A Bank Holiday just for being British?

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Fancy an extra Bank Holiday just for being British? Sounds too good to be true but it might just happen – if we can only agree on a date. Public affairs correspondent Shaun Lowthorpe reports.


Gordon Brown wants us to have a day off to celebrate Britishness. His preferred date appears to be November 11 to coincide with Armistice Day. But a poll by BBC History Magazine has come up with a surprising favourite - June 15, to celebrate the anniversary of Magna Carta.

Yet the production of 60-odd documents by English barons of old in 1215 to put King John straight on feudal law sounds a bit of a dry excuse to lie back and think of Britain.

Other contenders included VE Day (May 8), Nelson's victory at Trafalgar (October 21), the abolition of the slave trade (March 27) and the birth of Sir Winston Churchill (November 30).

Dr David Musgrove, editor of BBC History Magazine, said he was surprised that Magna Carta came out on top, but felt it may reflect current concerns about civil liberties.

“It's a medieval date and a lot of people have a vague idea that it is to do with liberty but very few people know much more about it than that,” he said. “But it does show a close association with liberty and democracy, which is part of the political times we live in.

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“We have a real hang up with world war two and I was surprised that one of those days didn't come through. But I think it's quite gratifying and shows a bit of a move forward in the national psyche.”

But do we really need another Bank Holiday?

This year the diary shows that there are nine public holidays in England and Scotland - including four Bank Holidays.

While in Northern Ireland, they've got 11 days off - five Bank Holidays and March 17 for St Patrick's Day.

But that compares with 11 in France, 15 in Germany and 18 in Spain.

The Chancellor first raised the issue during a Fabian Conference on Britishness in January.

So don't bank on a day off to celebrate St George's Day or St Andrew's.

Nope, any day should celebrate Britishness, so with this week's damp squib out of the way and the next one not until August it's time to get the thinking caps on.

Sunder Katwala, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, said he would like a national vote similar to the BBC Great Briton's series which saw viewers vote for Churchill.

“We've got to give it to the public it shouldn't be a decision for a committee,” he said. “This is only the view of the history market, what I would like to see is different people championing different days in a very public process involving millions of people.

“Nobody is purely British - you are either English/British, Scottish/British, Welsh/British etc. It's a civic identity.”

And he said there was a good case for an extra day off.

“We are already about four behind the European average,” he added. “With the whole issue of work life balance becoming increasingly prominent on the political agenda, I think there will be a growing case for it. You can do it affordably and people do work productively in those weeks.

“It feels increasingly to me like the day is going to happen. They wouldn't be talking about it just to put in a speech.

“Britishness is one of the big ideas of a future Gordon Brown government and it brings together a lot of areas such as what is our place in the world, how do we deal with the global economy and politics.

“He wants us to have a shared sense of what we would do together as a nation.”

But Tom Moran, Senior Policy Advisor at the CBI, said there was no need for an extra day off. “British workers actually do as well on Bank Holidays and annual leave as many of their European colleagues,” he said. “England has eight Bank Holidays which is also the average number across the EU. And the statutory UK entitlement of 20 days per year is the same as Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain. Six other EU countries give 25 days but in reality UK employers go beyond the entitlement and give an average 24.5 - 25 days.”

And why not have a long weekend every month? Surely that would make us more productive?

Bosses please note...

I can recommend it.

In many ways the greatest job I ever had was working as a teaching assistant in Germany. On my first day my boss said if I worked a Saturday morning every other week I could have two days off in the week.

So once a fortnight it was hello long weekends and a great chance to travel across the country.

Conversely in Japan my boss insisted I had to be at school even during the holidays. The only exception was the so-called Golden Week in May and even then you were expected to go on a work trip with your teacher colleagues.

But that was then, and somehow I can't see either happening on these shores.

Just an extra day off suits me fine, though.

t Should we have a Bank Holiday to celebrate Britishness? Cast your vote on the EDP24 front page.