As Southgate speaks up for England – why don’t we celebrate Englishness more?

Posted on 4 June 2018

England manager Gareth Southgate has stepped up to speak for England, voicing the hope that his young, diverse World Cup team would connect with ‘modern England’ – and adding that “In England we’ve spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is.” His team face Colombia in the first knock-out game and public goodwill, together with growing hopes, have started to attach to the team.

So could this be the excuse we English need to get the flags out and celebrate our national identity a bit more?

English identity has been ignored for too long.  The English have “Suppressed their identity like hiccups in a church,” writes Tim Stanley in the Telegraph. British Future has been researching public attitudes to Englishness over the last five years – and trying to do our bit to encourage an inclusive celebration of English identity that everyone in England can feel part of.

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

“Most people in England think we should celebrate Englishness and fly the St George’s flag more widely across the nation.

“It’s a shame if some people feel wary of celebrating English identity – around one in ten see the England flag as a worrying expression of nationalism. That’s not a view shared by most ethnic minorities, who feel it’s a symbol that belongs to all of us. Englishness has certainly become more inclusive in my lifetime – helped by trailblazing England footballers like John Barnes and Ian Wright.

“It’s ridiculous when toxic fringe groups with no support, like the EDL, try to claim they have some kind of ownership of our national flag. That’s why we should do more to show that it does belong to everyone in England.

“A proud display by England’s young World Cup team might help kick-start that – going out on penalties in the quarter-finals would be enough for most of us.”

So what have we found out about England and the English?

  • Most people (61%) think that the England flag should be flown more often (ICM for British Future, 2013).
  • Most people in England (53%) see it as a healthy expression of English pride if they see an England flag flying in someone’s home, car, shop or pub. 11% finds it a worrying expression of English nationalism. (Survation for British Future, 2016).
  • But the English still lag behind the Scots and Welsh – while 61% of the English associate their flag with pride and patriotism, for Scots it’s 84% and 86% of Welsh people feel pride in the flag of St David (YouGov for British Future, 2012)
  • Only 40% can name when St George’s Day is, compared to 71% who know the date of US Independence Day. Two-thirds of people (67%) think St George’s Day is less widely celebrated than St Patrick’s Day (ICM for British Future, 2013)
  • Three-quarters of people (76%) would like to see that change, and for St George’s Day to be celebrated at least as much as St Patrick’s Day. (ICM for British Future, 2013).
  • Three quarters of the general public (74%) – and of ethnic minorities (74%) and Muslims (75%) – say that the England football team is a symbol of England that belongs to people of every race and ethnic background in England today (Survation for British Future, 2016).

Back in 2016 during the Euro 2016 football tournament, British Future got behind  #WeAreAllEngland, a simple campaign to show how the England team brings us all together – and that England is at its best when we all feel we can belong to it. We shot this film in Blackburn with the seven and eight-year-old Muslim kids at AHF FC’s Saturday football practice doing their England goal celebrations, cheering for England and talking about why they hope their team will win:

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