Long to Reign Over Us?

There’s been an awful lot of coverage in the news already about the Jubilee, and there will be an awful lot more. The hysteria whipped up by The Daily Lie and its chums has the added spice of the Queen’s age and health. Her recent absence from the state opening of parliament, and the obvious symbolism of Charles moodily staring at the crown on a Habitat cushion has sent the rampant royalists in our media into apoplexy. Although, given the fact that she popped up a couple of days later at the races with the verve and joie de vivre of an eighty year old, there is a suspicion that she just couldn’t be bothered to read out loud all of Johnson’s lies about the new Parliamentary programme. Charles, once eager to get his hands on the levers of state, has now clearly realised that the game is up, and would much rather William did it, while he, Charles, continued to talk to his plants, talk dirty to Camilla, and schmooze with Saudi murderers and horsey people. He delivered the speech in a bored monotone that would have embarrassed a sulky adolescent.

 Nicholas Witchell  has been wetting himself in excitement. The Prince Philip funeral was always only going to be a dry run for the big one – the death of her Madge. And it seems as if it’s not too far away. Obviously, as she is 96 years old. Nicholas has been preparing for this for years. It’s nice that he doesn’t seem to bear a grudge about Charles who was once caught on a rogue microphone muttering, “I hate that man”. But then, he knows who is buttering his bread, I suppose.

Despite the reliable efforts of the Daily Lie and the other rags, it does seem that there has been movement in terms of the Great British Public’s attitude to the Royals in the last few years. It’s not hard to see why. They are almost as gaffe-prone as the arch liar Johnson, and what is worse (for them, at any rate) they do have the decency to be a little shamefaced about their blunders.

We’ve had the fall out between William and Harry, with the related racist bullying of Megan Markle by jolly hockey sticks Kate, and her cheerleaders, the ridiculous Piers Morgan and the rest of the fleet street sycophants. One very entertaining sideshow of all of this has been to watch the existential angst of Hello magazine. Their very raison d’etre is to suck up to celebs, whether they be old school ones or the new kids on the block from reality tv. Now, they have to take sides in the royal turf wars. Their solution is very much part of the zeitgeist, the Johnson doctrine, which states that you can say what you like, safe in the knowledge that most people have the attention span of plankton and will not remember what you said by the time the next issue comes out. So one week they fawn and gush over William and Kate, with snide anti-woke allusions to the other two (cos one of them’s black, you know) and the week after, they do the same for the US wing of the firm, endorsing their various right- on campaigns. It’s as principled as my arse, as Jim Royle would say. From the proper Royle Family.

Then there’s the splendid spectacle of various Royals having to stand and smile and suck it up, as the elected representatives of a range of Caribbean islands tell them the unvarnished truth: colonialism is so last year. Apologise for slavery, start a conversation about reparations, and get the hell off our island. It’s a far cry from drinking gin fizz, watching quaint becostumed locals performing ancient cultural dances/rituals or neutered spear carrying savagery. No wonder the Queen won’t go any more.

What is really telling about this, with both William and Kate, and then a week or so later with Sophie and Edward, is just how hopelessly out of touch their advisors were about these trips. Didn’t statue removal register with them? How could anyone even vaguely part of the twenty first century think that this sort of thing would play well? It’s almost as if they believe that the Daily Lie, and it’s online shadow, the Mail online, has its finger on the pulse of the public mood.

The real clincher, though, is the appalling Prince Andrew. Yes, you remember him, don’t you? Paedophile, sex offender, sweatless, corrupt liar, whose every fleeting appearance instantly reminds people that the Royal family are privileged, entitled , free loaders, who like our friends in the modern Conservative party are laughing at us while we bow and scrape and fawn. This one did cut through with the young ones though, and he is now definitely persona non grata on the balcony. Even Hello magazine thinks twice before running a feature on his selfless work for charity.

So the landscape has definitely changed, and despite the inane patriotic culture wars of the militant Brexit tendency, support for the royals is dwindling. The Queen is held in high regard, and young William has some with-it credibility with the young, but that doesn’t solve the problem of Charles. Unfortunately for the would-be King, his subjects have long memories when it comes to the saintly Lady Di, and the wicked  Camilla. The monarchy will have to navigate some choppy waters in the next few years if it is to survive. Prince Andrew will find to his cost just how ruthless the ruling classes can be when it comes to clinging on to their privilege. They will throw him to the wolves the minute his mother has been buried.

How different it all was when we celebrated the Silver Jubilee, back in 1977.The Seventies, unfairly maligned by right wing historians, was a much more innocent age. Just imagine, if you can, a world before Margaret Thatcher, Neoliberalism, The Royal Wedding, social media, the internet, mobile phones, fake news. The post war consensus of the mixed economy still existed: no privatisation, employment meant you did not have to be on benefits, and homelessness was virtually non-existent because of a plentiful supply of good quality social housing. 

As a student at York University, the Queen seemed impossibly old and stuffy, and twenty five years before seemed to be a lifetime or two away, belonging to the olden days that were  always in black and white. How strangely one’s perception of time changes with age. Now, 1977 was forty five years ago, and in some ways it feels almost like yesterday. During my second year at York the jubilee hardly impinged on my consciousness. I barely read newspapers and certainly didn’t watch TV. There were far too many interesting other things to be doing. The thing that dominated our thoughts and minds back then was the exhilarating, whirlwind that was punk. It ripped through every aspect of life that mattered to a twenty year old – clothes, bands , ideas, taste, politics , opinions.

And it was through punk that my understanding of the Silver Jubilee was mediated. The scandal of God Save the Queen, the Sex Pistols swearing through the Bill Grundy interview, the sense that the old was being swept away by the new and exciting – this was the backdrop to the Jubilee celebrations back then.

It was a hot summer as I remember it. Earlier in May we had made the pilgrimage to Leeds to see the legendary Clash gig, and then God Save the Queen was released as a single. For a young socialist, who despised the establishment in general and the Royal Family in particular, it was cultural gold dust. The single was duly bought and played to death.

To add further grist to the mill, there was the suspicion that the BBC, crusty old Auntie Beeb, were playing their traditional role in what passed for culture wars back then, pumping out pro establishment Propaganda. It seems very quaint that in the name of anarchy and revolution we were all eagerly awaiting the release of the official chart in the week of the Jubilee itself. Lo and behold, the chart was issued and the Pistols had peaked at number two, just behind Rod Stewart’s “I don’t wanna talk about it” None of us blamed you , Rod, because we didn’t wanna talk about your record either.

There were the inevitable street parties and the harking back to the same kinds of events after the Second World War. For a republican, it was like being a stranger in one’s own land, eavesdropping on a conversation that was not meant for you. As if, you had switched on the radio only to find it tuned to Radio 2, and you became aware for the very first time of a whole other universe that ran in parallel to yours.

Life, of course went on. And for students, dedicated hedonists the lot of us, we went out into York for a curry and a session in the pub. The main route walking into York from campus ended up in Walmgate, one of the ancient thoroughfares of the old city. You passed through the city walls, under Walmgate Bar and then along this ancient mediaeval street, past the River Foss and into town.

For several weeks, the entire length of the street had been festooned with Union Jack bunting, cheap plastic flags fluttering in the traffic fumes. We put aside our distaste and enjoyed the symbolism: the monarchy celebrated with tawdry, tacky flags destined for landfill.

No such restraint was available on the return journey, where our liberal sensibilities had been fatally compromised by industrial quantities of Samuel Smith’s best bitter. Alcohol and Republicanism is a heady cocktail, beyond our understanding or control. I’m afraid, dear reader, I celebrated the Silver Jubilee in the early hours of the morning, singing God Save The Queen (no, not that one) at the top of my voice and pulling down every union jack I could find.

It was probably against the law. But we were young and it felt both important and harmless at the same time. Brave class warrior that I was, I lived in fear of the knock on the door by the boys in blue. Well, for a week at least. Thank God there was no CCTV back in the day.

And I am still, forty five years later, a Republican. I wish Elizabeth Windsor no harm. I’m not advocating a rerun of the French revolution. She seems at least to have some admirable qualities: a sense of duty, a work ethic, a lack of selfishness or ego that is refreshing in these days of rampant narcissism and egoism. This does not wash away her immense privilege and wealth gained by the systematic manipulation of tax laws and the careful avoidance of scrutiny. Ultimately, she is a symbol of everything that is wrong with Britain in the twenty first century. Immensely wealthy, the head of the rump of the British Empire, her presence as the Head of State encourages the appallingly corrosive sense of British exceptionalism that so disfigures and distorts our body politic, and poisons our approach to other countries. We are condemned forever, or so it seems, to live in a fictitious glorious past when we ruled the world and everyone was grateful. It is a childish version of how society should operate, as ridiculous and inappropriate as still believing in Santa Claus as an adult. We are not in some kind of  LadyBird book of Kings and Queens.

It really is time to put away childish things and to grow up. We should be citizens, not subjects, and there is a world of difference between those two things. The approaching death of Queen Elizabeth, sad though that  is for her family and maybe for some people in the country, is an opportunity for us to rethink the whole monarchy thing. Time to get over it.

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