It’s virtually illegal to be English and proud

A huge English flag – believed to be the largest in the country – is draped on the front of Nottingham Council House in Old Market Square, on St George's Day
A huge English flag – believed to be the largest in the country – is draped on the front of Nottingham Council House in Old Market Square, on St George's Day

How is one meant to celebrate St George’s Day? This is not a question which needs to be asked in regard to the other national saint’s day on these islands, where it is all laid out.

The Scots, Welsh and Irish celebrate their patron saints with gusto. Compatriots from every part of the political spectrum unite in uncomplicated displays of patriotic revelry. Nobody agonises about whether such celebrations may cause anyone else to feel oppressed or excluded. They just have parties to which everyone is invited.

But it doesn’t work like that here. In fact, we have reached the stage where St Patrick’s Day has arguably become a bigger event in England than our own national day, certainly when it comes to pub takings.

As a Patrick myself, but a proudly English-born one, I have always been struck by the contrast. English folk are more than happy to join in the great festival of Guiness-drinking every March 17. But come April 23 basically nothing happens.

A few old men in blazers belonging to societies with words like “templar” in their names may parade in market towns. Certain clubs and associations stage low-profile formal dinners at their premises. And that’s about it.

Meanwhile on social media two tribes go to war, as Frankie Goes To Hollywood once sang. First there are the frustrated patriots who put out dragon-killing graphics decorated with the Cross of St George. Then there are the snide Left-wingers who mark the day by noting that George “wasn’t even English” and claim that were he alive today he would be getting deported back to the Middle East by the nasty Tory regime.

In doing so they underline the continued relevance of George Orwell’s famous observation that “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own country”.

This is probably why England also remains the only UK nation without its own parliament or assembly. Our political class prefers to encourage us to foster regional identities rather than a national one. That way lies madness. And Humberside.

To his credit, Keir Starmer has in recent years ensured that the Labour party goes out of its way to mark St George’s Day. But it’s all done in a clunky and joyless “reclaiming the flag from the far-Right” sort of way.

Enough of this neurosis, I say! Can someone please just devise an accepted and wholesome way for English people to celebrate their saint and their collective identity? For instance, how about a pub-based triathlon encompassing darts, pool and a quiz, with the overall winner crowned at the end of the night? Or what about instigating a new tradition of a beef stew family supper?

In Ireland and indeed among Irish folk in England, it is customary to ask weeks in advance “what are you doing for St Paddy’s”? In America the same is true of thanksgiving. We won’t have cracked St George’s Day until we reach a similar stage of anticipation and arrangement-making. And ultimately, that is down to us.