A national anthem for England

Think-tank British Future, Greg Mulholland MP and campaign group anthem4england have all reached the same conclusion about the need for an English national anthem. Richard Berry asks if there is an appropriate way forward.

The proposal for England to adopt its own national anthem has been around for a number of years, although it may just have been given further impetus when the Prime Minister admitted that Jerusalem would be his personal choice should England make the change – as revealed by the think-tank British Future.

This may not strictly be a matter for public policy, although it is certainly something politicians and policy wonks have been concerned with.  Greg Mulholland MP has recently tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for England’s major sporting associations to adopt a new anthem for when the national team is competing.

This is very much a sporting phenomenon.  For most of us the only time we ever hear the national anthem is at the start of an international football or rugby match or at the award ceremony in other sports such as athletics and motor racing.  The matter of concern for some people is that while teams and individuals competing for Scotland and Wales have their own national anthems to sing, English competitors use God Save the Queen, the anthem for the whole of the UK.

Those advocating the introduction of an English national anthem believe that the English use of God Save the Queen undermines national identity. However, there are different understandings of which identity is being undermined.  For the campaign group anthem4england, the emphasis is on the need to promote a distinctly English identity:

“Of course England needs its own anthem. Those English people pictured in Trafalgar Square aren’t celebrating Britain, or the Queen, they are celebrating England. The English flag has replaced the British flag as the banner of the English and we now need to replace the British anthem with an English anthem.”

Others including British Future also make the argument that the English use of God Save the Queen undermines Britishness:

“We worry too that it will inadvertently undermine the United Kingdom and even the Monarchy, as the English appropriation of shared British symbols risks undermining the equal claim to British identity and allegiance of other British nations in the post-devolution United Kingdom.”

Clearly there is an issue to be addressed here.  However we should not let this debate become entangled with the question of whether the English identity is to be encouraged at all.  Although for some Englishness is not such an appealing concept, the fact remains that England will have its own national sporting teams for the foreseeable future, and their anthem is an important means of identity-shaping, for good or bad.

The stumbling block for this proposal is what to choose as an alternative.  There seems to be two stand-out choices: Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory.  The English cricket team have used Jerusalem as their entrance song for a number of years, while Land of Hope and Glory is sung at English rugby league matches, although neither is an official anthem.  For the Commonwealth Games – where the UK nations compete separately – Land of Hope and Glory was the English victory anthem before being replaced by Jerusalem in 2010.  Neither has made much headway into football, the nation’s most popular sport.

Both have their problems.  Land of Hope and Glory refers to the strength of the Empire.  Meanwhile Jerusalem – which currently appears to be in the ascendancy – is essentially a Christian song, with Jesus Christ as its subject matter.  If either was already the national anthem these anachronisms might be overlooked, but for post-imperial, multi-cultural England to adopt a new anthem so poorly reflective of modern times could be counter-productive.  There is a viable alternative in I Vow to Thee, My Country, although given the other two songs much more widely known, it’s hard to see this one being embraced by enough people to give it the critical mass of recognition any anthem needs.

Photo: Benchill

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7 thoughts on “A national anthem for England

  1. Has to be Land of Hope and Glory – a more rousing piece of music I’ve yet to come across. Words might be a bit imperial, but frankly it’s more about the music than the words – think Star Spangled Banner and the feebly childish rhyming of God Save the Queen.

  2. Lets have a look at the three main contenders, firstly ‘Land of hope and Glory’, this is without doubt a British song, music and lyrics circa 1901-2, so therefore can not and should not be in the top 3, secondly we have ‘I vow to thee my country’, which country is that then? absolutely no mention of England in the lyrics and still might be judged a bit jingoistic when it mentions armies and Kings, and last but not least ‘Jerusalem’, both lyrics and music composed by Englishmen, a rousing song to say the least, speaks of England and it’s pleasant land, questions whether Jesus himself was ever in England, critisizes the yoke placed upon the working man (satanic mills), gives us strength to carry on ( I will not cease from mental fight), gives us the enthusiam to fight for what is right (nor shall my sword sleep in my hand). As for the author questioning Jerusalem because of todays multiculturalism, well lets put it into perspective, only 10-11% of the population of England come from ethnic backgrounds and even out of that population which a large part are muslim, would have no grounds for complaint, Jesus being a prophet in the Koran and muslims consider Jerusalem to be holy, and the Jewish community consider Jerusalem to be one the holiest cities. We can all try to build Jerusalem in England together. In my reckoning Jerusalem will unite England not divide it.

    • Thanks Barry. Really good point that there’s a risk of England appropriating another song written about Britain.

      However on Jerusalem, you’ve incorrectly assumed ‘multi-cultural’ is a reference to ethnic minorities. It isn’t. A number of minority ethnic groups in Britain are strongly Christian. Meanwhile the white population now has only a minority of practising Christians. While we at Modest Proposals are an open-minded bunch, and would not object to people choosing a Christian song, we know that part of being open-minded is accepting that not everyone else is so open-minded – ie there are lots of white British people who might object to the imposition of a Christian song. As for the other religious groups you mention, I don’t know what their reaction would be. I certainly wouldn’t assume Muslims would interpret Jerusalem in the way you suggest, and I doubt the Jewish community will be fooled into thinking the song is actually about their holy city.

      On the whole, of course, I don’t think many people of any faith would object to Jerusalem as an anthem. It’s only an anthem, after all, and has the benefit of being a really good song. But it would certainly be a missed opportunity.

      • Thanks for your reply Richard, There is no risk of the English appropriating another song written about Britian as England’s anthem, at the last commonwealth games Sport England held an online poll as to which song should be sung, the people voted for Jerusalem, which is consistant with many other polls on the subject, it was at the commonwealth games before that the BBC (itself a British institution) appropraited Land of Hope and Glory, no vote just a given. Indeed it is other British institutions that appropriate God save the Queen as England’s anthem namely in sport the RFU and the FA although thier remit is about English sport, they remain remakably British in thier outlook, at least in cricket the name speaks for itself given that it is called the English and Welsh Cricket Board.

        You mention ‘white British People’ might object to a christian song being impositioned on them, two points when it come the an English anthem the white and any other colour British can keep thier noses out of it, this is an English subject and should be chosen by the English of any colour, secondly we the English whether white or not, have got God the save the Queen impositioned on us.

        The point I am making about other religions and Jerusalem is that there should be no conflict in singing Jerusalem and faith be it christian, jewish or muslim because each of those faiths consider Jerusalem as a holy place. I firmly believe Jerusalem can unite the people of England in the understanding of where you live and the belief that we can make England a better place.

        The crux of the matter really comes down to the British and its institutions not letting go of a distant memory of past empire, the British wont let England have it’s own anthem because if they did not only would they have to recognise England as a nation but realise the empire has finally gone, the only country the British currently rule is England and if they cant rule England then Britiain is no more.

        I agree with Wyrdtimes, there are more important issues about England, ie; democracy, economics etc….but with a unifying anthem for England the other issues will be put into a clearer perspective of about who we are, where we are and what we want of a future England whether within the UK or out

  3. ‘Although for some Englishness is not such an appealing concept’

    It’s certainly not appealing to the UK establishment.

    Interesting that British future have decided to push this issue out of so many affecting the English.

    Which undermines ‘Britishness’ more? The lack of an English anthem at sporting events? Or the the lack of national recognition and political representation for the English?

    While I would welcome an English national anthem the reason I stopped being British was because of the raw deal the English got/get from the UK government. We have been denied the right to any form of self determination while our neighbours all reap the rewards of having parliaments that work in their national interests. No one works in the English interest. This leads to less per person funding for most English and worse more expensive services. See tuition fees, visiting care for the elderly, prescriptions etc.

    It also leads to England bearing the brunt of the UK governments cuts, restructuring and asset sales as for most issues the UK government can only affect England. See English forests for sale, English NHS reforms, English regiments taking more of their share of curs etc.

    England is an essential part of the Union. In denying England the establishment fundamentally damages Union they profess to love. No-one speaking for the English is what’s destroying Britishness.

    In my opinion the likes of British Future should be coming out for an English parliament if they want to save the Union.

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