23 April 2014

‘Drinks on St George!’ – Can tax-free beer bring English together?

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While St George’s Day gets bigger every year – with more festivals, parades and family events in communities right across England – even more can be done to make it a truly national event that brings everyone together to celebrate, writes Steve Ballinger.

People wave the English flag at Glastonbury music festival. Photo: Stew Dean
People wave the English flag at Glastonbury music festival. Photo: Stew Dean

ICM research ahead of our “Festival of Englishness” last year found that two-thirds of people in England still feel that St Patrick’s Day is more widely-celebrated in Britain than St George’s Day.

It’s not because the English don’t care, though: three-quarters (76%) of those surveyed want St George’s Day celebrated more or at least as much as St Patrick’s Day. Sixty-one percent feel the flag of St George should be flown more widely across England. Many people, however, are simply put off because they feel nothing much is happening in their community and the day often goes by unmarked.

We need to do more to celebrate Englishness. A nationwide St George’s Day party, with everyone invited, would be a great way to bring people together. We think the government could help by offering a one-day “Beers on St George” tax break on the price of a pint of beer for landlords who hold St George’s Day events, helping to bring communities together in their local pub.

According to CAMRA, approximately £1 in the price of every pint of beer sold in a pub is made up of tax: 50p VAT and 50p excise duty. While the European Union sets some minimum tax rates, the government still has leaway to cut the price of a pint for the day.

Not everyone drinks, of course, but encouraging communities to throw a party and invite everyone would be a great way to get things moving. And as most of us in England only really celebrate our national identity when there’s a big sports event on, why not hold one on St George’s Day?

English cricket could hold its own equivalent of football’s Charity Shield each year on St George’s Day to help provide a focus for celebrations, with an England XI taking on the county champions to kick-start the cricket season. An event like this would provide a national focus for people to get their St George’s flags out and make it a party to which everyone’s invited.

Another solution would be to make 23 April a Bank Holiday: 41% of people cite the lack of a day off as a reason why St George’s Day isn’t celebrated more. The English beer Wells Bombardier recently launched a Facebook campaign calling for St George’s Day to be made a Bank Holiday backed by a TV advertising campaign featuring comedian Rik Mayall.

Most people in England would like to do more to celebrate our patron saint. We all saw what the Jubilee and the Olympics did to bring people together and we need to get that spirit back. If the government, local councils, sporting bodies and even some of England’s biggest companies and breweries really got behind St George’s Day, 23rd April could be a moment each year when we all celebrate being English.

Steve Ballinger is head of communications at British Future. 

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