. This is pre-eminently a challenge to
the PR industry which demonstrated its mettle by recovering the nation’s
pride in the fallen by observing a two-minutes Armistice silence.
Perhaps, however, I should warn whichever agency takes on this work that
its greatest problem will be in overcoming the effortless superiority of
the average Englishman, who consequently fails to see what on earth
there is to worry about.