By Kylie MacLellan
The 19th century courtyards of Britain’s parliament echoed to the strains of Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem” on Wednesday in one of the loudest public shows of support for a possible new anthem to be played at English sports events.
One lawmaker has challenged the tradition of playing “God Save the Queen” before England teams take to the football or rugby fields, saying the anthem is about Britain, which includes Scotland and Wales, and not specifically about England.
His bill, which legislators backed introducing to parliament but which may not make it all the way to becoming law, opened the floodgates to a range of suggestions of what best represents England, from traditional patriotic songs such as “Land of Hope and Glory,” to the theme tune of long-running BBC radio drama The Archers.
For the driver of a small white van circling around outside parliament on Wednesday, Jerusalem, which is based on a poem by William Blake, was the obvious choice, as it played repeatedly from loudspeakers attached to the van roof before the vote.
“It has often seemed incongruous to me that when England has played against other home nations on the football or rugby field, that while the Welsh or Scots sing an anthem that reflects their nation’s identity, England should sing about Britain,” said Toby Perkins, an opposition Labour lawmaker for Chesterfield in northern England, who introduced the idea.
“It reflects the 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 have requisitioned the British song.”
Perkins’ proposed legislation would require the government to hold a public consultation to decide the anthem.
Jerusalem, sung at the start of many English cricket games, has been used by the English Team at the Commonwealth Games since 2010 after coming top in a public vote.
Perkins said “I Vow to Thee, My Country” and “There will always be an England” were among other songs which had been suggested, as had the possibility of a newly commissioned song.
“We should welcome the opportunity to reestablish the idea that the United Kingdom is a union of four separate nations with their own identities,” he said.
But with a resurgence in Scottish nationalism since a failed independence bid in 2014, increasing powers for the Scottish parliament and the British parliament sitting for the first time on Tuesday under new rules giving English lawmakers a veto over issues only applying to England, some fear an English anthem is another step towards the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
“These expressions of the individual nationalism are a disuniting factor in our country, in a country that we ought to make more united,” said Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, who represents a constituency in southwest England.
“What greater pleasure can there be for a true born English man or true born English woman to listen to our own national anthem, a national anthem for our whole country, for our whole United Kingdom of which England is but a part.”