Scotland and Ireland know what they’re doing – England and Wales should celebrate their patron saint’s days

An economic downturn more severe than anything seen since The Great Depression is perhaps not the best time to be talking about reducing the national productivity rate but with life being ever harder for so many it is about time to give everyone a break – so c’mon let’s take the day off for St. George’s Day. No, I’m not talking about some kind of national mass walkout on April 23rd, but something more permanent instead - making St. George’s Day a bank holiday.

Business leaders will bemoan calls for an extra bank holiday but they should talk to their mate Boris Johnson. The Tory Mayor of London who defends bankers and calls for the 50p tax rate to cut as a matter of priority also agrees with me – on St. George’s Day in 2010 he called for a national holiday on April 23rd each year to allow Englanders to celebrate being English. John Cruddas, the Labour MP, who regularly calls on our party to engage more with the concept of Englishness, also backs the idea. Both are right, English identity is currently confined to sports matches and the racism of the English Defence League – the threat of the latter means its hugely important all parties come together with a strategy to give the people of England the freedom to engage with and indeed celebrate their Englishness. I’ve written before in support of a Parliament for England to rebalance the post-devolution UK, a bank holiday is a far simpler and less contentious idea for Tories, Labourites and Lib Dems to rally around.

England wouldn’t be alone in celebrating their patron saint in this way. Northern Ireland has had a day off for St. Patrick’s Day for decades and Scotland has had St. Andrew’s Day as a public holiday since the St. Andrew’s Day Act 2007. Plaid Cymru constantly demand St. David’s Day become a bank holiday and I urge the Welsh Labour government to heed the call. St. David’s Day is celebrated to a much greater extent than St. George’s Day is, but it could be turned into a grand annual celebration in the vein of its Scottish and Irish counterparts. Turning St. George’s Day into a grand celebration could help Cameron’s Big Society vision – I can see village fetes, street parties and carnivals to celebrate the day, that is after the twenty-somethings celebrating the night away the night before arise from their hangovers.

On the point of drinking the bar industry, still in recession, would love the boost this extra celebration would bring. The idea of a St. George’s Day bank holiday even got a mention in the Government’s Tourism Strategy on the basis of the boost it would give to seaside towns and National Parks etc. when families decide en masse to fill their new found late April long weekend with a traffic-jammed trip away from the cities. The Government haven’t since mentioned the idea but under their plan the May Day bank holiday (two weeks later) would be moved forward. There’s a worrying bit of ideological thinking behind the idea to scrap a day, internationally recognised, for celebrating the labour movement, but even if May Day had no significance why not give us the extra day instead of shifting the pack? Sure, two long weekends in (not-quite) succession might seem excessive (Government's alternative proposal was to celebrate the far more obscure Trafalgar Day – 21st October – a Major-era idea which surely should have died along with the Cones Hotline) but we should remember no country in the EU has less public holidays than the UK. Only the Netherlands matches our stinginess and whilst other nations have an excessive amount (Cyprus and Slovakia have 15 a year!) but even Germany, the country with the economy all parties collectively look towards longingly at the moment, has 2 more than the UK does.

So there really is no excuse not to excuse the majority of workers that extra day off to celebrate St. George’s or St. David’s Day, times are tough but an extra day will not be a death knell for our economy, it might even give some suffering industries a much-needed boost. So let’s back the Government if it goes ahead with a St. George’s Day bank holiday, but fight for it to be an extra day, not a early May Day.