Bristol City Council is still weathering the storm it brought down upon itself for not marking St George’s Day this year, having argued that the city is ‘too multicultural’ for such an event. Lack of interest might have been a plausible excuse, but not that all cultures are valued except one.
Others do things differently. Professor John Denham is Director of Winchester University’s Centre for English Identity and Politics. Interviewed by Wessex Society for its magazine The Wessex Chronicle, he recalled the situation in Southampton during his time as a Labour MP there:
“I helped organise St George’s Day in Southampton and Southampton’s a very diverse city – so how do you have a St George’s Day which can involve everybody and yet is still an English festival? The story we tell is that Southampton is a great English city, that’s been there throughout English history, and it’s always been made up of all the people who’ve lived there, which because it’s a port city has always been people from all over the world. People can understand that you can be both English and very diverse, through your history and everybody that’s come together to make the city. A couple of years ago I was working on this with a young Sikh woman councillor, born in Southampton, and we discovered that we both had had relatives in the British forces serving in the Far East during the Second World War. That’s an example of how family and local histories can be inter-twined as part of a common story.”
The difference then is that Southampton projects the primacy of territory, locally and nationally – loyalty to place rather than to race – whereas Bristol appears scared of any continuity with its foundational past. Curiously, when it comes to Wessex and the marking of St Ealdhelm’s Day, the roles are reversed. Bristol is happy to fly the Wyvern outside the Council House (or ‘City Hall’, for the Anti-Mayor and his fellow deniers of distinctiveness); Southampton still sits in stony silence, unmoved by calls to fly. Perhaps this will be the year Southampton sees sense?