Time to ditch God Save The Queen

What are your suggestions for a new national anthem that reflects the values of modern Britain?

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 27 August 2008

I’m not a great fan of nationalism, but it was great seeing our winning athletes on the Olympic podium. I was proud of their achievements. The only sour note came when the national anthem was played. God save the Queen! I winced with embarrassment. Our national song is a national shame – as you can see if you read the lyrics:


[standard version with three verses]

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

God save the Queen is not about the British people and our magnificent achievements in the fields of science, arts and humanitarianism. There are no noble ideals like liberty and equality. Our anthem is all about slavish deference and idolatry – the veneration of aristocratic privilege, inherited status and monarchical rule. It promotes jingoism, war, imperial conquest and the British people’s subservience to god and royalty. Some older versions praise the crushing of the Scots.

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.

Not nice at all.

To sing the national anthem with sincerity involves a belief in the existence of god and an acceptance that god is willing to save the Queen and the nation. It also prioritises saving the Queen over and above saving everyone else.

Many British people do not, of course, share this religious superstition and fawning adulation of royalty. For them, the sentiments of the national anthem have no relevance. To put it bluntly: the words of God save the Queen are out of step with modern, democratic, secular Britain.

Recognising some of these flaws, even in the nineteenth century there were several attempted rewrites of the more militaristic lyrics, to delete such lines as “Scatter her enemies, And make them fall.” Some versions substituted loyalty to Parliament and the rule of law, and toned down the god references. The best of these versions is undoubtedly William Hixton’s alternative version of 1836.

Although it maintains an appeal to divine intervention, at least it exalts more noble ideals than the elitism of monarchy and the gore of imperial bloodlust:

May peace her power extend,
Foe be transformed to friend,
And Britain’s rights depend
On war no more…

May just and righteous laws
Uphold the public cause,
And bless our isle:
Home of the brave and free,
Thou land of liberty…

From shore to shore:
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be,
And form one family
The wide world o’er

In 1919, following the Great War, the official “peace version” of God save the Queen was approved by the Privy Council, but it never gained popular currency and is now largely forgotten. It includes the verse:

Of many a race and birth
From utmost ends of earth
God save us all!
Bid strife and hatred cease
Bid hope and joy increase
Spread universal peace
God save us all!

If we accept there is a problem with the current lyrics and decide to ditch God save the Queen, what would we replace it with? Is there some other song that would make a more fitting national anthem?

On certain sporting occasions, alternatives have been used, including Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and I vow to thee, my country.

But all these songs are also problematic, mostly because of their religious overtones, which don’t sit well with a multi-cultural, often unbelieving, nation.

So what, if any, song would you propose as a new national anthem?

Let’s have your suggestions – serious, witty or irreverent.

If you don’t think any existing composition is worthy, who do you think should be commissioned to write a new national anthem? What ideas or values should it embody?