London Letter: ‘Jerusalem’ may become English sports anthem

North’s soccer team will be only side in UK to sing ‘God Save the Queen‘ if Bill passes

 Rob Webber, Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw of England’s rugby team singing the national anthem, as parliament is to hear calls for England to drop ‘God Save The Queen’ at sporting events in favour of its own national anthem. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

Rob Webber, Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw of England’s rugby team singing the national anthem, as parliament is to hear calls for England to drop ‘God Save The Queen’ at sporting events in favour of its own national anthem. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

 

Turning the corner at Westminster Abbey the other day, a sweet, familiar sound came drifting across Parliament Square – the opening bars of Jerusalem, Hubert Parry’s setting of William Blake’s poem:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green

And was the holy lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen

As the verse went on, the sound drew closer until its source revealed itself as a white van, emblazoned with the St George’s Cross and #National Anthem, circling the square. Strapped to the van’s side was a sign calling for God Save the Queen to be replaced by Jerusalem as the national anthem for England’s rugby team.

While I stood there, a tall, elegant woman in her 80s approached and spoke in tones seldom heard in England now that the Mitford sisters are gone.

“I agree with them. Do you?” she said. I told her I couldn’t agree more.

“Everyone knows it and everyone likes it,” she said, and we carried on listening.

Demonstrating

The National Anthem Bill would “provide for an English national anthem for use at sporting events that involve individuals or teams representing England; and for connected purposes”. The problem, as Perkins sees it, is that while the Scots sing Flower of Scotland at international matches and the Welsh sing Land of My Fathers, the English are left with the national anthem for the whole United Kingdom.

“That reflects a sense that we see Britain and England as synonymous, and it not only denies us English an opportunity to celebrate the nation that is being represented, but is a cause of resentment among other countries within the British Isles, which feel that England has requisitioned the British song,” he said.

The appetite for an English national anthem has grown with greater awareness of English identity following devolution to Scotland and Wales. When England won the soccer world cup in 1966, the stands at Wembley Stadium were filled with union jacks. It was not until the European championships in 1996 that the flag of St George became ubiquitous at England fixtures.

Jerusalem has long been the popular choice for England’s national anthem, and the song has already been adopted by cricket and rugby league supporters. Other candidates include Land of Hope and Glory, I Vow to Thee, My Country and There’ll always be an England, and listeners to BBC Radio Humberside this week suggested Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, by The Smiths.

Inspired by the legend that, like many who came after him, Jesus visited Glastonbury in his youth, Blake’s poem was set to music in 1916 and was at first the anthem of the Women’s Institute. Its celebration of England’s “green and pleasant land” appealed to nationalists, and the song was sung at Conservative party conferences after the Falklands War.

Blake asks if Jerusalem was built “among these dark satanic mills”, an apparent reference to the Industrial Revolution, and the song has long been a favourite among progressives.

Promise

JerusalemThe Red FlagJeremy CorbynGod Save the QueenJerusalem

Although Perkins’s Bill has cross-party support, it also has its critics, notably Jacob Rees- Mogg, the Conservative MP for North-East Somerset, often referred to as “the member for the 18th century”, on account of his old-fashioned outlook. There was, he said, no greater pleasure for “a true-born English man or true-born English woman” thank to listen to the national anthem of the entire United Kingdom. It was a matter of regret that the Scots, the Welsh and the English had taken to singing different anthems.

“These expressions of individual nationalism are a disuniting factor in our country, a country that we ought to want to make more united,” he said.

If the Bill becomes law, the government will hold a “consultation” across England to choose an anthem and then write to sporting bodies telling them it should be used before matches or during medal presentations. It would mean Northern Ireland’s soccer team would be the only national side in the UK to sing God Save the Queen, a curious anomaly.

But as Perkins noted in the Commons, “matters of the constitution are keenly felt in Northern Ireland”.