Opinion: Rather than have a new national anthem, let’s scrap it altogether

England's Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown (centre) and Luther Burrell (left) singing the national anthem.

England's Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown (centre) and Luther Burrell (left) singing the national anthem. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire - Credit: PA

In words which will antagonise some and delight others, our controversial columnist argues the national anthem has had its day.

I was invited yesterday to sign an online petition. It said: 'We the undersigned believe that the United Kingdom needs a new National Anthem.'

I didn't sign it. Not because I have any affection for the dreary, dispiriting dirge that has served in that role since 1745, when the Hanoverian regime of the German-born George II was under glamorous threat from Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite rebellion.

And not because I feel anything resembling loyalty towards the family whose matriarch we are supposed to desire 'long to reign over us'.

I sympathise entirely with Jeremy Corbyn over last week's most contrived controversy. I myself once received abuse from those around me for failing to stand when the anthem was played before an ice hockey game I was reporting on.


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That was decades ago, when I was younger and more foolish. These days I'm more likely to do as Corbyn did – and as many footballers do – stand in dignified silence while others sing, or pretend to.

The Parliamentary petitions website says the government 'will respond' to any petition that attracts 10,000 signatures. And that one with 100,000 signatures 'will be considered for debate in Parliament'.

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It all suggests that the whole process is a way of giving citizens the illusion of participation. A way of defusing criticism. A neatly mapped road to political nowhere.

I have signed petitions of this kind. Those organised by pressure groups such as 38 Degrees and Sum Of Us may even occasionally have done some good.

But I fear that the more there are, the less chance each one has of being taken seriously. And frankly there are more important issues right now than what song people sing (or don't sing) at sporting occasions (or memorial services). Meantime, there's one more reason why I didn't put my name to that petition.

I do quite enjoy the cheery, violence-glamorising French anthem, La Marseillaise. And I don't mind joining in a rousing singalong of that gorgeous tune Jerusalem, which seems to be most people's preferred alternative anthem.

But I don't think we need a new national anthem. I don't think the UK, or any country, needs a national anthem at all.

Because I think the very idea of nations is a rotten idea. One that has arguably caused even more brutality, war and suffering than religion. I don't expect to see the day when humankind abandons the idea of dividing itself up into nations. But that day will come. And the sooner it does, the better for all who are around at the time.

I don't suppose scrapping anthems – or just letting them wither away – will go very far towards advancing that day. But it might be a start, if only a small one.

Meanwhile, the last time I looked that petition had just under 8,000 signatures to go to qualify for a government response. You can just imagine what that response will be.

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