MPs have given their initial support to the English national anthem bill, following a motion put forward by Chesterfield MP, Toby Perkins, that proposed the introduction of an anthem specifically for England. This anthem would be used at international sporting events, such as football and rugby matches, in which England have its own independent team. Currently, God Save the Queen, which is the anthem for the UK as a whole, is used.
There is, of course, no real reason why England, as a country with such a proud history and culture, should not be allowed its own anthem; people can take pride in being English as well as British. Given that Wales can proudly sing Land of My Fathers, and Scotland Flower of Scotland, it seems a reasonable proposition. Equally, it is logical that God Save the Queen should be saved for special occasions in which the four home nations come together, the incredible success of Team GB at the 2012 Olympic Games being one example of this.
Nonetheless, there are a number of issues which first need to be addressed. To begin with, there is the question of what would make a fitting national anthem for the English? The current favourite, according to most polls, is Jerusalem. This famous hymn, composed by Hubert Perry, is based on a poem by William Blake, and talks of how Jesus walked on England’s “green and pleasant land”. However, its historical accuracy is questionable to say the least, and it is debatable whether it would be suitable, especially given its notably Christian associations, as an anthem to unite our multicultural nation. Edward Elger and AC Benson’s Land of Hope and Glory, and Ross Parker and Hughie Charles’s There’ll Always Be an England are also popular suggestions. But, like Jerusalem, these are both very traditional, patriotic choices. It might be nice to take the opportunity to try out something more contemporary and unorthodox, such as David Bowie’s Heroes or Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – although personally I feel this would be better left for when England are knocked out of their next football tournament, most likely on penalties.
It is also unclear how this new national anthem would be selected: via referendum, or by MPs in parliament? When proposing the motion, Perkins suggested an “X Factor style programme”. Whilst this may seem a little outlandish, it could provide a fantastic opportunity to bring the country together, in a Sports Personality of the Year sort of occasion, celebrating England and English identity. Perhaps we might be more disposed to taking pride in an anthem we have selected for ourselves; certainly, at the moment, those who know more than the words to the first verse and chorus of God Save the Queen are few and far between.
Regardless of what England chooses for its national anthem, or how the selection is made, this is important decision for the people of this country, and one which should not be overlooked. This is our chance to decide not only what we stand for as a nation, but also what we wish to stand for in the future, and to declare it to the world.