On 15 September, at the Battle of Britain memorial service in London there was a minute silence when God Save the Queen was sung by everyone who attended. That is, everyone except for Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected Labour Party leader, who remained silent while the anthem played. The right- wing media, which includes newspapers like The Daily Mail and The Sun focused their attention on this man’s refusal to obey tradition by branding him a ‘traitor’. Corbyn was subsequently slammed by members of his shadow cabinet who saw it as a gaffe. A Labour Party spokesperson declared that he will sing the national anthem at future events.
The Twitter account JeremyCorbyn4PM defended the Labour leader’s actions stating that since he’s a republican and a non-believer it would have been “totally insincere of him” to sing God Save the Queen. It adds that Britain fought against fascism in the Second World War so that people could be free to follow their conscience. Some Corbyn supporters would argue that his detractors from the right-wing press have failed to take this into consideration before publishing their slander.
Nonetheless this seemingly unusual behaviour on behalf of the opposition leader raises a point as to whether the UK’s national anthem is outdated and irrelevant, or if it is still a sign of respect for tradition.
Whilst God Save the Queen is the national and royal anthem for the United Kingdom, Scotland has its own anthem (Flower of Scotland) and so does Wales (Land of our fathers). And yet, England does not seem to have its own national song. At sport matches the English team always sings God Save the Queen but since 2010 whenever it wins at the Commonwealth Games Jerusalem is played. In 2006 the BBC commissioned a survey where they asked whether the English anthem should be God Save the Queen or Land of Hope and Glory. The result was that 55% claimed they preferred the latter. During the same year, an early day motion was put forward in the House of Commons to make Jerusalem the English anthem. Furthermore in 2007 another motion suggested more or less the same thing. None of these proposals went past the Commons.
It is obvious that the English people need a song that can lift their spirits and make them feel proud of belonging to their homeland. That is, one that has no lyrics about royalty or God, but one that exalts England for what it can give to its children. I am thinking of There’ll Always Be an England and Rose of England (which would make an interesting comparison with Flower of Scotland), although I like Land of Hope and Glory too. It is my belief that Britain should be a republic. This is a view shared by Corbyn and he was right not to sing God Save the Queen. However, in the end it is up to the English people and their representatives to make a change.
Published in the InQuire newspaper issue 11.5