I’d love to have found an English teddy for this illustration, rather than a British one, but sadly I couldn’t. The only other option was Paddington, and he’s from Peru.
The English Defence League held their annual St Georges Day march along Brighton seafront on Sunday, obviously not keen to waste a days holiday on the actual day itself (today). Details can be found in this hilarious report from The Argus.
I was enjoying a peaceful cup of tea by the pavilion when a herd of skinheads with their overweight, greasy haired women lurched past us, having caught the cheap bus down from London for the day. Chugging from beer cans and shouting “we have a right to celebrate St Georges Day”, they met with little argument from the German school exchange in front of them and, disappointed, headed for the pier. Later in the day, I found the same group, who had managed to find their way into The Lanes, singing something which ended with the line “I’m England ’til I die”. Possibly the most ridiculous piece of lyricism since James Blunt wrote You’re Beautiful. By this time, they’d got lost in the winding streets of the city and seemed to be having trouble locating the other racists.
I have no time for bigots and I find the idea of this parade abhorrent, but I also believe in freedom of speech. In situations like this, it’s really tough to reconcile the two. The problem with this march, apart from its distasteful nature, is that it attracts the anti-fascist protesters in droves (1000 of them to 250 EDL), and the police operation of trying (and failing) to keep them apart costs taxpayers a lot of money. It means that the shops along the seafront have to stay shut for a day, and that the vendors on the seafront lose a day’s takings as well. In this economic climate, can we afford those costs?
I think the best way to deal with people such as the EDL is that we should let them get on with their marches and just ignore them. They’ll feel a bit silly if they’re not creating controversy, and hopefully that will be enough to stop the from gaining further popularity. The right wing views of a lot of my generation terrify me and I hope that taking the excitement out of this sort of thing and showing it for what it really is – mouth breathers plodding along a road, singing grammatically incorrect songs.
As I write this, on St Georges Day, I’m left with the confusing feeling that comes from having to explain to my foreign colleagues why we don’t celebrate our national day, why we don’t have a day off, why we aren’t patriotic. The only answer I can give them is that British people tend to only be able to show patriotism in a negative way – other countries are shit, not England is great. It’s difficult for others to understand that our flag has such connotations of thuggery and racism, that we are unable to display pride in it.
I’d love to be able to reclaim St Georges Day as a celebration of what makes my nation great, but for all the time that someone else is using it to tell people to go back to their own country, then I’ll continue to wait.