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How to unite a divided nation? Write a national song

Welcome to Declassified, a weekly humor column.

Imagine if you could write your own national song. The actual piece of music that gets played at important occasions of state and before meaningless football matches! What an honor it would be.

Now, the U.K. has a rubbish national anthem in “God save the queen,” not least because no one knows the words after the first verse. Want proof? Here is the actual second verse (and there are three more after this of increasing obscurity).

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

You read that right, “knavish tricks” — and a move from asking God to “save the queen” to asking God to “save us all” in the space of less than a minute. That escalated quickly!

And what makes it worse is that the Brits’ sworn enemy, the French, have the best national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” It’s a terrible situation.

Enter Penny Mordaunt, Conservative MP and, until Wednesday afternoon when she was knocked out of the race to replace Boris Johnson, at the next-to-last hurdle, contender to be prime minister. She has an idea to unite the nation in these times of hardship. A credible plan to alleviate poverty? Massive investment in the health service? Firing Piers Morgan out of a cannon in the direction of the moon? Nope, instead she asked “wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a project to write the new U.K. theme song?”

Hang on, I hear you cry, there’s a U.K. theme song that isn’t the national anthem? Is it the sound of a Tory special adviser doing “Sweet Caroline” on karaoke at a lockdown-breaking party? No, it’s actually a rather lovely piece of music commissioned in 1973 to be played when BBC Radio 4 came on air. The theme was “loved by everyone across the four nations,” Mordaunt told the Spectator, adding that “it was even played by fishery protection vessels out over the water to warn the French they were around.”

It’s a great idea and the other Tory leadership contenders should pick it up, but there’s a problem: The public can’t be trusted. (When a government agency decided to let the public suggest a name for a polar research ship, they picked Boaty McBoatface.)

So what would a new U.K. theme sound like? An unscientific Declassified poll (of, er, one person) came up with this shortlist:

  • “Yakety sax” by Boots Randolph — or, as you might know it, the theme tune to the “Benny Hill Show.”
  • “4’33” by John Cage — which is the amount of time given in the title of complete silence.
  • “Always look on the bright side of life” by Monty Python — which has the advantage that people actually know the words.


“Can I wear the hat? It’ll make me look more presidential.”

Can you do better? Email [email protected] or on Twitter @pdallisonesque

Last week we gave you this photo:

Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our postbag — there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze.

“The teddy bears must be around here somewhere,” by John Burridge.

Paul Dallison is POLITICO‘s slot news editor.

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