St George's Day
Tomorrow (Friday) Harriett Baldwin's Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill is back in Parliament. This is Mark D’Arcy's take on it:
Friday is private members bill day in the Commons, and topping the bill is the Report Stage debate on the Conservative backbencher Harriet Baldwin’s Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill. This takes a stab at giving a partial answer to the West Lothian Question by requiring that in future all bills put before Parliament should contain a clear statement of how they affect each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – including knock-on financial implications. She hopes that this would allow it to become accepted practice that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs would not vote on England-only Bills. The Government attitude is interesting, to put it mildly. The Coalition Agreement includes a promise to set up a commission to look at the West Lothian Question (the issue of MPs from devolved parts of the UK being able to vote on English issues, when English MPs can’t vote on the same issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) but that commission has yet to be set up. Ministers clearly don’t want the Baldwin bill, and she can expect pressure to withdraw it.
Having, somewhat to her own surprise, piloted the Bill through the the most perilous stage of the parliamentary life-cycle, the Second Reading debate, and through Committee where it was unamended, (although that may owe something to the broken leg suffered by Labour constitutional affairs spokesman Chris Bryant) Harriet Baldwin can now hope to send it off to the Lords. The main way of preventing this would be for opponents to put down a deluge of amendments at Report Stage – and talk out the available debating time. We shall see.
How unfortuante that Chris Bryant had a broken leg and couldn't interfere in English business, as is his way. Would it be churlish to hope that he breaks something else on his way to Parliament tomorrow?
Coincidence or cynical political maneuvering?
Naturally, given that Harriett's private members bill stands a chance of of making it through report stage and on into the Lords, the Government has today decided to announce its plans for a Commission into the West Lothian Question. Most probably with the hope of persuading Harriett to drop her bill, as noted by the BBC:
Ministers would prefer Conservative backbencher Harriett Baldwin's Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill 2010-11 to be withdrawn and the commission left to do its work.
In fact, Mark Harper, the Minister in charge of setting up the Commission into the West Lothian Question, was last seen voting against Harriett Baldwin's bill. Hopefully Harriett will not withdraw her bill. Nadhim Zahawi made that mistake when, under pressure from the Government, he was persuaded to withdraw his St George's Day and St David's Day Bill, opening up the field for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport consultation on bank holidays. Only to discover, months later, that a St George's Day holiday was being ruled out on the blog of John Penrose at the DCMS:
A number of people in the industry suggested we give some thought to shifting the May Day bank holiday to either the autumn half-term, or possibly to become a St. George’s Day holiday in England with equivalent national days off for the other home nations.
Well, we haven’t quite completed the detailed analysis of what people said they wanted, but one thing has been coming through loud and clear. And that is the not-at-all surprising news that a number of people rather liked the idea of a new bank holiday on one or other of the suggested days but that, no, they didn’t want to lose the May Day holiday as part of the deal. An extra day off for everyone every year would clearly go down well, it seems. I think I speak on behalf of the Government when I offer the response "nice try" to that one. We’re all about reducing the deficit and growing the economy at the moment, so the suggestion we write off an additional 20 million or so working days each year is unlikely to send a shiver of delight up the Treasury’s spine, I suspect.
So England can't have a national holiday on St George's Day because we need to reduce the UK debt, and we can't have a fair and transparent funding formula because we need to reduce the UK debt. Hmmm...Any further dithering on the English Question and the Tories may find that UKIP have stolen their clothes. Tomorrow, in Eastbourne, the UKIP NEC discuss a policy proposal from their deputy leader which aims to change UKIP policy to support for the establishment of an English parliament, following private polling by the party that shows that such a policy would be popular with the voters. The Tories may regard themselves as the natural party of England, but by their actions they show that they are not. It's time for someone to step into that void.
Just noticed this on Mark D’Arcy's blog:
Harriett Baldwin WILL press ahead with her bill. She says the Government needs to give much more detail about its Commission. And the Speaker has only selected four of the Labour amendments for discussion at the Report Stage of her Bill - which will make any attempt to talk out the available debating time rather harder, particularly because the selected amendments are all on quite narrow points.
Good decision, Harriett.
Tonight I want to discuss England and Englishness.
And how we develop and celebrate a modern English identity.
And I want to do this from a particular point of view: from a political centre-left perspective.
It’s quite a long time, thank goodness, since it was the discussion of identity was outside polite political debate on the left.
But still important to set the context in which we look at identity.
Because I do think that the centre left should have a particular view on the nature and importance of identity; and I do think there are particular reasons why the centre left should take the issue seriously.
Politics is very much about who we are – as individuals, families and a society.
For all the effort poured into dividing lines about this or that piece of detailed or technical policy, the next election will be determined by which party has the most convincing story about our society and our country.
Who has the most convincing tale about where we have come from: and the most positive and optimistic story about where we go next.
These stories work because we have a sense of who we are; what our society represents.
Put a different way, people ask politicians to pass the ‘people like us’ test. Would this person, in power, and faced with an unexpected decision do what I would want them to do.
Again, in part the answer will be determined by voter’s sense of their character, and their policy instincts. But in part by their sense of identity. Is this someone I can identify with?
So the politics of identity is central to politics itself.
Any politics which does not concern itself with who we think we are is not likely to be as successful as it could be.
At its worst, though, the politics of identity can be collapsed into crude flag wrapping. Politician cloaking themselves in a national banner. Or to identify themselves as representing the national interest. We saw a particularly uncomfortable and unsettling version of that in Brighton on Sunday,
For the left, this can never do. A deep sense of patriotism and national allegiance does not and cannot blind us to the ambiguities we find in many national stories. A sense of Britishness derived solely from attitudes which were widely held in the British past would make uncomfortable reading today. National pride was intertwined with a sense of racial superiority which no decent person would contemplate today.
This recognition tends to divide left from right. The right tends to see national identity as a historical given; something to be discovered in our history.
The left, by contrast, prefers a sense of national identity which is constantly being told and re-told for changing times. One in which each generation can make its own new contribution.
That process, for us, is not only inevitable; it is desirable and necessary.
It does not reject history, Indeed it draws heavily on it. But it is inclusive, bringing in the history of all of those who now wish to share this identity. It understand that common identity is best developed through shared experience. It strengthens and brings cohesion to our society. Allowing us to enjoy the strength which comes from sharing a common story.
Two of the most potent stories in our history are of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. They speak deeply of two traits in both the British and the English national stories – the heroic national defeat; and standing alone against the world.
They are not, in my view, undermined by the more recent recognition that 2 and half million volunteers from the Indian Sub-Continent fought and were prepared to die in the Imperial armed forces in the Second World War. Rather, they are a new addition to the story of how our current freedom was won. It makes the family history many of today’s British Asian population a personal part of the national history in a new and richer way that many had realised before.
So for the left, the process of developing and celebrating a national identity is not passive; it is not one of research and discovery. But a living process; one which can be consciously shaped. One in which there are choices to be made.
As I shall argue a little later, the English national identity is the most neglected of the national identities of these islands. Less developed, and having had less effort invested in it, not only that of the national stories – most recently of Wales and Scotland – but also in the nationally focussed or nationally derived identities many of Britain’s newer communities.
This neglect is increasingly becoming a point of contention. One which we need to address.
But before developing that point, there are a couple of other diversions I want to make on this rather discursive preamble to Englishness itself.
You may have noticed that in the last few paragraphs I have referred both to British and English stories, and to nationally focused stories – like say British Bangladeshis – enjoyed by newer minority communities.
What this emphasises, of course, is that most of us are comfortable with multiple identities. It is quite possible to be English and British, to be a British Bangladeshi, or, as with my colleague Shahid Malik, a British Pakistani whose primary identity is English.
For the centre-left, identity is not about forcing a choice between competing identities, but enabling and encouraging people to be comfortable with a number of different identities if that’s how we chose to identify ourselves.
Of equal importance for the centre-left is our insistence on recognising people’s right to enjoy the identity people chose for themselves. We do not impose a ‘cricket test’.
Is there a contradiction here? Between recognising, encouraging and allowing multiple identities and the idea of a conscious, activist programme of developing a national identity – whether English or British?
Some would argue that once you recognise multiple identities, you enter a world of identity relativism – where because all identities are allowed, none should in any way be promoted or implicitly or explicitly favoured.
I don’t agree. That identity relativism turned out to the Achilles heel of one of Britain’s great social innovations, a real achievement – multiculturalism - which we, nonetheless, now have to re-assess. The problem of multi-culturalism was not its insistence on respect for those of different cultures, or of their freedoms to express themselves as they wish: it was the neglect of the glue that binds us together; it was the failure to recognise a multi-cultural society can only work if there is equal engagement and activity in building and developing shared values and the framework of a shared identity which enables us to be multicultural within a cohesive society.
So being relaxed about multiple identities, and multiple national identities, does not mean that it is not important to invest energy in developing a shared story of Britishness; and for those within England, a shared English identity. Not required, not compulsory, but shared as widely as possible.
My final diversion is to consider the role that national identities play in progressive politics.
As Gordon Brown has frequently said ‘This is a progressive era’.
Not that our era is automatically progressive; that people will unquestionably turn to progressive politics.
But that the challenges we face today, with global economic instability, climate change, the impact on personal risk and insecurity, the need for personal opportunity – all these factors require the a progressive philosophy an progressive policies.
In particular recognition that pursing the common good, working with active government is the only was to achieve what we need.
The art of turning the need for progressive politics into popular politics depends in embedding the progressive case in a particular time and case.
In other words, the case for progressive politics means very little as an abstract argument about values. It takes roots- indeed it only comes to life – if rooted in a story about how people with a common identity understand their history and their future.
Labour’s case for progressive politics must be more than simply saying – we are progressive, we have the right answers, choose us.
Labour’s case for progressive politics must be a way of saying that we are a vehicle through which the people of this country choose to take their country in a progressive direction.
Seen like this the 1997 election victory was not about Labour winning but about the people of Britain choosing to put behind them the selfishness, the neglect of the public realm, the abandonment of the public good which had characterised the Tories: and the people of Britain choosing to prioritise public services, the common good, the idea that we and our families would all do better in a society in which we all looked out for each other.
Seen like this, the choice for the next election is not about choosing Labour against the Tories, but about whether the people of this country choose to again to defend and recreate the public realm.
Whether we the people choose to put our national effort into re-shaping our economy. To rebuild consciously and deliberately an economy for the 21st century that is better balanced than in the past.
Whether we the people want to ensure that fairness will govern hard choices.
And whether we the people want to be confident that the internationalisms which is essential in the modern world is rooted in our national interest.
Labour’s message will work to the extent to which it is seen as the expression of a progressive politics, yes. But of a progressive politics which is at the same time, national, progressive and patriotic. About us and about the sort of country we want to be.
So identity politics will be one part of that national progressive and patriotic message for the coming general election.
But if it is, who is the ‘we’ that is the focus of a national progressive and patriotic politics.
At the most obvious, it is the people of Britain, the British people.
That umbrella identity is key to Labour’s view of Britain’s future. And there are many ways in which Britain, the Britishness, British values, British history and Britain’s future are the best way of expressing a national, progressive and patriotic message.
But it is not enough.
Labour introduced the devolution settlement because we recognised that within our commitment to the union and our commitment to Britain, it was right, desirable and necessary, to give real constitutional expression to the people of Wales and Scotland. Not because we wanted to undermine the union but because we believed that the union would be strengthened if national identity and national autonomy were recognised within the union.
That has been shown to be the right judgement.
But it leaves the question of where England and Englishness sits within any progressive, national and patriotic politics.
The case for Scottish and Welsh devolution recognised the positing of smaller nations within a political system which through sheer size England dominates within the overall politics of an unresolved union. That size means that there is no constitutional imperative for similar constitutional change.
But it does leave unresolved whether and how Englishness can and should be expressed within our national politics
The 2008 British Social Attitudes report found that people in England are substantially less likely to define themselves as British and more likely to assert an English identity than 15 years ago.
The British Social Attitudes survey has also asked people how they feel about the cross of St George.
Four out of five of the English population say that they feel a strong sense of belonging to England.
A wide range of surveys have found that people in England are more likely to see themselves as English than British – with many identifying as both.
Indeed, in recent years, I think we can point to three main trends in the development of interest in – and in the meaning of – Englishness.
First, there has been the rise in interest in Englishness itself.
I think there are two drivers of this.
The first is undoubtedly the success of the devolution settlement. Having spent almost my entire live living within a mile or two of the south coast of England I have never sought to pontificate on matters Scottish – though I do welcome the signs of the powerful support in Scotland for Labour’s belief that the best settlement is strong devolution within a strong union, and a rejection of separatism.
But I do know how things seem south of the border, or east of Wales. There is, beyond doubt, some envy for those who are able to express both their British identity and their Welsh or Scottish identity. Those who feel English ask increasingly whether their dual identity has a similar legitimacy.
The second driver is the recognition that some members of ethnic minority communities also express confidence in their dual identity, British and an identity of their community, related to the country of origin of them or increasingly their parents and grandparents. Where they ask, does this leave those who want to say we are English?
But if these have been the drivers of interest in Englishness, there have also been other significant changes. Not least in the idea – politically and culturally – of what it means to be English.
This summer during the World Cup, many English people of all ethnic origins will fly the St George’s Cross with pride. It was not always the case.
As Morrissey sang in Irish Blood, English heart ‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when to be English is not to be baneful: to be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial’.
In the 1970s and 1980s many English people did not want to fly the flag for fear of being identified as a white nationalist racist. It is generally agreed that it was during the Euro 96 football tournament that this changed. That the flag was regained for everyone. This did not just happen, there was a concerted effort to regain our national flag for all our support and value our nation.
Today, few people who support our national teams in football, rugby, cricket, hockey or numerous other sports either expect or want to support an all white team. Today, Englishness is no longer a statement of ethnic identity but a shared identity of all those who feel English, whatever their identity and want to express their support for it.
In truth, of course, this change in public attitude is no more than bringing sentiment into line with history. Throughout the centuries, the English have been a polyglot nation, forever refreshed and developed through new people and new influences. We love our history, but we know it is not pure. Of the millions in the West Midlands who proudly want the Mercian treasure hoard to stay there, how many could honestly claim a pure Mercian ancestry. It doesn’t really matter.
This is all good news for those who want Englishness to be a progressive national identity.
But there is a discernable third trend which we cannot dismiss or ignore. As Britishness has become established as a genuinely multi-ethnic identity, there are some who now seen an ethnic Englishness as the best way of resisting our diverse modern society.
In the last year we have seen the viciously anti Islamic English Defence League play to that idea. No one who has read my public statements about the EDL will be in any doubt about my rejection of their politics. It is though interesting that in their public statements – albeit entirely denied by their public actions – that they claim to represent a non-racist view of Englishness. A forced concession to the wider changes that have taken place.
The fear must be, however, that without positive action designed to promote a positive, modern and inclusive notion of Englishness, the idea of Englishness could once again slip back into a racist and ethnically defined view of what it is to be English.
Pride in Englishness is shared widely across English society, in all social classes. The story of English identity over the past 20 years has been predominantly positive and forward looking.
But in my work at CLG I have highlighted in the past year the position of some of the established white working class communities who have seen great social and economic change, including in some areas the impact of significant migration, who do ask who speaks for us. Despite the demonstrable investment in public services, housing and neighbourhood improvement in ‘those areas, there is a still disconnect between what those of us in government believe we have delivered and the extent to which they feel they have a voice, or that their concerns are being addressed. The £20m a year connecting communities initiative is working with local authorities to ensure that these communities do not remain feeling that there are not listened to. But this is not a short term fix but something that needs to be sustained for years to come.
One thing that could undermine this work is a retreat into a narrow and defensive view of ‘the rights of the English.’
I said earlier, that the notion of Englishness is the least well-developed of our national identities. I think the pressing challenge is to promote actively a positive English cultural identity.
As Billy Bragg has written ‘what we lack is a confidence, not so much about who we are, more about whether it’s OK to celebrate being English. We need to stop being embarrassed about our home and find a way to celebrate the things about it we love – both to respect the locals and to build bridges with newcomers’.
To do this, we need to generate powerful new ways of bringing people together to celebrate their Englishness.
Ways which go beyond the purely historical. Too often, celebrations of Englishness are entirely rooted in history and focus wholly on the past.
This isn’t true of celebrations of St Andrew or St Patrick’s Day – they are about what it means to be Irish or Scottish in today’s world – and are celebrations that people around the world want to join in with.
I would suggest that the starting point should be to develop the festival of St Georges Day itself.
Actually bit by bit, this has been developing in cities, towns and villages across the country.
And nothing I’m saying today means that I think people need to be told to celebrate Englishness, let alone been given permission to do so. Patently y they don’t.
But there are ways in which government could work with the grain of what English people are already doing. Helping give a shape and focus to a national day of celebrations.
It would St George’s Day a celebration of a modern inclusive Englishness within the wider Britain.
This would give us an opportunity to mark key developments in our culture as well as our history and heritage, and to promote its international identity and contribution.
But more importantly it would give us the opportunity to promote a sense of unity and belonging – a sense of English identity which can be claimed by the majority who want to be welcoming, neighbourly and friendly.
A chance to celebrate what we can be proud of and what we have in common, enriched by our differences as well as shared values and shared experiences.
There are many aspects of Englishness which we should be proud of. The English language and our great writers. Our tradition of philanthropy and past and present campaigners for social change. Our role in inventing or codifying much of modern sport and our national sporting heroes who come from all communities and all parts of the world.
And the strand of radicalism in English thought – I will return to this later.
Above all, these celebrations will need to be inclusive. Inclusive in terms of age, interests and accessibility of course. But also inclusive in terms of ethnicity.
Take the Out of Many – One England Festival in Sparkbrook Birmingham, held to celebrate St Georges Day and which brought together people from across of minority ethnic and white British communities and from rural and urban England.
Leicester plans to run a three day festival over St Georges Day weekend which looks at England’s contribution to literature: in later years they may look at sport, science of politics.
I have not been able to identify another country in the world which does not have a day to celebrate its national identity. Some have a national holiday, others a body to run a national festival or celebration.
Some countries encourage schools to participate, or recognise the achievements of its citizens. All encourage the use of symbols – flag flying, the use of national colours or the wearing of national emblems.
Many have parades, national sporting or musical events, celebrations of national writers and literature and other cultural events.
I believe it is time to looks seriously at what we in England can learn and take from these international examples. Not all will be appropriate for our particular context, and local areas should be the ones to take decisions about how St George’s Day is celebrated.
I think we have the model. Last year we supported a highly successful Inter-Faith Week. Again, people of faith don’t need government to tell them to be faithful, nor to work together. But by supporting a national steering group and a couple of major national events, and by supporting similar approaches at regional level, we provided the framework for an astonishing and diverse range of local and national activities.
We could do the same for St George’s Day.
And we probably should not stop there. Ben Bradshaw and I have been talking about the World Cup and the possibility of a wider cultural festival celebrating Englishness at a time when the nation will focus on our football team. And perhaps we should look ahead – to other sporting events – like the Rugby World cup – and coming cultural events to se the opportunities to celebrate a diminish of Englishness.
And let me end on one last thought about why this should be a project for the centre-left.
Our English history is not all maypoles and Morris dancers. Nor is it simply the somewhat Eeyoorish observation of George Orwell that it is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays.
It is the history of English radicalism too. The Making of the English Working Class shaped many a student radical of my generation. My part of the country gave birth to the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Captain Swing. It is the history of the cooperative movement. Our English history is the history of a people who embraced and defended and married migrants as often as we resisted them.
If we need a national progressive and patriotic politics today, we should not be shy of making our history an ally.
Smith Institute Election 2010 Lecture by John Denham MP, delivered 2nd March 2010 in Committee Room 8, at the House of Commons.
If only every St George's Day could fall on a beautiful weekend like this weekend, or better still, be a bank holiday. I was hoping to bring you some photos of the walk from Budleigh Salterton to Sidmouth that we walked this morning, but unfortunately I seem to have mislaid my camera lead.
So instead, here is a picture of Matilda enjoying her first St George's Day with St George himself, picture courtesy of granny.
And for those looking for something more cerebral.
Six years ago today, I covered the following stories on the CEP Blog.
From the Daily Star, 11th April 2005:
Patriotic Englishman and women will march on Downing Street to demand an annual public holiday to celebrate St George's Day. More than 600,000 people have already swamped a Daily Star backed website calling for a special hol to honour the patron saint. Now the delighted chief of www.stgeorgesday.com will deliver a petition to Tony Blair to make the Government sit up and take notice.
From the Conservative Party manifesto:
"Conservatives believe that the Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland brings benefits to all parts of our United Kingdom. We remain strongly committed to making a success of devolution in Scotland, so that it delivers for the Scottish people. In Wales we will work with the Assembly and give the Welsh people a referendum on whether to keep the Assembly in its current form, increase its powers or abolish it. But devolution has brought problems of accountability at Westminster. Now that exclusively Scottish matters are decided by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, exclusively English matters should be decided in Westminster without the votes of MPs sitting for Scottish constituencies who are not accountable to English voters. We will act to ensure that English laws are decided by English votes."
And Andrew Neil's Banana Republic article on Business Online:
Strike three against British democracy has been the governmen'ts refusal to deal with the so-called West Lothian question, whereby Scottish MPs (who are predominantly Labour) are allowed to vote on English domestic matters, even though, since a devolved Scottish parliament was created in Edinburgh in 1999, English MPs now have no say on purely Scottish domestic matter.s This anomaly has already led to several undemocratic absurdities, with Mr Blair using his Scottish legions in Westminster to force through unpopular reforms to English public services (such as university tuition fees and foundation hospitals) even though the reforms do not apply to Scotland, where such matters are the preserve of the Edinburgh parliament.
This insult to democracy will become all the more pronounced if on 5 May England votes Tory but Labour still forms the British government because its Scottish and Welsh lobby fodder give it an overall majority. In that case England would be ruled by a government which did not have the consent of the English people. None of this much mattered when Britain voted as a unitary United Kingdom: the constituent parts of the country had to accept the overall result. But devolution has changed that and England will rightly resent Scottish intrusion in its domestic matters when England does not intrude on Scottish domestic matters The simple and democratic answer to the West Lothian question - that Scottish MPs in Westminster do not vote on purely English domestic legislation - has been steadfastly resisted by the Blair government (again, for purely self-serving reasons).
As far as England is concerned, nothing has changed in the intervening six years. But Wales now has more devolved powers, while Scotland is set to vote for more devolved powers and has St Andrew's Day as a designated public holiday.
The proposal to replace the May Day bank holiday with St George's Day is going to set Left against Right. Instead of just giving England a national day because it is the right thing to do, the Tories are, once again, using St George's Day for political purposes.
Back in 2004, Tory MP Andrew Rosindell introduced a ten minute motion that attempted to do exactly the same. What follows is my blog post from the CEP website, 31st October, 2004.
Press release from Andrew Rosindell MP, Thursday 28th October 2004.
John Cryer Conspires to Defeat Andrew Rosindell's St. George's Day Bill!
Romford's patriotic Conservative M.P., Andrew Rosindell this week introduced his first Bill to Parliament which would make St. George's Day a public holiday in England.
Andrew had hoped to gain leave to introduce the Bill which would have seen April 23rd become an annual public Holiday in England. The M.P. has long been in favour of making St. George's Day a holiday and believed that the day would quickly become a national celebration of English heritage.
Having seen huge celebrations of St. George's day in Romford and Hornchurch during recent years, as well as the increased popularity of the use of the flag of St. George, Andrew felt that the bill would have been wide support by the public. The proposed motion had received cross party support and had the names of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Ulster Unionists, Conservatives and even a Scottish Nationalist M.P. on it!
It came as a great surprise to Andrew that the Labour M.P. for Hornchurch, a town recognised as being at the centre of the campaign for St. George's Day to be a national holiday, John Cryer opposed the bill.
It would have been common courtesy for Mr. Cryer to inform Andrew that he was going to oppose the Bill, but instead he opposed the Bill by stealth ensuring he had garnered enough support from left wing Labour M.P.s in order to defeat the Bill.
"I was very surprised when John stood up to oppose the Bill, I tried to reason with him during the vote but he seemed to be opposing the Holiday on the grounds that he felt May Day was a holiday with more meaning. As I said in my speech, St. George's Day was a national Holiday in England in 1222, I am not sure how much more traditional you can get.
To oppose this motion by stealth, which is what John did was very underhand, I am confident that if I had anticipated a vote I could have secured a majority and moved the motion on to its next stage. As it is, I now have to go to the back of the queue, but I shall bring this legislation back to Parliament at the earliest possible opportunity, so that the people of Romford, Hornchurch and England can celebrate their nation."
[There then follows an extract from Hansard which can be read in full here]
It is a great shame that Mr Rosindell's proposal was such that had it succeeded it would have abolished May Day as a public holiday . Not only is May Day a traditional English holiday but it is, more recently, an international workers holiday, and because of that fact the vote was less about the merits of St George's Day and more about a petty stand-off between left and right. This can be seen by a look at the way the MPs voted; the Ayes were mostly Tory and the Noes were mostly Labour.
It goes without saying that - as with any bill that concerns only England - MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were keen to have their say. As I couldn't feasably contact every MP that voted I decided to email the non-English sitting MPs that voted against the bill.
There were 32 of them and I sent each one that has an email address the following:
Subject: Quick question
I am not a constituency member of yours but I wonder if you might answer one short question that I have. Why did you vote against Andrew Rosindell’s bill to make St George’s Day a public holiday in England?
Thanking you in advance.
I will add the replies here as they become available (MPs' responses in bold), maybe you can guess who they are.
For your information and if you took time to read the contribution he made, you would see he was substituting May Day for St David’s Day, if he had simply pursued an additional holiday for England I would not have opposed the bill.
I must say I believe he was simply grandstanding and attacking May Day to create opposition from good trade unionist which I am.
Thanks for your reply.
You are most probably right that he picked May Day to attract Conservative support. However, as it wouldn't affect Scotland you would be at liberty to keep May Day instead of St Andrew's, and we in England could have St George's Day.
You miss the point I would not vote to eliminate May Day
But that bill only proposed to abolish it in England, you're a Scottish MP.
Do you not understand I support MAY DAY, my trade union is Amicus based in London You must be joking that I could vote to deny my English Brothers and Sisters their right to CELEBRATE AN INTERNATIONAL Labour Day.
Why not just increase the Number of Holidays?
By the way I am a Westminster member of the British Parliament, don’t be so narrow minded
I do understand that you support May Day - so do I - but I also understand that you are Scottish and as this doesn't affect Scotland I think you should butt out, after all you Scots narrow-mindedly have your own parliament.
Agreed that there should be more holidays so that we could celebrate May Day and St George's Day. It was disingenuous of Rosindell to frame the bill like that.
Thanks for your time.
Agree on the second paragraph but disagree on first, I am not narrow minded that’s why I am in London. You are not jealous of the Scottish Parliament are you?
I am delighted you agree that May Day is an international workers day, I am also pleased you support it.
Maybe I got the wrong impression I thought you were opposed to May Day, you not an English Nationalist like our narrow minded Scottish Nationalist are you?
I believe that the people of the UK should be constitutionally equal, and that means English, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments with equal powers to Scotland's. If that makes me a nationalist then so be it.
I support May Day as a festival, the fact that it is usually marred by violence is a shame but I suppose the 'international workers' must have their jollies too.
Thank you for your candour
Not at all, thank you for being so candid yourself. I had not realised prior to our correspondence that there were MPs in Scotland opposed to the Scottish Parliament and parochial Scottish nationalism. We at least agree there should be more holidays, and that May Day as a holiday should not be abolished.
I do not recall supporting any motion against a bank holiday for England on St George’s Day. To the contrary, I support a bank holiday for Wales on St David’s day, and would support a similar holiday for England on St Georges day.
As you might be aware, I am a supporter of a full Parliament for England as well as self Government for Wales. The future partnership of the UK must be based on equality for each component part.
I hope I have been able to explain my position.
My apologies. I am a director of the Campaign for an English Parliament and I was this week mailed a press release from Andrew Rosindell MP by one of our members. Your name is listed under 'Noes' [it is also listed on Hansard]. I thought it was a strange position for you to take but then it was a disingenuous bill since it sought to replace May Day with St George's Day.
Dear Mr Young,
Thank you for your email.
I voted against Andrew Rosindell's bill because it would have meant that the existing May Day Holiday would have been scrapped in favour of a St George's Day Holiday. I would have had no problem with celebrating St George's Day had it meant an extra holiday in the calendar - but not at the expense of the day that I find to be of the utmost importance to celebrate.
I hope this quick reply answers your "quick question".
But this bill only related to England, you and your constituents would be able to celebrate May Day to your heart's content.
simply because it would have abolished the May Day holiday!
Not for your constituents it wouldn't, this bill had nothing to do with Scotland.
Because no national Saints Days are public holidays.
I have nothing against St. Georges day being a national holiday in England but, as I understand it, the bill would have replaced May day which is celebrated throughout the UK. I would be quite happy to support and extra day for St, George.
As I understand it you and your constituents would have been free to carry on celebrating May Day, the bill only applied to England.
I campaigned for a very long time to get May Day recognised as a holiday and so it would be counterproductive to vote to replace that with St George’s day which is what the motion suggested
The House divided on the 27th October on broadly Party lines
Thank you for responding.
I respect your view on May Day, and it was disingenuous of Rosindell to frame the bill in the way he did, but this bill would have just been for England. You and your constituents would have been free to carry on celebrating May Day in Scotland. England is at something of a constitutional disadvantage right now so I'd appreciate it if you confined your activities to those that actually have an affect on your constituents, and allowed English MPs to look after England.
There have been debates in this place on having St Andrews day holidays instead of May Day and it didn’t stop English MPs voting as I recall
Don’t fall into the trap of the Nationalists
I am a nationalist, and a passionate one, and one that has been created entirely by your party. I wasn't a nationalist prior to devolution to Scotland and Wales. The votes on Top-up fees and Foundation Hospitals were a constitutional outrage and an affront to democracy, and even an innocuous bill like this now gets my hackles up.
Please just stick to matters pertinent to Scotland. You are creating resentment and bad feeling in England.
Well I don’t think we can expect you to vote Labour then !!!
Well, no. Last election I voted SNP because they were the only party that could help England, even if their arguments on behalf of Scotland are eristic. Now I'm back in England there is nobody to vote for, 'English votes on English laws' is laughable and would be a constitutional fudge. It doesn't do anything about the fact that we have ministers like Reid and Darling who are unaccountable to the people whose departments they preside over, nor does it move us closer to distributing tax money on the basis of social need rather than as a fop to Scottish nationalists. The Lib Dems are regionalists and the 'nationalist' parties are extremists.
Maybe I'll move back to Scotland and help the SNP out. What's Ayrshire like at this time of year?
A hopeless case I’m afraid
That's not a very nice thing to say about your constituency. No matter, I prefer it up the coast in Argyll and Bute
I was talking about the chances of the Nats
There is a strict Parliamentary rule that one does not deal with another MPs constituents.
However, I would advise you that I voted against Andrew Rosindell's Bill to make St George's Day a public holiday in England simply because he wanted such a holiday to replace the longstanding May Day holiday and I could not support this.
I have no objections to St George's Day becomming a public holiday in its own right if this is so decided but I would vote against any suggestion to replace May Day holiday with another whether it be St George, St Andrew or any other suggestion.
Will you have a public holiday on ST David's day? I represent a seat on the border many people work in England and equally many people from England work in Wales. So while it may sound a nice idea it is not workable and further more we should not loose sight that we are the United Kingdom.
Well we are not a United Kingdom. If Labour are serious about devolution we should have separate holidays in the different countries of the UK - just like we have separate parliaments/assemblies. I don't celebrate St David's but then I didn't celebrate St Andrew's when I lived in Scotland. Then again I wouldn't be so churlish as to oppose the Scots or Welsh having a bank holiday on their national day.
My apologies for the delay in replying.
Firstly this was not a vote on a bill but a ten minute motion seeking leave to introduce a bill. Even if granted it is highly unlikely that this would ever become law. I can not recall any occasion when a bill which started in this way ever became law.
I voted against it for two reasons. Firstly, I do not think that this is something to which parliamentary time should be given. Secondly, I am concerned at the pressure that these public and local holidays (which can vary throughout the country) place on business. There has been a campaign to make St Andrews Day a holiday in Scotland . I have not supported it either.
Dear Mr. Young,
Thank you for your email. I agree with John Cryer on this issue -- please see the extract from Hansard below:
John Cryer (Hornchurch, Lab) Link to this | Hansard source
To return from planet Zarg where we have spent the past 10 minutes, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) failed to mention one aspect of his Bill. The motion states:
"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make St. George's Day a public holiday in England in place of the May Day public holiday."
[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Judging from their reaction, I suspect that that bothers my hon. Friends and, I believe, other hon. Members. It will be interesting to see whether, in the Division that will follow, Tory Front Benchers will go into the Aye Lobby to attack the labour movement and working people, or whether they will join us in the No Lobby. May day is part of the history of the labour movement, the Labour party and trade unions. The public holiday was introduced by the 1974-79 Labour Government, but it was always an aspiration of the labour and trade union movement to have a May day holiday in the years when miners were being slaughtered by the hundreds in work, and when there was a battle for improved working terms and conditions. Although it was not fundamental to people's lives, it was always a dream to have such a holiday.
May day also has religious connotations, and is a celebration of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph the worker’s”[Interruption.] I can see that that reference has gone down well among the Tories, as it always does. The Bill is an attack on working people, and the dreams and aspirations of the labour movement, which has been in existence for more than 100 years. In fact, the ambition to make May day a bank holiday predates the foundation of the labour and trade union movement, and is something that many Labour Members would defend as long as we have breath in our bodies. Finally, I was born into the labour movement and I intend to die in it, although not just yet. This is an over-my-dead-body issue, and I will defend May day as long as I live and breathe.
If the responses that I received in 2004 are anything to go by the forthcoming debate is going to make Left-wing enemies of St George's Day, to a large extent because it will replace instead of complement May Day. I have little time for the international riot-fest that May Day has become, but if this traditional English day of celebration is scrapped on the basis of political point scoring it will be a real shame; let's have May Day and St George's Day, and why not Trafalgar Day too if Britain needs a state holiday?
Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams has secured a debate on making St David's Day a public holiday in Wales, to take place the day before Wales votes in a referendum on whether to have a law-making parliament.
In 2000, the National Assembly voted in favour of making March 1 a public holiday, but the idea was blocked by Westminster.
The debate will now take place on March 2 after being secured by Ceredigion Lib Dem MP Mark Williams.
He said: “St David’s Day has massive cultural and historical significance in Wales and there have been calls for a public holiday for many years, so it is a real honour to make the case to the Government.
“A St David’s Day holiday would be a great opportunity to showcase our culture and heritage and could provide a boost to tourism.
Why not vote for a law-making parliament and make St David's Day a public holiday whether Westminster likes it or not?
An English Liberal Democrat MP is busy securing a debate on a St George's Day holiday as I type.
And in other news, a cow jumped over the moon.
If you're at a loose end, why not pop over to Conservative Home and congratulate Nadhim Zahawi MP on his St George's Day initiative?
Nadhim Zahawi is MP for Stratford on Avon and has just introduced a ten minute rule bill in the Commons to make St George's Day and St David's Day bank holidays in England and Wales respectively.
The previous government were all at sea over this issue.
As far as St. George's day is concerned, it is a matter for public debate on whether this is going to be a holiday. — Gordon Brown, Hansard, 23 April 2008
That debate never happened, Gordon Brown and his government not only failed to initiate it, they prohibited it. Brown promised to do more to reflect England's national identity but then vetoed plans for a state-funded celebration of St George's Day because he feared a 'counter-reaction' from Scotland.
Through this initiative the Tories could steal a march on the Anglophobic Labour Party.
I have a reply from Dianne Abbott.
I have read your e-mail and I appreciate your interest in my views.
With St George being the patron saint of England it seems reasonable to celebrate this as other Brish isles do as well as other nations. There are numerous ways of doing this such as a national holiday or even having the state fund official St George's Day celebrations, as you have aforementioned; both of which I approve of.
I hope I have addressed your query. If you have any further inquiries, please do not hesitate to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to the reply already received from Ed Balls.
Since I was asking the Labour Leadership contenders, I thought I'd better enquire as to the Government's policy on St George's Day. Eric Pickles didn't answer but I received this from the Cohesion and Faiths Division of Communities and Local Government:
Thank you for your email of 9 June to Eric Pickles about St George’s Day, which has been passed to me for a reply.
You may have seen that the Government has been supportive of people who wish to fly the flag of St George as part of supporting the England football team. Grant Shapps, the Minister for Local Government, said: "Ahead of the world cup, communities across England will want to wave the flag of St George with pride. Councils should show some common sense and not be over-zealous in applying petty rules. The World Cup is a great opportunity for local communities of all backgrounds to pull together. Councils should do their bit in helping reclaim the English flag as a proud symbol of our nation's identity."
The Government is currently reviewing the approach to building cohesion. One of the issues which I expect to come up as part of that review is how we celebrate St George’s day.
I am afraid I cannot answer the three questions you pose for the Secretary of State, but clearly the Government will need to decide how to support St George’s day before 23 April 2011.
Cohesion and Faiths Division
Bresenden Place, SW1E 5DU
Supporting the BIG LUNCH 2010
For the record my email to Mr Pickles was as follows:
Dear Mr Pickles,
Today's Guardian carries the extraordinary claim from your predecessor, John Denham, that Gordon Brown vetoed plans for a state-funded celebration of St George's Day because he feared a 'counter-reaction' from Scotland.
I hope that the new coalition government will take a more enlightened approach to English national identity and celebrations of Englishness. Please can you tell me:
a) Whether you are in favour of state-funding for official St George's Day celebrations;
b) Whether you are in favour of a national holiday in England on St George's Day, and;
c) Whether the Government has any plans to recognise St George's Day?