2007 - 2022

A Festival of British Nationalism

The pantomime is early this year. Boris and Carrie Antoinette arrive to boos; Meghan Markle to cheers; Prince Andrew hides-away to more boos; Stacey Solomon cheers; Lilibet (no me neither) cheers and on and on it goes. Reaching new levels of banality a Royal Correspondent observes: “Prince Louis Wears Sailor Suit Reminiscent of William’s Trooping the Colour Outfit 37 Years Ago” a reference we are supposed to recognise after decades of weird and tedious coverage of these weird and tedious people. The Princess Royal (we’re told) will visit penguins at Edinburgh Zoo to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Tim Farron, the former Lib Dem leader who has returned to obscurity explains the significance of the Jubilee and why you have to be involved saying: “A reminder: the jubilee has nothing to do with your personal politics. It’s about celebrating Britishness, it’s about unity. You don’t need to think that everything about Britain is wonderful, just that being British is wonderful and that the Queen’s reign has been remarkable.”

It’s such a remarkably bad take you have to re-read it twice. It does however confirm two things, one that the upper echelons of British political life have literally no clue what is going on beyond the Home Counties, and two that this isn’t really about a nice old lady with a hat worth £3 billion, it’s a festival of British Nationalism.

As the days roll on this sense of obsequious trivia pervades the whole weekend as the commentators cover the series of staged events amid a blur of red white and blue and you realise the extent to which we are completely immersed in this family’s lives. There probably hasn’t been a day go by in your life that some piece of trivia hasn’t been drip-fed into your brain.

This is a Truman Show we’re all in, whether we like it or not.

Watching all this unfold it’s clear we’re asked to suspend disbelief and go along with a number of myths about the Queen and the royals.

First up we are asked to juggle two wildly contradictory worldviews. On the one hand the media carefully cultivate the story that the Queen is the epitome of ordinary. She likes horses, tea and corgis. Her projected essence is ‘hard working’ dependable and steady. A commitment to ‘service’ is regularly trotted out to describe her. At the same time we are supposed to believe that she was anointed by a divine creator who selected a single bloodline to intercede for, lead and represent millions of us; in other words that the Queen serves at the command of God. I mean they don’t really talk about that bit but that’s what we are supposed to believe.

The second bit that we are supposed to believe is that this all ceremonial and she and the rest of the monarchy are ‘above politics’. This is a surreal thing to believe given the gongs and the celebration of the British Empire, as Jason Hickel points out “one of the most violent institutions in modern history, built on explicitly racist ideology and guilty of serial crimes against humanity. It is astonishing that OBEs and other honours are given, accepted and celebrated in its name.”

But aside from this and the obvious symbolism of extreme hierarchy and landed power, the Queen herself is explicitly political. As it was revealed last year something called the ‘Queen’s consent’ allows her to see ,legislation in advance and get opt-outs for anything that effects her. In turns out that at least 67 Scottish parliamentary bills have been vetted by the Queen over the last two decades, including legislation around planning laws, protections from tenants and property taxation.

She’s not above politics at all.

Beyond that, and obviously she is vastly political for what she represents. As none other than Rosa Luxemburg put it: “We oppose the monarchy, even if it were to cost half as much as it does: we would not want it even if it were for free! We prefer the most expensive republic to the cheapest monarchy; this is not a matter of money: the monarchy is the most backward tool of class rule.”

But aside from the politics of it, the Jubilee is just a very strange experience. Last week at ITV’s bizarre Platinum Jubilee programme Alan Titchmarsh compared the Queen to Nelson Mandela. Post-Brexit Britain is an unhinged place where exceptionalism is the rule and baffling deference and deification is routine and normalised.

Writing in The New Statesman Andrew Marr attempts to carve out a future for the monarchy. He writes: “How much can this family continue to unite the country? William, with his wife, Kate, is now seen as not just the heir but the saviour of the crown. The fervently monarchist British press agrees – Kate, sometimes with William, sometimes by herself, appears on almost as many front pages as Diana once did.”

Aside from the idea of the Windsor’s ‘uniting the country’ (they don’t) he side-steps the public problems between William and Kate. He goes on:

“This cannot cheer up her father-in-law very much. Prince Charles was thinking hard about how to refresh the monarchy during the early 2020s as he began to focus on his accession as King. He had long wanted a smaller family to be the essence of “the firm”. He had observed growing unease in public opinion about the sheer cost of financing so many people who required private aircraft, discreet and lavish accommodation and, not least, round-the-clock protection. The Prince of Wales and his advisers had sketched out a ground-plan for British Royalty 2.0. As King, he and Camilla would occupy relatively modest quarters in Buckingham Palace, with the public invited in even more regularly. William and Kate would stand alongside the new king. As he grew older, the young Prince George would be moved closer to the centre. Each core royal would concentrate on a major popular issue: the environment, mental health, support for women and children. But the rest of the family – Charles’s siblings Andrew, Anne and Edward, their children and spouses, and all the uncles, aunts and cousins – would effectively be asked to retire to private life.”

We’ve heard this a lot before but it never seems to come to anything.

The idea of a ‘modernising king’ is a trope that repeats itself as a defense for an ancient regime. Waiting for the monarchy to reform itself is such a British idea. It is, a bit like Gordon Brown’s constitutional reforms something we have been waiting for for ages. Ancient royal power doesn’t reform itself. To think it would, or could is to confuse the meaning of the institution.

Carved into Marr’s analysis is a funny idea. When he writes: “Each core royal would concentrate on a major popular issue: the environment, mental health, support for women and children” does he imagine these are useful constitutional/social roles? Rather than imagining the end of the monarchy, or there radical reform, this commentator, in a supposedly left-wing magazine is instead imagining them being hard-wired into a form of government.

In all of this we are subjects. To return to a well-used phrase, you can either be a British subject or a Scottish citizen. It’s time to choose. But it is not just about being a passive subject in the 21st century, it is about extreme privilege and the power of patronage. As the late – and sore-missed – Tony Benn once said: “Above all, the existence of a hereditary monarchy helps to prop up all the privilege and patronage that corrupts our society; that is why the crown is seen as being of such importance to those who run the country – or enjoy the privileges it affords.”

Off with their heads.

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Comments (21)

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  1. Mary Pattison says:

    Yesterday, at the Golspie rally, George Gunn reminded us of James Connolly’s 1910 comment on the royalty: “A people mentally poisoned by the adulation of royalty can never attain to that spirit of self-reliant democracy necessary for the attainment of social freedom”

    1910! It’s hard to believe that – despite all the loss of life through unnecessary wars and repeated ‘scandals’ of every kind within the royal family and the British Establishment – they have held on to power for so long. So long as they have such power in the mainstream media the general population can be kept down. We need more alternative media like Bella but it also needs to grow its following – and more quickly. Well done Mike!

    1. George Gunn says:

      Thanks Mary for filling in the bit I left out in the heat of the moment. GG x

  2. SleepingDog says:

    Just so. There is a supermassive black hole of unaccountability and an abusive arrangement for the secret exercise of power at the heart of British politics. The Queen herself leads an extreme right-wing anti-democratic establishment whose best friends abroad are very similar (despotic rulers who typically went to elite British boarding schools, military colleges and universities). British imperial policy continues to be channeled through the royal prerogative, Privy Council, and conventions of which some are likely to be secret today. Much of British history has been locked within royal archives, or deliberately destroyed, to avoid revelations that could have shaken faith in royals (something royals were themselves worried about, hence Prime Minister’s taking the blame for decisions like refusing Tsar Nicholas and family asylum).

    Yet the Queen is undoubtably a war criminal, ultimately responsible for many British crimes against humanity, and even loyalist historians like Peter ‘Secret State’ Hennessy has described the key role of the Queen in British nuclear terrorism. Is she fit to stand trial? Perhaps she fears that final public appearance where she will be met with boos, jeers and protests.

    Unaccountable royal authority is the hellmouth from which British anti-democratic and imperial policies and subterfuge are spawned from, like the recent measures announced in the Queen’s speech intending the crushing of climate protest, and the idea of giving British agents and ministers immunity for participating in crimes abroad like assassination and torture.

    Generally more critical and better-informed views of British royalty emerge from the periphery of Empire, even if modern generations are having to reclaim their own histories from past silencing by powers metropolitan and domestic:
    Why are some countries rethinking ties with the British monarchy?
    https://www.aljazeera.com/program/inside-story/2022/6/4/why-are-some-countries-rethinking-ties-with-the-british-monarchy
    Many Australians may not have forgiven her for the royal coup their country was subjected to. Canadians reeling from discoveries of masses of tiny graves and sexual abuse of children in British imperial-Catholic-run indigenous schools may have anti-royal sentiments. Caribbean countries are preparing robust and well-evidenced claims for reparations (#RoyalReparations).

    Veneration of the British royalty is a political statement support for the (known) actions of the past, and at the very least acts as a massive break on improvement, so it is no surprise that the UK is such a backward country in so many respects, notably constitutionally, and in terms of privilege, and the exclusion of vast swathes of politics from the democratic sphere (like foreign policy, diplomacy, military, established church, aristocratic land ownership and so on). And royalism not only veneration of the past, but a statement in support of suppressing critical information from the public. Royalism is infantile, ludicrous, corrupt and criminal, and creates whole underclasses of lackeys and losers. Theocratic monarchy is, as the article says, the antithesis of modernisation, or as I would put it, the capacity for improvement through open, shared, scientific means.

  3. Robbie says:

    Desperation comes to mind, they and their cronies are well aware they on the way out and are a thing of the past ,pulling out all of the stops , doing and saying the most crazy things all to stay in their gilded lifestyle ,so Scotland let’s become Citizens and leave Disneyland behind

  4. Colin+Kirkwood says:

    It really is astonishing that the fairytale farce of The Monarchy continues to thrive. What is even more astonishing is the absence of a calm, rational and effective movement to bring it to a close. Congratulations to Mike for daring to discuss this challenge.

    It seems to me that The Monarchy is sustained in Britain by the following factors: the ever-increasing centralisation of British institutions; the ever-increasing dominance of television and information technology over popular consciousness/language; the exclusively private ownership of the rest of the media at all levels and in all geographical areas; the intentional and increasing cross-identification of the Monarchy Gang with the Libertarian Celebrity Gang and the Ruling Elite Gang; the self-prostitution of the Universities and the Pseudo-Knowledge Gang; and finally the ever-increasing stoking of the fires of greed, self-interest and our old enemy, Great British Hierarchy. In all these connections, the behaviour of the Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party is shameful.

  5. Alastair McIver says:

    I think I have a way to revolutionise the Monarchy: replace each member of the Royal Family with a cat.
    Each will choose a cat from a cat rescue centre, and with a great big frilly ceremony, will formally hand over the royal mantle.
    The benefit to the economy of Royal tourism will increase exponentially as people who are interested in cats will take an interest in the Royal Cats; and souvenirs will now include adorable fluffy toys. Cats, generally, will be in much greater demand, so abandonment or killing of unwanted cats simply won’t happen any more.
    Royal genealogy geeks will still be able to follow the lines of succession, which will follow the same rules as it does currently, only for the equivalent cats.
    “The Queen is in season” will become a major headline, and people can download a recording of Her Majesty’s horny yowling as a ringtone.
    The Queen’s pawprint, as opposed to signature, will be required to formalise legislation.
    They can have mouse-hunts instead of fox-hunts.
    All the advantages of having a Royal Family will be maintained – the tradition, the ceremony, the tourist money – but they will be cute, and it will be much less expensive to maintain.
    Thoughts?

    1. George Gunn says:

      Good.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Alastair McIver, a bold constitutional tweak, but still too dangerous. The evidence of cats irresponsibly traipsing across keyboards suggests a slight increase in the possibility of accidentally setting off nuclear Armageddon by pawing the red button. Although moving to an Ancient Egyptian model might seem cultural progress for the UK, we really need governance for this century and beyond.

      Feline monarchy has engaged political scientists for much of recorded history, of course, with many coming down on the side of Beware the Cat (possibly the earliest science fiction novel in English): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King_of_the_Cats
      Indeed the outcome may turn out like Animal Farm: failure to change the system leads the new masters to conform very much to the pattern of the old. Of course, I could just be not-a-cat-person.

    3. Jim says:

      Isn’t there a risk of paw prints being purchased in exchange for some rather tasty cat treats? Lol

  6. Gavinochiltree says:

    The adoration and sycophancy of supposedly intelligent and educated people for the Monarchy, brings to mind, the Flagellants of the Middle Ages.
    Incoherent dancing, scourging the flesh and mortification by Royalists should be made into a Saturday night game show—-Prince Eddie could be compare, with Carrie telling contestants—“here’s what you could have won”!
    COVID contracts. A week in Mustique. Gold wallpaper—-Its all there to be “won”.
    Nudge, nudge.

  7. Squigglypen says:

    Excellent article as ever..but Mr Small…can you tell me why Sturgeon wants to retain that creepy Betty Windsor/Saxe Coburg/ Greek man she married whose name lost in antiquity..Mountbatten?( now you know why the latest turd added to our beloved royal family is called Louis)..as our head of state and stay in the ever delightful Commonwealth of Mugs? I know she’s going thro the Menopause ( she told us). ..but that’s no excuse for betraying the Scottish nation under the guise of Independence.
    I boked at the crap re the ‘jubilee’…traitorous Scots..who no longer live here ( Kirsty lovely in pink… among others) telling us how wonderful that wee wumman is..’her smile lit up Pall Mall’..excuse me while I vomit…Don’t let the quislings back over the border into our beloved Scotland…they’ve made their bed…
    Alistair! ..my cat Susie wants a quick word with you…..Miaow!
    Best bit of the harrowing 4 days?…the front of the National…’A Royal Flush’….brilliant…was it only 4 days?….felt like a never ending nightmare….

  8. Wul says:

    What gets me is the sudden weird, creepy, infantile fugue state that otherwise rational media correspondents enter into when talking about the Queen. A kind of trance falls over them (and supposedly us). Someone should write a PhD about it.

    Even Emma Barnett, an otherwise reliably incisive commentator, on Woman’s Hour today, was wittering on about the Queen, marmalade sandwiches and Paddington Bear. WTF? Are we all 5yrs old again? One of them owns 500million acres of land. The other is a made-up children’s storybook character.
    Why didn’t the historical footage projected onto Buckingham Palace show the Queen with Jimmy Saville, Mugabe, Hirohito, Putin, Senior Nazis and other historical characters from real life? It crossed my mind that, were we watching a televised celebration for North Korea’s top man, we’d be thinking they were an utterly barking mad and brainwashed cult.

    1. Colin Kirkwood says:

      Wul makes a really important point. This stuff is unreal. It is a fantasy denial of reality. Millions of ordinary people are caught up in it. It’s about family and early childhood, seen and felt with a very positive accent. It actually reminds me of VJ day, when I seem to remember there was a celebration in Watten Primary School playground. And I am dismayed to see Nicola and her husband in the Royal Box. That is a terrible mistake: it confuses fantasy with reality. Dear me!

      1. 220607 says:

        It is indeed unreal, yet here we are, as taken up and exercised the whole affair as the most ardent ‘royalist’.

        It’s like tuning in religiously to a soap opera every week just in order to gripe about it. It’s like feeding the trolls.

        Maybe we should rather be shrugging our shoulders with indifference.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Wul, there has been research into what psychologists call parasocial relationships, although I am not up on the subject:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasocial_interaction
      Lucy Worsley Investigates described one such between (mad) King George III and Margaret Nicholson, a woman who made a sort of attempt on his life after sending him correspondence on familiar terms. But there are milder forms, and the Queen (because of royal secrecy) may be easier to project upon than other folk in the media.

    3. Niemand says:

      Or maybe it is because it is you that is missing something? Many people like her and yes, think she has ‘served the nation’ very well for 70 years and deserves some credit for it. Human beings like figure heads, stability., continuity and someone who remains a constant amidst the turbulence of decades. We all have our heroes.

      A heretical view on here I know but reading the comments suggests the lack of understanding, not just about the monarchy but ‘Britain’ too, is deep. There is much to criticise in both but if that is all that is done (and hence looked at) there will never be understanding, only a partial picture that embraces ignorance of the rest (i.e. why many people don’t feel the negativity) so as to wallow in endless invective. It is safe, comfortable; repetitive.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Niemand, in what way has the Queen ever been held accountable for anything?

        I wonder, since the theatrical aspects of monarchy have come so far to the fore in past days as to reach new heights of self-ridicule, why more questions are not being asked about the dark shadow they cast. What is the purpose of keeping every word that passes between monarch and her Prime Minister every week or so secret? Why are British royal secrecy laws the most draconian in the world? Why have the royal prerogatives of exercising the most life-and-death powers been kept? Why as the Queen and her family have preached moral values to the nation, have they so enriched themselves at our expense, and at the expense of others round the globe, living in ever-planetary-boundary-busting luxury? Why, if they are so beloved, do we pay so many millions for their security? Why do we let their very existence make a mockery of democracy, equality, fairness, environmental respect, appointment by merit?

        Certainly I encountered some critical thinking during my training in philosophy and political science, and therefore my background may be atypical. Indeed my vocation could be said to ask such questions. But even you put ‘serve the nation’ in quotes. The Queen rules, and serves the Establishment. The Queen’s record in, for example, the Privy Council, on colonial matters, has not much been examined publicly by historians. But what do you think happened to all those letters, sent by desperately suffering colonial subjects, petitioning the Queen to relieve them from the tortures and abuses of their British colonial masters? Were they burnt? Shunted into a dark archive? Read, and by whom? I think you will find, on what is publicly known today, that the Queen has acted quite unbenevolently, and extremely anti-democratically (perhaps primarily as a result of her upbringing/conditioning/training, which was for racialised imperial dynastic rule).

        The official UK government history blog has a new Queen and her Prime Ministers entry for 2022-06-01, which does not mention Suez, and now gets the hits. But the old page is still up, containing this paragraph:
        “The weekly audience between monarch and Prime Minister remained a fixed point of contact. At these audiences, the Queen found her second Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, a sympathetic listener to her concerns. Dominating their early meetings was discussion of Princess Margaret’s possible marriage to the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. The Suez crisis in 1956 led to much speculation about the Queen’s views and what she knew of unfolding events. Eden believed that informing the Queen was of supreme importance and all the Suez papers were sent to her, the first time she was to be shown secret government papers. Their relationship was one of impeccable constitutional propriety and confidences were maintained. The Queen was able to draw on these experiences at later audiences with Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War.”
        https://history.blog.gov.uk/2012/09/01/queen-elizabeth-and-her-twelve-prime-ministers/
        Since the ‘Suez crisis’ was a conspiracy by a tiny group at the top of the British, French and Israeli governments to invade Egypt and blame it on the Egyptians, a conspiracy and belligerent invasion which killed perhaps 10,000 Egyptians and maimed and injured more, a conspiracy that finally-released papers showed that the British plotters were most afeared would come to the notice of the British people, you may make your own mind up about the nature of the crimes committed therein. Many more such releases are sure to follow, if we avoid destruction.

        1. 220607 says:

          The Crown acts through its ministers, and its ministers are accountable to the respective parliaments in which they sit.

          The Westminster system is very far from perfect (I’m not a big fan of it myself) and barely democratic, but it is a system of power-limitation and accountability within the matrix of which the Crown sits.

          I agree with Niemand: we need to focus less on the diversionary soap opera that is ‘the Royal Family’ and more on critiquing the Westminster system that the Scottish government is merely replicating in its drift towards independence.

      2. Wul says:

        “Or maybe it is because it is you that is missing something? Many people like her and yes, think she has ‘served the nation’ very well for 70 years and deserves some credit for it. Human beings like figure heads, stability., continuity and someone who remains a constant amidst the turbulence of decades. We all have our heroes.”

        Niemand, I ain’t missing anything. I understand them perfectly well. I understand why they “like” her. I like her too. My mum has met her and I’ve met and spoken to Princess Anne; lovely woman. I grew up in Glasgow, UK, reading “Commando” WW2 comics, “Just William”, “Jennings and Derbyshire”, “Victor”, “Eagle” and consumed the whole range of British mythology just like everyone else. I liked it. It felt safe and superior. I totally get it.

        But it makes me boak.

  9. Tim Hoy says:

    Another great peace to remind me of why I subscribe to BC. It articulates precisely how I feel especially about those who line up to receive “Empire” medals without a sense of irony about the awful murderous, divisive and racist history of that very empire.

    Great prose. Thank you Mike

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