The Golden Tortoise and the Platinum Jubilee
The Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission shared an open letter renewing calls for an apology for the role Britain played in the slave trade stated:
“It has become common for members of the royal family and representatives of the government of Britain to come to this region and lament that slavery was an ‘appalling atrocity,’ that it was ‘abhorrent,’ that ‘it should not have happened,’ ” the letter went on: “We have heard such from your former Prime Minister David Cameron and most recently from your brother, the Prince of Wales, and your nephew, Prince William, but such sentiments did not convey new knowledge to us.”
The letter noted that the British royal family continues to “live in splendour, pomp and wealth attained through the proceeds of the crimes.”
“We know that the British Crown, both as royal family and as institution, is historically documented as an active participant in the largest crimes against humanity of all time,” it said.
In a tone-deaf act the couple gave Philip Pierre, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia a framed photograph of themselves. A photograph of themselves. If there could be a better metaphor for the sort of unconscious, inert and out of touch at play I’d like to hear it.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex begin their tour of the Caribbean today as part of The Queen’s #PlatinumJubilee. Following consultation with the Governor General and the Government of Grenada, they will no longer visit that island. pic.twitter.com/T3RASD54Ft
— Dickie Arbiter LVO 🇬🇧 (@RoyalDickie) April 22, 2022
The couples visit to Grenada has been quietly shelved, just as ‘William and Kates’ were forced to cancel their visit to Belize — which was scrapped after villagers staged a protest about colonialism and indigenous land rights tied to a charity supported by William.
New Uniforms for the Cadaver
Now you maybe don’t care about the couple who have mastered a level of banality that make William and Kate seem positively charismatic But this sort of immersive and continuous Colonial Nostalgia is gaining momentum – as the props and baubles of the Royal Spectacle stand-in for the glories promised from ‘Global Britain’.
But it’s running into trouble: the idea that William and Kate would ‘update the monarchy’ and ‘re-capture the publics hearts’ in the same way that Harry and Meghan were supposed to has fallen flat; laid-low by internal feuds stoked and amplified by the ravenous tabloids; their own terrible PR; a complete inability to even pretend to reform themselves and the darkness of the Prince Andrew scandal. The various tours of the remnant Commonwealth have been a disaster and the Queen’s ill-health raises questions of how they can successfully re-construct the dying embers of the institution in the time they have left.
This has profound implications for England and Britain in the moment it finds itself: amid the ruins of Johnson’s regime as the truly disastrous outline of Brexit emerges from the multiple smokescreens and covers of covid and the war on Ukraine. In this sense the collapse of legitimacy of government and monarchy are mirrors.
As Tom Nairn noted (way back in 2011 in the the forward to the new edition of The Enchanted Glass, Britain and its Monarchy, published by Verso): “One way the English have avoided ‘little England’ (the country on its own) has been the curiously amplified elevation of regal family dynasty.”
“England can’t help clinging to priority, and invents new versions of it for each international epoch that has succeeded Pincus’s 1688 modernity. London’s last or latest thing is invariably other than the norm. It may appear old-fashioned and pseudo-feudal to outsiders, but justifies itself internally as renewal of an ageless, inherited secret. Thus a fossil remakes itself as ultra-modern thanks to Britishness, the original ‘exception’ to history’s course. It stays just…well, different ― ‘above that sort of thing’. In recent times, both Tony Blair’s New Labourism and David Cameron’s New Conservatism have been redemptive convulsions of that sort: new uniforms for the cadaver, as it were, preserving the tradition and spirit of congenital non-revolution. Pincus’s book shows how there actually was an authentic revolution in 1688; but it was one that was then able ― uniquely ― to disown the rupture, partly via the adroit manipulation of a re-invented ‘Crown’, a monarchy salient enough to provide continuity without obstructing a new bourgeois régime.”
Nairn points to the importance of the monarchy:
“And today, the same institution remains an important ingredient for continuing the performance, primarily among the English. 1688 points out how the monarchy was renewed, and quite effectively ‘modernised’, nineteen years before the Treaty of Union. This made the resultant United Kingdom genuinely post-feudal ― ‘early modern’, of course, yet reasonably adaptable to later episodes of evolution, as long as outright defeat and catastrophe could be avoided. These did threaten sometimes, but were kept at bay by significant external fortune, a combination of military success and one alliance after another with favourable foreign forces. From Empire/Commonwealth down to the Special Relationship and an obliging European Union, the English hegemony has been able to keep going, and even to maintain Great-Power pretensions notoriously far beyond its real capacity.”
That era is over.
But as that crisis looms the need to fortify the myths of Britain as a single nation will intensify as will the myths of ‘a monarchy salient enough to provide continuity ‘.