David Cameron would be tempted to choose Jerusalem as an English anthem for England’s sporting teams, the Prime Minister has said. He was asked about the call for an English anthem, a campaign coordinated by British Future, involving a cross-party alliance of MPs and civic voices.
The Prime Minister said he could understand why people felt that England could have an English tune, as Scotland and Wales do. His government has not taken a position on the issue but, if there were an English anthem, Cameron’s personal choice would be for Jerusalem.
However, he also joked that he worried that the political left might want to claim that Jerusalem was their tune, because of the “dark satanic mills” but said that he disagreed and that it should belong to everyone .
The Conservative leader made these off-the-cuff remarks to a group of young activists during a recent Downing Street reception for the Conservative Future group.
He had been asked his view of the anthem call by Binita Mehta, an active Conservative Future member at the University of Warwick who, having recently graduated, has now joined the British Future team as the first member of our internship programme.
The Coalition government is officially neutral on the question of an anthem for England. It believes that it is a decision for the relevant sporting authorities to take themselves.
But David Cameron’s personal comments may well encourage those MPs, think-tankers and civic voices who have argued that it would be good both for the Union and for an inclusive English identity for England to follow Scotland and Wales in having its own tune, in addition to God Save the Queen being used for Team GB at the Olympic Games.
The government’s official neutral position is set out in a reply to British Future director Sunder Katwala, who wrote to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the Leader of the Opposition, to ask them to encourage a public debate on the issue. The government’s response was sent by John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
“Officially, God Save the Queen is the Royal and National Anthem of the United Kingdom and the Royal Anthem of all four of the constituent countries. In addition, each country within the United Kingdom may quite properly have national songs, but none is an ‘official’ National Anthem. So playing favourite national songs, at sporting and other events, is a matter solely for the governing body of the sport or public entertainment concerned, or the owners of the premises”.
Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland, who was a signatory to British Future’s recent letter, has tabled a new parliamentary motion, arguing that the anthem campaign can be won in time for the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, said that “if we are to maintain the Union, it is vital that the English feel that our identity is not just protected, but as proud as any other. Let’s reclaim national pride from the so-called ‘nationalists’. Personally, I favour Jerusalem as our English anthem, as it is a song that politically unites both left and right, albeit for different reasons. Besides that, it is an amazing musical work”.
David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, has expressed a similar sentiment about Jerusalem’s ability to unify, telling British Future that “it is a song which could resonate across England, meaning as much to rugby players and schoolchildren, to churchgoers and those without faith who recognise as rousing anthem when they here one”.
Other supporters of the anthem call included Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Barking and Dagenham, who has recently been asked by party leader Ed Miliband to lead the Labour policy review, and Conservative peer Elizabeth Berridge. Support from a broad range of civic society voices included think-tanker Phillip Blond and David Goodhart, broadcaster Iain Dale, blogger Sunny Hundal, Rob Berkeley, director of the Runnymede Trust, and Paul Goodman, the former Conservative MP who co-edits the Conservative Home website, sportswriter Mihir Bose, and Gareth Young, who coordinates the anthem4england campaign website.
British Future’s This Sceptred Isle report showed a higher level of anxiety about English patriotism and the English flag of St George than was the case for views of the national flags of Scotland or Wales, with 61% saying the English flag represented pride and patriotism, while a third of respondents in the YouGov poll saw the English flag as a symbol of racism and extremism.
The group argued that voicing a positive English identity would help to represent the “proud and inclusive majority in our country” so helping to make the argument that divisive extremists like the English Defence League have no real claim to the St George’s flag.
“An English anthem for the talented, diverse teams that represent us on the sporting field would help modern patriotic pride to defeat prejudice”, they argued.