Today brings Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, once a proud British tradition and our major autumn festival. Nowadays it is a dying afterthought, crowded out by the ghastly, tackily commercial American Halloween on the one hand and Diwali on the other. For those of us of a certain age, its decline, with all its childish excitement of sparklers, bangers, rockets and toffee apples, has been yet another painful symbol of our fading national identity.
Reasons for its eclipse are manifold. Firstly, the corporatisation of our culture: Halloween allowed companies to sell us, via our children’s demands, loads of stuff and costumes that no one needs. A secondary culprit is feminisation: our risk-averse society now fears the dangers of fireworks that children, especially boys, adore. Guy Fawkes Night is also hardly the most politically correct of festivals. Its historical roots are anti-Catholic and anti-continental. However, unless you live in Sussex, where they celebrate it with a Protestantism as lurid as Eleventh Night on the Shankill or Sandy Row, its religious and sectarian attitudes are long gone. Even when I was a child – so long ago now that Fawkes probably hadn’t even purchased the gunpowder – its meaning had been flipped on its head. Broadly speaking, its interpretation had become Libertarian, a great ‘up yours’ to the political classes; ‘deliverance from tyranny and arbitrary power’ had come to mean deliverance from the lot of them. Fawkes was seen not as a terrorist but a tragic hero.
Recently, with Brexit, we have once again sought to deliver ourselves from continental tyranny and arbitrary power. However it is by no means certain that Parliament, guilty as sin in handing over our self-determination in the first place, will honour our wishes. Even if we do escape the clutches of Brussels, there is no sign that our politicians are at all willing to deliver us from that other tyranny and arbitrary power – political correctness.
We need a resurgence in the tradition of Bonfire Night to celebrate freedom, and to warn our masters where power truly lies.