Think tank ippr are arguing for a new national bank holiday for Britain, \’which would act as a national ‘thank you’ for community heroes and as a national ‘ask’ for people to give back to their communities\’.
I have nothing against another day off work, but this endless flailing around after a post-nationalist national day for Britain seems doomed to fail (I\’ll leave Northern Ireland out of this for the moment).
We are not like other countries: for nearly 1,000 years, we have consistently failed to be invaded (hence giving us the opportunity to liberate ourselves), to stage any proper revolutions or to execute our aristocracy. Other countries can celebrate these bloody triumphs, or equally arcane religious festivals, saved from guilt by the power of tradition.
Instituting a new festival is a lot more complicated: it\’s not easy to find an uncontroversial historical event that fits the bill since 1066 (and it\’s not clear whether \’we\’ won or lost then, or even who \’we\’ were). Waterloo? Trafalgar? Too bellicose. Patron saints? We have three of them, and there are other religions (and Richard Dawkins), you know. Welfare State Day? Too lefty. Diana Day? God help us.
So, we are left with the lowest common denominator, a fuzzily inclusive \’community day\’. Do you live in a community? The word is weasel-y, often used as a euphemism for \’poor people\’, as a hollow claim of legitimacy or as a vacuous affirmation – an attempt to create unity through its application to a disparate group of people. It is hard to imagine what depths of telethon schmaltz such a celebration would sink to.
The interesting thing about ippr\’s proposal is their choice of date: the Monday after Remembrance Sunday. Remembrance Sunday already serves as a curiously sombre national day, lent diversity by the contribution of the Commonwealth to the wars of the last century. It\’s a poignant, autumnal event, a mournful memory of individual and national loss. Rather British, when you come to think about it…