Freya Berry: How about a holiday that gives power to the people?


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We're in the midst of a patriotic period for Britain. Kate's hair! The Jubilee celebrations! That Olympic stadium covering by Dow Chemicals! And yet, on St George's Day, my response is less than enthusiastic. This is because, even if it were a bank holiday, I know my road wouldn't have a street party.

To be fair, I live on a pretty steep hill, and realise cupcakes would therefore be wont to roll off the serviettes. But I know that people have street parties because the politicians tell us we do, and Take That had a recent video in which adorable townsfolk bustled round the iced biscuits, unconcerned at the performing millionaires in their midst. However, I've never actually attended a street party– and how can I feel proud of my country without one?

My relationship with patriotism is complex. While a free holiday would be nice, I have no strong feelings about celebrating a Syrian man who slew a dragon somewhere that was definitely not England, and/or died by being lacerated on a wheel of swords, depending on which section of Wikipedia you consult. And yet from the Government's Big Society campaign and the rhetoric that followed the 2011 riots, how I view these minutiae is apparently inextricably linked to my moral wellbeing.

Celebration has been politicised by this Government, which can happily double the Olympic opening ceremony's price tag to £80m with one hand, whilst removing disability benefits and legal aid with the other. David Cameron dreams of the kind of people who genuinely draw pride from the idea that a man who never visited their country once didn't slay a mythical monster here, because those people don't complain about unnecessary political cruelties as long as the show goes on.

Meanwhile, the disaffected young see a country in which 22 per cent of them are unemployed, where the educational maintenance allowance is removed and free school meals are disappearing. An investigation into the 2011 riots revealed that 51 per cent of the rioters "did not feel part" of British society. It's hard to be patriotic if you don't feel embraced by the country you're trying to be patriotic about. The Romans had a holiday called the Saturnalia. Social roles were reversed for a brief period: slaves were given banquets and, most importantly, freedom of speech: they could say anything to their masters without fear of reprisal. If you're going to give us a holiday, Cameron, don't give us empty spectacle, but an initiative that gives genuine power to the people who need their voices heard most.

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