So Jeremy Corbyn chose not to sing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain commemoration this week. Some elements in the media (notably the Daily Mail) were quick to condemn him as unpatriotic and saw his decision as a ‘snub’ to the veterans who fought in that desperate battle for Britain’s skies. Others felt he was a little naive at best. But I wonder if we should really make such a fuss about it.
The anthem itself is an odd one because it was written in the 1740s in praise of the Hanoverian monarchs, themselves not British at all. It was written at a time when England was under threat from a Scottish invasion and the lyrics reflect this in verse six which runs:
Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the Queen!
I doubt very much that Nicola Sturgeon would like that being sung today! In reality the national anthem is about the monarch and not about the nation, it talks of scattering ‘her enemies’ and confounding their politics, in contrast to the much more beautiful hymn Jerusalem, which suggests a love of England and a desire to preserve and improve the nation.
Personally I think Mr Corbyn is a principled individual, and so he should follow his own counsel here. He said he respected the anthem by standing during it and he respected the sacrifice made by the pilots and ground crew during the war, but he is a republican and it would have been hypocritical of him to sing ‘God save the Queen’ when he wants to abolish the institution.
So what do you want? A politician who is honest and speaks plainly or one that dissembles and manipulates the media and the public to serve his own ambitions? The press will attack Corbyn whatever he does: they will attack his politics as too left-wing, have a go at his style and dress sense, attempt to belittle him and expose every mistake he makes. This is because the press in Britain is very largely wedded to the ideology and interests of the Conservative Party and privileged top slice of society.
Faced with this I doubt Mr Corbyn can last very long and he might as well act according to his deeply held beliefs; at least that way he can say he repaid the trust placed in him by the 422,664 people that voted for him. Finally, I doubt that Her Majesty will mind very much whether the leader of her opposition sang her praises, she will know that he would be respectful to her face if, and when, he calls on her to form his first government.