St George’s Day prompts ‘English question’ handwringing

Growing enthusiasm for a bank holiday on St George's Day reflects a rising tide of English feeling, a think-tank has suggested.

Research by the IPPR found 73% of people would like the day off to celebrate their Englishness.

Normally indications that English people would prefer an extra day not working would not be taken as a sign of anything other than laziness, but the poll's other findings suggest it reflects a broader growth in pro-English sentiment.

Forty per cent said they would prefer to be categorised as 'English' rather than the standard 'British' on their passports.

Forty-six per cent said they felt 'very proud' to be English, compared to 38% saying the same about being British.

And 72% of those identifying themselves as English rather than British said they did not trust the government to work in the English interest.

"This new polling shows the continued emergence of an English identity that British political parties ignore at their peril," IPPR director Nick Pearce said.

"There is compelling evidence that English identity is becoming politicised: that is, the more strongly English a person feels the more likely they are to believe that current territorial arrangements treat England unfairly."

Next year's Scottish independence referendum, the Conservatives' promised in-out referendum on European Union membership and the MacKay commission into the West Lothian Question – investigating what can be done to prevent Scottish MPs having a say over England-only affairs – are all helping bring matters to a head.

Conservative backbencher Harriett Baldwin, who was instrumental in persuading coalition ministers that a commission was needed on the issue, told the commission found a "strong public attitude" on the issue.

"They made a fairly strong recommendation that we needed to make some changes to the rules of the House of Commons to reflect this," she said.

The sought-after alterations have not been made yet, suggesting ministers are not prioritising the issue.

Baldwin added: "I look forward to the government recognising this and progressing with the implementation of the recommendations from the report."

IPPR is working on further research due out this summer which will conclude 'Englishness' does not have to be solely a motivator for right-wing voters to head to polling stations.

At the moment it is members of right-wing parties which feel most strongly about nationalistic issues, however.

Sixty per cent of Ukip supporters are in favour of St George's Day becoming a bank holiday, compared to 47% for Conservative voters and 44% for Labour voters.

"Englishness has been kept at the margins of political debate," Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University, co-author of the report, said.

"A cocktail of deepening cultural anxiety, rising economic insecurity and a growing disillusion with the political system has made the English question something far more complex than simply a response to Scottish devolution and European integration."

Meanwhile, Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland used the day to promote the campaign for an English national anthem.

"You can imagine how confused foreigners are when we cannot even get our different identities straight ourselves," he wrote.

"We, the English, have now realised that when we are being English and representing England, that we use the English, not the UK flag.  So now it is time to reserve God Save the Queen for the Olympics and Paralympics, for UK and British teams, and any time we are proudly representing the UK or Great Britain.

"Then, let us, when are we representing England, be English and sing as English men and women, players, athletes, and fans.  We need a strong, English song to sing when England take to the sporting pitch, so we can be proud of representing or supporting England."