May Daze of a Holy Nation

Conservative losses at the local elections across England seem to be damaging if not terminal. Their attempt at voter suppression seems to have failed and big gains for Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems have been made. But as we know from the last thirty years, if the political task is reduced to ‘Getting rid of the Tories’ it risks letting in a least-worse option. Ed Davey and Keir Starmer offer a pale imitation of the Conservatives. The bar is so low they have positioned themselves too be inoffensive to the baying tabloid media pack, Middle-England and the gatekeepers of what is ‘acceptable British politics’. The problem is that the Overton Window has moved so far to the right that this is now completely beyond what most members or supporters of those political parties might recognise or value.

In the aftermath of such success Sir Keir Starmer stepped up to say: “We’ve changed our party. We’ve won the trust and confidence of voters. And now we can go on to change our country: to cut the cost of living, cut waiting times and cut crime. Let’s build a better Britain.” As some have pointed out it does come across as just a tiny bit arrogant to say “we’ve won the trust of voters and now we can build a better Britain” on the back of English-only council elections?

But hey, this is a weekend in which Scotland will be entirely marginalised, so there’s no change here. If you voted NO in 2014 or are content with Scotland’s lack of democratic control you should be happy with all of this.

What you have been witnessing this weekend is a huge constitutional own goal, a massive missed opportunity, an exercise in mythmaking and propaganda. After the oath, as Handel’s Zadok the Priest rings out and Charles slips behind a discrete screen, Charles will be anointed with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Any effort to include other religions, nations, cultures or faiths have been abandoned.

As Martin Kettle writes: “The Anglican wall is the swearing of the coronation oath. In post-civil war coronations, this was the key moment. The oath’s contents were laid down in statute in 1688. There is no ambiguity about what the oath says. Charles must declare himself a faithful Protestant, commit himself to maintain the Protestant succession and swear to uphold the Church of England’s position as the established religion of England.”

“This made life-and-death sense in 1688. Today it is absurd. Charles’s swearing of his coronation oath flies in the face of the realities of modern Britain. Most Britons are not Christians. Few of those who are Christians are practising Anglicans. We are a more secular and pluralised nation and likely to remain one. In the blunt language of University College London’s Constitution Unit, the coronation oath “reflects a period of history that is now over.”

This weird anglo-normative religious fervour is only sustainable with a support network of propaganda that is truly astonishing. It needs to sustain several concurrent myths:

  1. Britain is a singular nation
  2. This is a long unbroken lineage of tradition from this ancient united nation
  3. This is a Holy Nation
  4. This is a Christian Nation
  5. This is a Protestant Nation
  6. Charles is to be “anointed, blessed, and consecrated King over the peoples, whom the Lord your God has given you to rule and govern”.

Of course its self-evident that absolutely none of this is true. We’re a largely secular nation, of competing christian faiths where there exist but also many other cultures and religions, but mostly none. But the idea that Charles was appointed by God – which is what the anointing means sets the British monarch completely apart, not just from the citizens of Britain, but also from every other crowned head of state in Europe.

It’s a kind of delirium.

But there’s strong reason to believe that this process will have the opposite effect of ‘uniting’ people who don’t feel very united at all.

If we think of this in historical terms the Queen’s coronation – almost exactly 70 years ago in June 1953 – took place in a very different country. Britain was perhaps at its most unified: united by the experience of surviving the war; proud (understandably) from having helped to defeat Nazi Germany; and inspired to re-build a post-war society.

Coronation Chicken after the years of rations tastes very different from Coronation Quiche after thirteen years of Tory rule. In 1953 Britain had stood by Europe to defend democracy, in 2023 we abandoned Europe in search of sovereignty. Elizabeth was a young Queen, Charles is an old King. These are the end-days of Anglo-Britain and this farcical religious construct will do nothing but alienate ordinary people, particularly outside England to the relic. The restricted diet people endure today is not because of rationing, it is because of poverty. People are not coming together to fight a common enemy, they are coming together in a common experience: hunger, debt and destitution.

The monarchy is perhaps the last institution left that ‘unites’ Britain. Of course it doesn’t really do that at all but that’s it’s pretence. British Gas, BT, the Royal Mail, the railways, British Steel, all of the infrastructure – the sinews – of what you might have called ‘Britain’ have been sold-off. What’s left is the army and the monarchy, the fever-dream of Brexit and the weirdo cult of monarchism on show this weekend. It’s in this context that the mythmaking is trying so hard to breath life into a dead entity.

The exceptionalism that forms the basis of yesterday’s ceremony – an exceptionalism that sets Anglo-Britain apart from the rest of Europe shows a chasm between the aspirations of ‘sovereignty’ for the people of Scotland and England. The basis of the claims of Brexit – and the weird Holy-Nation claims of the Coronation are the same: we are altogether different, superior. We are the chosen people, or at least the Chosen King. The claim of those seeking a functioning Scottish democracy are very different. Our claim is that we are just the same as everyone else, just as good, no better.

But as we come out of this latest bout of Royalist pageantry and propaganda, feeling dazed and confused than uplifted by feudalism, there’s a need to make common-cause with others across England, Wales and Northern Ireland who feel too that this anachronism is an absurdity unfit for the 21 Century.

Comments (14)

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  1. Alan C says:

    Given his age, it horrifies me that we may soon have suffer another ‘royal’ funeral and yet another bloody coronation.

    1. Wullie says:

      The problem with this oath swearing is that there are dozens of folk on the continent with a better claim to plank their arses on the magic stane than the present Schleswig Holstien, Sonderburg Glucksburg lot.
      If upholding the Protestant religion goes oot the windae so does Charles claim to the British throne.

  2. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Enough has been said about the coronation for the moment – I have nothing to add. But the clampdown on civill liberties more generally is really alarming. You say that the attempt at voter suppression failed but there will be no accurate indication of numbers turned away on Thursday in England. Those same rules will apply to future Westminster elections and byelections. We do need the electorate to be better informed about how to exercise their right to vote. Clear and uptodate information needs to be available to everyone out canvassing. We can easily circulate this electronically to hand out where necessary. And circulate any updates there may be to the regulations following the English local elections.

    They are part of a general attack on rights along with that on the right of assembly as evidenced on Saturday

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Cathie Lloyd, I agree, and the clampdown on civil liberties goes far beyond the British Isles. I think this half-hour documentary from Declassified UK illustrates this very well (some mentions of torture; street violence):
      Why I Jumped on the King’s Car | Documentary: Exiles v Oligarchs
      Our British royal family acts to normalise and protect other royalist regimes around the world, giving substantial military, economic, diplomatic and propaganda aid to crushing pro-democracy movements.

      And if these royalist regimes are inherently fragile and unsustainable even in the short term, as one contributor analyst says, then we British might rightly reap a bitter harvest as more democratic and republican revolutions overseas arise with memories of how the British propped up their oppressors for long generations.

    2. Iain MacLean says:

      It’s frightening to think that Braverman has clawed her way to the top in full gaze of the tory party.

      Even more frightening is she’s looks odds on to lead them after the tories are defeated?

      Can’t see Sir Keir lasting more than one term?

      Remaining in the uk not only looks risky, it looks incredibly dangerous!

      Hamza, Stephen and the rest of the movement needs to get busy, busy with an absolute sense of urgency and focus! A good start is to call the Windsors’ out for what they are!

  3. SAJackson says:

    Did you go to the march in Glasgow Mike?, it was a lot of fun, a very good atmosphere, I wonder why Edinburgh was such a wash out, 500, that’s a poor show for a city that size, oh well. The march was a great way to celebrate not wanting a monarchy and wanting independence, good vibes among everyone.

    1. Paddy Farrington says:

      Good to hear the Glasgow march was a success. But let me put you right: the Calton Hill rally was anything but a wash-out, in spite of the thick haar. It was diverse, youthful, passionate, radical, insolent, brimming with energy, and a lot better attended than you suggest. More of this, please!

      1. SAJackson says:

        I was meaning more the numbers, Edinburgh’s a big city you would of thought you could at least get 5000 not 500, not a reflection on those who went more those who didn’t so in that sense a wash out.

      2. Agreed Paddy – heard great reports from folk who were there

  4. Robbie says:

    The idea that Charles was appointed by God we all know is total bollocks, if you want the real lowdown on Charlie just look up “Here’s why Britain should ditch King Charles “ on u tube ,by Michael Walker, And see real person who wears the fxxxxng crown.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    A good summary, but the pageantry is also a public distraction from the private role monarchy plays in government, from the unminuted weekly meetings with Prime Ministers, the top security clearance, the monarch’s role in nuclear war, the secretive extra-Parliamentary governing of the Privy Council, the commanding of special forces and intelligence/security services, interference in legislation, vast royal appointment powers including to highest ranks in military and diplomatic services, the monarch’s role in choosing who our allies are (often other hereditary monarchies and oppressive dictatorships), the formal lack of accountability contrived for monarch and heir and ministers, the role of monarchy in running the remaining Empire formal and informal, the Royal monopoly over guarded archives and bring the capstone of draconian British secrecy, the corrupt awards system, the enshrining of nepotism as the supreme British value All the shadowy employment of the Royal prerogative to continue the imperial crimes of the British state unhindered by subservient judiciary, and all of the other royalist instructions of our overcentralised state.

    I didn’t watch the coronation, preferring the pre-revolutionary artform of Shakespeare’s King Henry VI part 3. I’d forgotten that this most pious and devout of Shakespeare’s Kings, in the first scene where York mounts the throne to depose him, says:
    Henry VI. “Think’st thou that I will leave my kingly throne,
    Wherein my grandsire and my father sat?
    No: first shall war unpeople this my realm;”

    This is reality spoken between two heads of rival organised crime family branches poised to capture or lose the state, in private chamber out of hearing of the commons, whose job is to pay taxes and kill and die for the royal ambitions of endlessly scheming, bickering and belligerent ‘nobles’. We have gone an unusually long time without a succession or deposition crisis, a bit shy of a century. That in itself adds to the false sense on automated continuity this frenzied fetishisation of nepotism would have us believe.

  6. Alice says:

    Went to Indy March in Glasgow on Saturday….just one of the best marches ever ….folk in a great mood ….beautiful wains and dogs back on the March …..had mucho fun!

  7. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

    There was an amusing moment at the start of the Rangers v Aberdeen match on Sunday. Of course the ‘True Blues’, the ‘Sons of William”, etc, were going to play ‘God Save the King’ before the match, but clearly no-one had given the Aberdeen players the courtesy of telling them. So, as is the normal routine after the teams line up facing the main stand, the away team moves along the line of the home team and shakes hands.

    We then had the risible sight of the loyal hordes bellowing out a demand to crush rebellious Scots as the Aberdeen players walked back to resume their line.

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