St George’s bank holiday? Not such a good idea

A Russian icon of St GeorgeSo, Jeremy Corbyn has announced that a Labour government would introduce four new UK-wide bank holidays on all four of the national saints’ days: St David’s Day on 1st March, St Patrick’s Day on 17th March, St George’s Day on 23rd April and St Andrew’s Day on 30th November. The idea of a St George’s day holiday or of making a bigger deal of the day (which is also Shakespeare’s birthday) has been mentioned a few times over the years, but this is the first time I have heard anyone suggest that all four days become public holidays throughout the UK; I guess the idea is we all celebrate a part of the UK together. However, it’s really not that great an idea and you will guess why just by looking at the dates: three of them are close together and close to other public holidays, while the other is less than a month before Christmas.

23rd April is a week or so before May Day, which is 1st May or the following Monday. May Day is an ancient spring festival, but it also coincides with International Workers’ Day so as to celebrate the Haymarket incident in Chicago in 1886, in which an initially peaceful rally for an eight-hour day and in response to the killing of workers by the police the day before (perhaps they chose this so as to maintain May Day as a holiday stripped of its ‘traditional’ baggage). This year we had a late Easter, with Easter Sunday, a religious holiday on which all shops are closed and which is surrounded by a Friday and Monday bank holiday, falling a week before St George’s Day. It looks likely that a repeat of this a few years down the line will result in calls for at least one of these holidays to be scrapped, and the one with the most ‘patriotic’ connotations, despite its novelty as a bank holiday, will be the one to survive, particularly in a truncated England obsessed with its past.

Similarly, St David’s and St Patrick’s days fall in early to mid March, a little over two weeks apart, and the second of these could easily be seen as clashing with an early Easter (which there is, next year). The upshot would be that late Winter and Spring would become overloaded with bank holidays while the second half of the year has only one (on the last Monday in August) between late May and Christmas. A better idea would be one at the end of October, which is already the point at which the clocks are restored to Greenwich Mean Time and which coincides with the school half-term holiday. This would enable parents to spend a little bit longer with their children when they are off school.

Of course, the “celebrating all the nations” concept really requires there to be a United Kingdom; this is not guaranteed in the current political climate. Rather than introduce several new bank holidays, a greater benefit would be in making all election days, especially general elections and referendums, public holidays (they should not be held on a weekend, as both Saturday and Sunday are mandatory rest days for different religions). This would make it easier for working people to vote, and enable them to vote while not in a hurry to get to work or back to work, or tired from the day’s work; it would also remove the advantage retirees have and increase the turnout of younger voters. In the case of short-notice elections like the upcoming one, perhaps a mandatory two-hour grace period at the start or end of the day would be more appropriate.

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