Just the other day I was considering how the legend of St George could be applied to the challenges facing the UK at the moment as we march towards Brexit. I had fun putting together the following semi-fictional scenario based on real events.
Once upon a time on the North Western edge of a large Continent there was a small tea drinking island nation inclined to dull wet weather which the people took great pleasure discussing, moaning and commenting on at regular intervals.
At the end last World War, this class ridden island – know as the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – was made up of mainly well meaning people doing their bit to get by. At that time, on the large continent there lived a seemingly benign dragon called Europe which had been bashed around a bit during the war and was in the process of re-inventing herself.
As the years went by the Dragon Europe recovered and some parts of it prospered and became more powerful. The political leaders of the small island looked on enviously. Their small island had also suffered during the war. Having come through the post-war rebuilding and the boom times of the swinging sixties they reached the more tricky era of the seventies – with industrial unrest and increasing unemployment they wondered if closer links to the dragon might help secure a more stable and peaceful future for their island. Dragon Europe had sensed their interest for some time and conducted a campaign of flirtation and seduction of the UK political leaders.
In 1972 one of those leaders – a slippery character known as Grocer Tedward Heath – took one of the most significant steps towards closer ties with Dragon Europe by enacting the European Communities Bill through an ordinary vote in the House of Commons – having gone back on his word that it would be wrong if any Government were to take this step ‘without the full hearted consent of Parliament and people’. Heath did not have a referendum at the time as opinion polls showed that the island people were opposed to joining the European Club. The British constitution – though not formalised in the same way as the US constitution – according to Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1701) requires a prior consultation of the people (either by a general election or a referendum) on any measure involving constitutional change. The European Communities Bill legislated for the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities (EC) (which was the collective term for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (also known at the time as the “Common Market”) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) and also legislated for the incorporation of European Union law (then Community law) into the domestic law of the United Kingdom.
This was just part of a series of sacrifices to be made to Dragon Europe made through the decades.
In 1975 the Government of Baron Old Harry Wilson sought to put the constitutional error right by having a retrospective referendum posing the question `Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?’ So the UK islanders were asked if they should join something they had already joined.
The islanders were lied to again (a recurring theme) being told that they were just joining a free trade association so by majority voted to stay in not realising the original lie by Grocer Tedward Heath had caused the illegal enaction of the European Communities Bill before Parliament without conducting a referendum and that Old Harry Wilson was perpetuating the lie.
As the years went by the ferocious fire breathing dragon became ever more demanding leading to even more sacrificial legislation in the form of the Single European Act (1986), The Maastrict Treaty (1992), the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) and The Treaty of Lisbon (2007) resulting in diminished UK control in the areas of law making, foreign/security policy and immigration. Some of the more crazy rulings of the EU involved the drawing up of an EU-wide banana import regime (Regulation 404/93) categorising mis-shapen bananas as sub-standard and rulings on the shape of cucumbers (which needed to be perfectly straight) – which were eventually overturned but remains on the guidebooks and a ban on powerful vacuum cleaners in 2014 for not being energy efficient but resulting numerous dirty carpets up and down the island.
From the late 1990s, a beer swilling soldier by the name of St George De Farage took up arms against the Parliament of the European Dragon repeatedly calling it’s actions into question. De Farage fought on from over 20 years – alternatively being condemed as a deluded fruit cake and racist by many. Some doubted his ulterior motives – being an ex-city person maybe he was just looking to make some money for his old mates there? In 2016 he was finally able to fatally damage Dragon Europe when the British Government – led by Cameron Le Toff – finally agreed to hold a referendum. Cameron Le Toff agreed to hold the referendum hoping that this political hot potato would be dealt with once and for all not expecting that the islanders would vote to leave. As a result of the leave vote De Farage was finally able to retire to prop up the bars of Kent for the rest of his life.
Moving back into reality, now that the UK is on the path to Brexit, in this special festival day of 23 April 2017 of the real St George, this post now considers the following 6 opportunities for the English to re-invent their nation-hood :-
(1) If Brexit does lead to the break up of the United Kingdom – with Scotland aiming to stay in the EU – surely we should have our own non-political unifying figure on a special day when we can celebrate everything special about being English – just as the Scottish, Welsh and Irish do. Would St George be such a bad choice? There is an advantage that he is not actually English as he is certainly someone celebrated in a multi-cultural sense also being the patron saint of Portugal, Venice, Beirut, Malta,Ethiopia, Georgia, the Palestinian territories, Serbia and Lithuania.
(2) If we don’t adopt St George what about making a bigger fuss of the English counties? Could we unite behind the Flags of say Middlesex, Essex, Somerset or Suffolk – and the people of those counties who achieved great things? Completely dropping the St George flag design and going for county celebrations could be one way of avoiding the sometimes perceived negative connotations of the flag of St George being thought of by some as a racist symbol.
(3) Alternatively, we could re-design the flag of St George. 23rd of April is the date of birth and date of Shakespeare – so what about super-imposing the image of Shakespeare above the flag. The bard could be a good non-controversial choice – uniting people locally, nationally and internationally.
(4) What if all UK counties were to have their own special day – as in Middlesex Day on 16th May – a day where we could celebrate all that is wonderful on our own doorstep – such as tasty local produce and local entertainment – eg. musicians, comedians.
(5) If nothing else, having a special day for St George or the English counties (Middlesex Day) is an excuse for a national holiday. Everyone works far too hard these days and the UK has too few Bank Holidays as it is (as I publish this post I note that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed national holidays for St George’s Day, St Andrews, St David’s Day, St Patrick’s Day in the election campaign).
(6) Embracing the culture of the English counties would enable people to get over the divisive referendum campaign and put aside any perceived guilt or embarrassment of some of the less wonderful aspects of the history of England.
If any of the above fail, at least we’ve re-gained control over the shape of our bananas and cucumbers and turbo power has been restored to our vacuum cleaners!
All the best and Happy St George’s Day to you.
Photos below – St George’s Day Feast, Trafalgar Square, London 22 April 2017