Fingers on buzzers. Here is your starter for ten. What’s the significance of today, Friday, April 23?
No conferring. I’m going to have to hurry you. Anybody? Sorry, time’s up.
The answer is: St George’s Day. You could be forgiven for not knowing. Surveys regularly show that fewer than half the English can name the date we’re supposed to celebrate our patron saint.
Don’t worry if you’re one of them. I’m not sure I could have told you, either, off the top of my head, not without phoning a friend.
There’s nothing new in any of this. Twenty-five years ago yesterday, I was a guest at the Spring Lunch of The Lord’s Taverners: full of ruddy faced gentlemen of a certain age consumed with lust for the guest speaker, that quintessential English rose Virginia Bottomley, then Secretary of State for Heritage.
St. George’s Day celebrations in London’s Trafalgar Square. You could be forgiven for not knowing when St. George’s Day is, writes RICHARD LITTLEJOHN. Surveys regularly show that fewer than half the English can name the date we’re supposed to celebrate our patron saint
Out of interest, I asked a few of the chaps round my table if they knew when St George’s Day was. None had the faintest idea.
How can I possibly recall this so accurately, given that half the time I can’t remember what happened last week? It is only thanks to my friend Mitch Murray, who was rummaging through some old papers the other day when he stumbled across a yellowing cutting from the Daily Mail, dated Tuesday, April 23, 1996.
The headline declares: ‘To be English in England today is almost a criminal offence.’
Beneath a ludicrously large byline photograph of a fresh-faced young man with masses of dark hair, the sub-deck (as we say in the trade) reads: ‘On St George’s Day Richard Littlejohn asks why England is now a nation that dare not speak its name.’
Goodness knows why Mitch kept it. Perhaps it was earmarked for the cat’s litter box, or the dartboard, and he simply forgot about it. I certainly hadn’t read the piece since the day it was published, a quarter of a century ago. But, I must admit, that with a few minor amendments, it could have been written yesterday.
With characteristic understatement, the column contrasted the constant denigration of the English with the enthusiastic celebration of all things Scottish, Welsh and Irish.
The woman who turned up at Windsor expecting to have lunch with Prince Andrew must have thought he was going to take her to Pizza Express in Woking for an American Hot.
From Holyrood to Hollywood, the English have always been cast as the oppressor, by everyone from opportunist nationalist politicians to cynical movie producers behind such travesties as Braveheart and In The Name Of The Father.
For our part, the English have taken it in our stride, and with good humour. We put up with Wee Burney and her tiresome Toytown Tartanistas slagging us off and peddling bogus historical grievances for political gain.
The Scot Nats are still banging on about Culloden, for heaven’s sake. But that doesn’t stop them taking our money.
From Holyrood to Hollywood, the English have always been cast as the oppressor, by everyone from opportunist nationalist politicians to cynical movie producers behind such travesties as Braveheart (pictured) and In The Name Of The Father
What really sticks in the craw, though, is when homegrown Left-wing politicians like Labour’s Lady Nugee and others sneer at and misrepresent the rest of us. Why are they so ashamed of their own country? Labour MPs were at it again in the Commons this week.
RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: My friend Mitch Murray, who was rummaging through some old papers the other day, stumbled across a yellowing cutting from the Daily Mail, dated Tuesday, April 23, 1996 (pictured)
Enough, already. As I wrote back in 1996: ‘It’s time to redress the balance, to reject post-colonial guilt and international stereotype.’ I argued that far from being the racist backwater of the Left’s imagination, England was a uniquely tolerant country, even then. Since 1996 we have made extraordinary advances.
On this St George’s Day, we should celebrate them.
Over the past 25 years, we have absorbed and embraced millions of immigrants, not just from the Commonwealth and Europe but from all four corners of the world, without serious social unrest.
If England is such a racist hell-hole, why are so many migrants prepared to pay people smugglers a fortune and risk life and limb to get here?
If England is such a racist hell-hole how did London, the world’s greatest capital city, end up with a Muslim mayor? How many European governments can boast as many ministers from ethnic minority backgrounds as there are sitting around Boris Johnson’s Cabinet table? Two of the great offices of state, Chancellor and Home Secretary, are occupied by people of Asian heritage.
RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: If England is such a racist hell-hole how did London, the world’s greatest capital city, end up with a Muslim mayor? How many European governments can boast as many ministers from ethnic minority backgrounds as there are sitting around Boris Johnson’s Cabinet table? Two of the great offices of state, Chancellor and Home Secretary, are occupied by people of Asian heritage. Pictured: London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday
Can the posturing, devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff boast that kind of diversity? Or the Labour front bench, come to that?
Those of us who voted for Brexit — Chesterton’s ‘secret people’ — were maliciously characterised as knuckle-scraping Little Englanders determined to pull up the drawbridge and turn our backs on the civilised world.
Yet England remains arguably the most open, outward-looking society on earth. When Covid struck, we were reluctant initially to close our borders. That might explain why the virus took hold here so grievously.
Loved the picture of Boris chasing the dragon outside Downing Street to mark the Chinese New Year in January 2020. I think we may have worked out where he caught the Wuhan Flu …
But never forget that it was scientists at Oxford who developed the first viable mass vaccine, now being offered to the world on a non-profit basis.
And in the middle of a pandemic, we have also had to contend with a concerted attack from neo-Marxist revisionists, who have exploited the wicked murder of a black man thousands of miles away to trash our history.
So it was heartening to see another Tory minister, Kemi Badenoch, a Londoner of Nigerian origin, mount a robust defence this week against rabble-rousing Labour MPs trying disgracefully to use the George Floyd case to foment racial division here.
I’ve always been rather proud of the fact that we English wear our patriotism lightly, except on a few occasions such as the Last Night of the Proms, at Six Nations rugby matches and the European football championships.
RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: I’ve always been rather proud of the fact that we English wear our patriotism lightly, except on a few occasions such as the Last Night of the Proms, at Six Nations rugby (pictured on February 27) matches and the European football championships
But on this St George’s Day, we should remind ourselves we are not the racist bogeymen of statue-toppling Leftist mythology. Nor are we the unrepentant descendants of bloodthirsty oppressors, who should be ashamed of our nation’s story.
Here’s what I wrote in 1996. ‘Any objective reading of history would conclude the English ran the most benevolent and benign empire . . . and have made a massive cultural and civilising contribution to the world. Whatever debts we may owe to those our forefathers colonised have long since been paid, with interest.’
To hell with our detractors, both without and, especially, within. We shouldn’t forget that we are the tolerant inhabitants of the most liberal nation on earth.
Happy St George’s Day.
Labour Party leader Max Headroom should think himself lucky his ill-fated visit to Bath wasn’t during a General Election. He pompously told the disgruntled, anti-lockdown landlord who threw him out of his pub: ‘I really don’t need lectures from you.’ This was right up there with Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ moment.