A New English National Anthem?

For national anthem buffs like me, it doesn’t get much more exciting than this!

Yes, earlier today the British parliament took a step towards England adopting its own national anthem, as opposed to using “God Save the Queen.” The sponsor of the bill, a Labour MP named Toby Perkins, noted the tension between British and national identity in his speech:

…it’s often seemed incongruous to me that when England has played against other home nations on the football or rugby field that whilst the Welsh or Scots sing an anthem that reflects their nation’s identity, England should sing about Britain. It reflects a sense that we see “Britain” and “England” as synonymous. And this not only denies us English an opportunity to celebrate the nation that is being represented, but is also a cause for resentment among other countries within the British Isles, who feel that England has requisitioned the British song.

England women's national football team before a 2014 match
The England women’s national football team singing the anthem before a 2014 match – Creative Commons (James Boyes)

I wrote a bit about this back in 2011, when my Modern Europe students voted “God Save the Queen” 4th best in the world — just behind Germany’s and just ahead of Brazil’s:

“GSTQ” is the rare national anthem that transcends its nation, though (like Japan’s “Kimigayo”) it may seem odd for a nation‘s anthem to ask a particular blessing for a single person. And, indeed, it’s not used as the anthem of the constituent nations of Great Britain during certain sporting competitions, as Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and even English alternatives sometimes get played. One of my students pointed in this direction in explaining why she voted the song the worst of the six finalists:

Although “God Save the Queen” is an accessible tune and carries with it a tremendous amount of English history, I think that it is also a less relevant anthem than that of many other nations. For one thing, it is meant to extend to a Commonwealth and not merely one nation. The fact that Scotland and [Northern] Ireland sometimes have different songs played for them at sporting events, for example, seems to suggest that there is a lack of unity behind it. Also, even though it is similar to the Japanese anthem in that they both refer to monarchical authority, the British anthem does not seem to capture the identity and culture of the United Kingdom as well as the Japanese anthem does for Japan. It appears limited in its meaning, perhaps because of the scope of its lyrics. To be honest, and apart from the idea that anthems reflect a sense of nationalism, I simply do not like the song very well.

In the Olympics, non-English athletes hear “GSTQ” on the now-rare occasions when Britain wins gold, but elsewhere even England teams occasionally use “Land of Hope and Glory” or “Jerusalem” instead of the royal anthem.

Indeed, a Sky News poll found 40% and 31% of viewers supported those two songs, respectively. (Perkins favors “Jerusalem.”) Another option is “There’ll Always Be An England” (18%), though I’d kind of like to see someone get creative and dip into the Kinks’ back catalog…

One thought on “A New English National Anthem?

  1. In 2011, one could rightly say, “on the now-rare occasions when Britain wins gold”; no longer. Perhaps it’s the dramatic resurgence of British athletics that has pushed this issue to the fore.

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