SOMETIMES what you type into Google can be telling. A moment ago I asked the following question: “Who wrote the music for God Dave The Queen?”
A stumbled finger produced one of those happy accidents, a sort of Google malapropism. The answer to the intended question is Thomas Arne, the 18th century composer – an Eton old boy, just like God Dave The Queen.
So Arne is to blame for saddling us with what The Times this morning refers to as a “plodding dirge” in a front-page report on the role the national anthem plays in our sporting culture.
The Labour MP Toby Perkins last month used the ten-minute rule motion in Parliament to propose that a public consultation be launched to decide which song would make the best English anthem.
Before going any further, it is worth remembering what God Dave the Queen said ten days or so ago at prime minister’s question time about Jeremy Corbyn. In reply to a heckle from Labour MP Angela Eagle about his own mother being opposed to his welfare cuts, Cameron popped the following pimple of pomposity: “I know what my mother would say. I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say: ‘Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem’.”
In that moment it felt as if we were seeing the real Cameron, the mean, snobbish, vindictive one, not the smooth user-friendly version trundled around in an expensive suit like a political shop dummy.
There is a theory the line had been written long in advance, and that the prime minister mistimed its utterance in responding to a heckle rather than to the Labour leader himself.
Anyway, what is it about the national mumble-along that gets Cameron so hot under his tie-strangled collar? Nothing in truth, at a guess, it’s just that the national anthem is a weird sort of patriotism litmus test. Anyone who doesn’t sing it loudly and proudly (an accusation thrown at Corbyn in the past) is somehow seen as not properly British.
The thing is, the tune is a plodding dirge, a dull dutiful ditty seemingly designed to make everyone who sings it feel they are back in school assembly and being forced to mumble their fealty to the Queen.
Is there a single person in the country who actually enjoys our national theme tune? Ah, yes there is actually. Step forward Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said in Parliament: “What greater pleasure can there be for a true-born English man or true-born English woman than to listen to our own national anthem?”
Well, I am sure we can all think of quite a few greater pleasures, Jacob, but never mind. Incidentally, is Rees-Mogg is for real or the creation of a comedy scriptwriter? Sometimes he is actually quite funny in a caricature pompous twerp sort of a way.
This story never really dies and shuffles back with a polite cough every so often. Last year Eoin Morgan, the Irish cricketer who captains the England national cricket team in one day internationals – I know, don’t ask me, it’s sport – annoyed supporters by not singing the national anthem before matches at the cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Piers Morgan, England’s favourite irritant, took to Twitter to complain that if the former Irishman wanted to captain England, he should “sing the damn national anthem, too”.
The problem lies with that damn national anthem, a dull, uninspiring endless plod of a tune that always takes about 20 minutes to sing – or so it seems.
Whenever this matter comes up, the most popular suggestion for an English anthem is Jerusalem, the musical setting of a William Blake poem. Stirring in a buttoned-up sort of way, I guess – but we’d still be stuck with God Save The Queen for national occasions.
Perhaps when God no longer saves the Queen, for she will be 90 soon, we could slowly turn down the volume on the national anthem and let it fade away.