For years the cross of St George, and English nationalism in general, was feared by many to be the preserve of the far right. More recently a determined effort has been made in some quarters to ensure that St George and his flag unites people of every faith and colour who feel an attachment to the concept of England. This week, in the run up to St George's Day, how far have we come along that road?
I witnessed the St George's Day parade in the centre of Manchester today. To be honest it is not an event to which I would normally have gone (and the reason is not that I am half Scottish). There were relatively few ethnic minority faces (interestingly, and maybe depressingly, the highest concentration was on the army float around which young soldiers were dishing out recruitment leaflets). Outside of the Elizabethan costume, morris dancers and medieval pikemen, there was a shortage of colour literally in the floats as well; noticeable to someone who has witnessed the Mardi Gras parade and the Mela in Platt Fields.
There is much to be proud of in English history, including the contributions made to our country by other cultures, and it's a shame this was not more visible in today's march. I did have the feeling that this was targeted at the predominantly white north and east of Manchester, perhaps on the basis that the ethnic minorities have their own festivals? Yes, there was a good sprinkling of BME people both on the parade and watching but at the present time, with the risk of the far right exploiting people's fears and insecurities it's a pity that a parade in honour of our patron saint, (who is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine and Portugal) was not more inclusive.
Speaking of Palestine, it was noticeable that there were more Afro-Caribbean people than Asian at the parade. Yesterday, I attended the AGM of Greater Manchester Stop the War and the alienation felt by many Muslims in our society was very prominent, following the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. With the recent high-profile arrests of students in Manchester and Liverpool and the suspension of employees in Preston apparently just for receiving emails, the situation is likely to get worse.