I recall ridiculing the discombobulation and the unhinged commentary in the immediate aftermath of the eleventh of September attacks, with the understanding that in their shoes I’d be similarly shell-shocked. Even comedians lost their shit and demanded instant retribution.
When we heard Queen Lizzie was on her last legs, and then was confirmed as Brown Bread on the eighth of September, similar to the eleventh of September attacks, I knew we were to witness some astonishingly peculiar stuff. But here I find it impossible to empathize with the spasms. Their cultish mania was reminiscent of the impulsiveness and denial which delivered Brexit. Both necessitated lapping up the utopian and triumphant narrative of what the UK once was, should be and look like. This is an easier path, because reconciling that with the present-day reality; irreversible racial diversity and the UK’s declining economic status, despite having secured its post Brexit sovereignty, is tricky.
Just as the economic realities of Brexit will be more damaging than the petty desires that fuelled it, the response to the World Trade Center attack was far more damaging than the attack itself – a huge death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq (with those countries abandoned and left to rot under authoritarian regimes), and an erosion of domestic privacy and civil liberties with the Patriot Act. As Christopher Hitchens once rightly put it, albeit referring to capital punishment, such an imposition expresses a fundamentally totalitarian relationship between the citizen and the state, a mechanism which all Monarchic structures rely upon.
You could see authoritarian flexes being applied to us plebeians after the Queen’s death, sporting events (but only some, and all football) were abandoned as a “mark of respect”. Businesses closed, and this at a time when many are struggling financially. Wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Monarchy was available on multiple channels, some by the same broadcaster. The BBC’s MournHub of excessive slavishness offered us a glimpse of the enforced worship North Koreans go through on a daily basis.
Given the current economic context, you would think the media have mistaken the public appetite for being force fed all this pomp and ceremony. There was no space for other news stories or programming, especially on the day the Queen was planted, diverging views on the Monarchy or the idiocy and excessive cost of all this pageantry, instead the message was rammed down your throat – this is the Monarchy, this is tradition, and that matters more than anything else.
Take the logic behind the criticism sessions and disappearances that were the bedrock of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, only instead of attacking bourgeoisie values and three millennia of Chinese tradition, here the mainstream media was tasked with insulating a fossil monarchy that’s funded by the taxpayer from ridicule and dissent. You may find Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the blanket coverage of the Queen’s death to be an odd comparison, as both examples exist on extreme ends of the oppressiveness scale, but both are indicators of overcompensation and unsustainability.
For those of who believe in meritocracy and a classless society it’s galling to be subjected to such propaganda on behalf of unearned privilege. The attempted resuscitation of Prince “who’s sweating now?” Andrew was probably the most egregious element. His clear links to an infamous couple found guilty for trafficking young (and underage) girls for sex and pimping them out to their rich mates on private Caribbean Islands – this scenario conjures Wicker Man rituals but with Mojitos – was seemingly forgotten for the good of the mood.
In contrast, Meghan Markle is always fair game. Despite being independently wealthy she is the wrong sort. The Daily Mail’s ongoing offensive against her, hypocritically too, as it continued through the mourning period, is racially fuelled. Yes, the Daily Mail and its readers are the scum of the earth, the sort that stand outside courtrooms to throw rocks at nonces being driven away in a security van, but that they can so easily whip up hatred at the racial integration of the Monarchy, is somewhat revelatory, with its associated nationalism often correlating to beliefs in racial supremacy, separation and extoling the virtues in subjugation and kleptocracy.
Unlike the death of Diana Princess of Wales, which became a marketing event, as Christopher Hitchens skewers brilliantly above, this fascination of, and hype around the Monarchy, even the Markle obsession, are just a means of mass self-deception. It’s the last days of Rome, one final reflexive celebration of British exceptionalism rather than of the Queen’s “service”, which, being cynical, few genuinely care about. Many saw it as an opportunity to be a part of history, even though they know history will surely forget them.
The Queen’s death should be a vexing contradiction for the monarchists. She was one of the last tangible links to the empire when it was still ascendant, but the UK’s prestige and status is not in the positive on her departure; a tanking economy, standards of living declining, millions facing fuel poverty, wage stagnation and sustained industrial action, inflation and interest rates out of control, trickle-down economics via tax cuts for the rich to boost growth (this didn’t work in 1972 and won’t this time), more revelations of who’s lobbying senior members of the Tory cabinet, further deregulation of the City of London, with another winter of discontent looming. But not to worry, the Queen’s death offered a solution, journalistic sycophants took the opportunity to eulogise the frugality of someone of immense inherited wealth as an example for single mothers earning the “living wage” and young folks with crippling student debts who have no chance of buying a house before they turn forty. This sort of David Starkey-esque indulgence is almost insulting enough to make watching a hearse travelling on motorways, people marching about in daft outfits and coverage of queues miles long to see an empty box seem appealing.
About the queue, nothing wrong with queuing for something that you need, say some cocaine outside the nightclub toilets, or a fish supper. The consensus estimates a quarter of a million queued to see the Queen lying in state. Not even the Central Committee got those numbers for Lenin. It was dishearteningly impressive.
That the Monarchy’s popularity has endured this long can be explained simply. Queen Elizabeth, as heads of state go, was somewhat unusual in being politically neutral and emotionally reserved. At worst that produces apathy at the Monarchy’s existence. Second, there’s a significant section of society that has a weakness for hereditary privilege, ingrained by centuries of grooming to grovel to their betters. Third, change is uncertain, so it’s easier to cleave to the idea of monarchies inculcating political stability. We’re not like these other neighbouring countries who have fallen prey to fascism, despotic leaders and revolutions. The French are on their fifth republic and they’re French! Ze Germans didn’t form as a country until 1870 and then went all fascist for a bit and killed quite a lot of folk. Italy had Mussolini running the show for twenty years.
If you wanted the truth about how the world views this quixotic and dysfunctional relationship the UK has with its Monarchy you needed to live abroad, where the coverage was far more balanced and at times critical. Well played Trevor Noah. And it was left to social media platforms to offer satire and ridicule. Take the tweet below, so much to relish here; the sound effect of the coffin slapping the platform and the Queen’s cadaver reverbing, the Kawasaki message “Of Let The Good Times Roll”, blowing out the windows of Westminster Hall for pedestrian tubes, 3D rendering showing you the direct user experience and the data science ‘logic’ underpinning the plan. A real tour de-force.
Now we wait and see. Will King Charles, whatever number he is, adopt the standard of diplomacy his mother set and the acolytes expect? With a generational split in attitudes between under and over fifties towards abolishing the Monarchy (and I don’t need to clarify which is which), all it could take is one unpopular reign to finally relieve us of our strange constitutional complacency.
Sometimes things can take a long time to change and when change arrives it often feels sudden. What we know for certain is we’ll be waiting far longer than those sad bastards who queued to see a coffin.