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St George's Day vs May Day

The proposal to replace the May Day bank holiday with St George's Day is going to set Left against Right. Instead of just giving England a national day because it is the right thing to do, the Tories are, once again, using St George's Day for political purposes.

Back in 2004, Tory MP Andrew Rosindell introduced a ten minute motion that attempted to do exactly the same. What follows is my blog post from the CEP website, 31st October, 2004.


Press release from Andrew Rosindell MP, Thursday 28th October 2004.

John Cryer Conspires to Defeat Andrew Rosindell's St. George's Day Bill!

Romford's patriotic Conservative M.P., Andrew Rosindell this week introduced his first Bill to Parliament which would make St. George's Day a public holiday in England.

Andrew had hoped to gain leave to introduce the Bill which would have seen April 23rd become an annual public Holiday in England. The M.P. has long been in favour of making St. George's Day a holiday and believed that the day would quickly become a national celebration of English heritage.

Having seen huge celebrations of St. George's day in Romford and Hornchurch during recent years, as well as the increased popularity of the use of the flag of St. George, Andrew felt that the bill would have been wide support by the public. The proposed motion had received cross party support and had the names of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Ulster Unionists, Conservatives and even a Scottish Nationalist M.P. on it!

It came as a great surprise to Andrew that the Labour M.P. for Hornchurch, a town recognised as being at the centre of the campaign for St. George's Day to be a national holiday, John Cryer opposed the bill.

It would have been common courtesy for Mr. Cryer to inform Andrew that he was going to oppose the Bill, but instead he opposed the Bill by stealth ensuring he had garnered enough support from left wing Labour M.P.s in order to defeat the Bill.

Andrew said:

"I was very surprised when John stood up to oppose the Bill, I tried to reason with him during the vote but he seemed to be opposing the Holiday on the grounds that he felt May Day was a holiday with more meaning. As I said in my speech, St. George's Day was a national Holiday in England in 1222, I am not sure how much more traditional you can get.

To oppose this motion by stealth, which is what John did was very underhand, I am confident that if I had anticipated a vote I could have secured a majority and moved the motion on to its next stage. As it is, I now have to go to the back of the queue, but I shall bring this legislation back to Parliament at the earliest possible opportunity, so that the people of Romford, Hornchurch and England can celebrate their nation."

[There then follows an extract from Hansard which can be read in full here]

.......END

It is a great shame that Mr Rosindell's proposal was such that had it succeeded it would have abolished May Day as a public holiday . Not only is May Day a traditional English holiday but it is, more recently, an international workers holiday, and because of that fact the vote was less about the merits of St George's Day and more about a petty stand-off between left and right. This can be seen by a look at the way the MPs voted; the Ayes were mostly Tory and the Noes were mostly Labour.

It goes without saying that - as with any bill that concerns only England - MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were keen to have their say. As I couldn't feasably contact every MP that voted I decided to email the non-English sitting MPs that voted against the bill.

There were 32 of them and I sent each one that has an email address the following:

Subject: Quick question

Dear ............

I am not a constituency member of yours but I wonder if you might answer one short question that I have. Why did you vote against Andrew Rosindell’s bill to make St George’s Day a public holiday in England?

Thanking you in advance.

Gareth Young

I will add the replies here as they become available (MPs' responses in bold), maybe you can guess who they are.

MP1

Dear Garth

For your information and if you took time to read the contribution he made, you would see he was substituting May Day for St David’s Day, if he had simply pursued an additional holiday for England I would not have opposed the bill.

I must say I believe he was simply grandstanding and attacking May Day to create opposition from good trade unionist which I am.

Thanks for your reply.

You are most probably right that he picked May Day to attract Conservative support. However, as it wouldn't affect Scotland you would be at liberty to keep May Day instead of St Andrew's, and we in England could have St George's Day.

Dear Garth

You miss the point I would not vote to eliminate May Day

But that bill only proposed to abolish it in England, you're a Scottish MP.

Do you not understand I support MAY DAY, my trade union is Amicus based in London You must be joking that I could vote to deny my English Brothers and Sisters their right to CELEBRATE AN INTERNATIONAL Labour Day.

Why not just increase the Number of Holidays?

By the way I am a Westminster member of the British Parliament, don’t be so narrow minded

I do understand that you support May Day - so do I - but I also understand that you are Scottish and as this doesn't affect Scotland I think you should butt out, after all you Scots narrow-mindedly have your own parliament.

Agreed that there should be more holidays so that we could celebrate May Day and St George's Day. It was disingenuous of Rosindell to frame the bill like that.

Thanks for your time.

Gareth

Agree on the second paragraph but disagree on first, I am not narrow minded that’s why I am in London. You are not jealous of the Scottish Parliament are you?

I am delighted you agree that May Day is an international workers day, I am also pleased you support it.

Maybe I got the wrong impression I thought you were opposed to May Day, you not an English Nationalist like our narrow minded Scottish Nationalist are you?

I believe that the people of the UK should be constitutionally equal, and that means English, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments with equal powers to Scotland's. If that makes me a nationalist then so be it.

I support May Day as a festival, the fact that it is usually marred by violence is a shame but I suppose the 'international workers' must have their jollies too.

Thank you for your candour

Not at all, thank you for being so candid yourself. I had not realised prior to our correspondence that there were MPs in Scotland opposed to the Scottish Parliament and parochial Scottish nationalism. We at least agree there should be more holidays, and that May Day as a holiday should not be abolished.

Best wishes

MP2

Dear Gareth,

I do not recall supporting any motion against a bank holiday for England on St George’s Day. To the contrary, I support a bank holiday for Wales on St David’s day, and would support a similar holiday for England on St Georges day.

As you might be aware, I am a supporter of a full Parliament for England as well as self Government for Wales. The future partnership of the UK must be based on equality for each component part.

I hope I have been able to explain my position.

My apologies. I am a director of the Campaign for an English Parliament and I was this week mailed a press release from Andrew Rosindell MP by one of our members. Your name is listed under 'Noes' [it is also listed on Hansard]. I thought it was a strange position for you to take but then it was a disingenuous bill since it sought to replace May Day with St George's Day.

Best Regards,

Gareth

MP3

Dear Mr Young,

Thank you for your email.

I voted against Andrew Rosindell's bill because it would have meant that the existing May Day Holiday would have been scrapped in favour of a St George's Day Holiday. I would have had no problem with celebrating St George's Day had it meant an extra holiday in the calendar - but not at the expense of the day that I find to be of the utmost importance to celebrate.

I hope this quick reply answers your "quick question".

Yours sincerely

But this bill only related to England, you and your constituents would be able to celebrate May Day to your heart's content.

Gareth

MP4

simply because it would have abolished the May Day holiday!

Not for your constituents it wouldn't, this bill had nothing to do with Scotland.

MP5

Because no national Saints Days are public holidays.

MP6

I have nothing against St. Georges day being a national holiday in England but, as I understand it, the bill would have replaced May day which is celebrated throughout the UK. I would be quite happy to support and extra day for St, George.

As I understand it you and your constituents would have been free to carry on celebrating May Day, the bill only applied to England.

MP7

Dear Gareth

I campaigned for a very long time to get May Day recognised as a holiday and so it would be counterproductive to vote to replace that with St George’s day which is what the motion suggested

The House divided on the 27th October on broadly Party lines

Thank you for responding.

I respect your view on May Day, and it was disingenuous of Rosindell to frame the bill in the way he did, but this bill would have just been for England. You and your constituents would have been free to carry on celebrating May Day in Scotland. England is at something of a constitutional disadvantage right now so I'd appreciate it if you confined your activities to those that actually have an affect on your constituents, and allowed English MPs to look after England.

Many thanks.

Dear Gareth

There have been debates in this place on having St Andrews day holidays instead of May Day and it didn’t stop English MPs voting as I recall

Don’t fall into the trap of the Nationalists

I am a nationalist, and a passionate one, and one that has been created entirely by your party. I wasn't a nationalist prior to devolution to Scotland and Wales. The votes on Top-up fees and Foundation Hospitals were a constitutional outrage and an affront to democracy, and even an innocuous bill like this now gets my hackles up.

Please just stick to matters pertinent to Scotland. You are creating resentment and bad feeling in England.

Well I don’t think we can expect you to vote Labour then !!!

Well, no. Last election I voted SNP because they were the only party that could help England, even if their arguments on behalf of Scotland are eristic. Now I'm back in England there is nobody to vote for, 'English votes on English laws' is laughable and would be a constitutional fudge. It doesn't do anything about the fact that we have ministers like Reid and Darling who are unaccountable to the people whose departments they preside over, nor does it move us closer to distributing tax money on the basis of social need rather than as a fop to Scottish nationalists. The Lib Dems are regionalists and the 'nationalist' parties are extremists.

Maybe I'll move back to Scotland and help the SNP out. What's Ayrshire like at this time of year?

A hopeless case I’m afraid

That's not a very nice thing to say about your constituency. No matter, I prefer it up the coast in Argyll and Bute

I was talking about the chances of the Nats

MP8

Dear Gareth

There is a strict Parliamentary rule that one does not deal with another MPs constituents.

However, I would advise you that I voted against Andrew Rosindell's Bill to make St George's Day a public holiday in England simply because he wanted such a holiday to replace the longstanding May Day holiday and I could not support this.

I have no objections to St George's Day becomming a public holiday in its own right if this is so decided but I would vote against any suggestion to replace May Day holiday with another whether it be St George, St Andrew or any other suggestion.

MP9

Will you have a public holiday on ST David's day? I represent a seat on the border many people work in England and equally many people from England work in Wales. So while it may sound a nice idea it is not workable and further more we should not loose sight that we are the United Kingdom.

Well we are not a United Kingdom. If Labour are serious about devolution we should have separate holidays in the different countries of the UK - just like we have separate parliaments/assemblies. I don't celebrate St David's but then I didn't celebrate St Andrew's when I lived in Scotland. Then again I wouldn't be so churlish as to oppose the Scots or Welsh having a bank holiday on their national day.

Gareth

MP10

My apologies for the delay in replying.

Firstly this was not a vote on a bill but a ten minute motion seeking leave to introduce a bill. Even if granted it is highly unlikely that this would ever become law. I can not recall any occasion when a bill which started in this way ever became law.

I voted against it for two reasons. Firstly, I do not think that this is something to which parliamentary time should be given. Secondly, I am concerned at the pressure that these public and local holidays (which can vary throughout the country) place on business. There has been a campaign to make St Andrews Day a holiday in Scotland . I have not supported it either.

MP11

Dear Mr. Young,

Thank you for your email. I agree with John Cryer on this issue -- please see the extract from Hansard below:
John Cryer (Hornchurch, Lab) Link to this | Hansard source
To return from planet Zarg where we have spent the past 10 minutes, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) failed to mention one aspect of his Bill. The motion states:

"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make St. George's Day a public holiday in England in place of the May Day public holiday."

[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Judging from their reaction, I suspect that that bothers my hon. Friends and, I believe, other hon. Members. It will be interesting to see whether, in the Division that will follow, Tory Front Benchers will go into the Aye Lobby to attack the labour movement and working people, or whether they will join us in the No Lobby. May day is part of the history of the labour movement, the Labour party and trade unions. The public holiday was introduced by the 1974-79 Labour Government, but it was always an aspiration of the labour and trade union movement to have a May day holiday in the years when miners were being slaughtered by the hundreds in work, and when there was a battle for improved working terms and conditions. Although it was not fundamental to people's lives, it was always a dream to have such a holiday.

May day also has religious connotations, and is a celebration of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph the worker’s”[Interruption.] I can see that that reference has gone down well among the Tories, as it always does. The Bill is an attack on working people, and the dreams and aspirations of the labour movement, which has been in existence for more than 100 years. In fact, the ambition to make May day a bank holiday predates the foundation of the labour and trade union movement, and is something that many Labour Members would defend as long as we have breath in our bodies. Finally, I was born into the labour movement and I intend to die in it, although not just yet. This is an over-my-dead-body issue, and I will defend May day as long as I live and breathe.

Yours sincerely,


If the responses that I received in 2004 are anything to go by the forthcoming debate is going to make Left-wing enemies of St George's Day, to a large extent because it will replace instead of complement May Day. I have little time for the international riot-fest that May Day has become, but if this traditional English day of celebration is scrapped on the basis of political point scoring it will be a real shame; let's have May Day and St George's Day, and why not Trafalgar Day too if Britain needs a state holiday?

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