Put out more flags
by Anthony Bruton
This year marks the 60th anniversary of what? The Queen’s coronation was in 1953; so it’s not that. The nation seems to be torching garden trash and going boating in celebration of the death of George VI or Colin “Stammering Bertie” Firth as he’s now know to the modern age. Hoorah.
But why bother even to celebrate that?
Monarchy is a phenomenon that can reduce normally intelligent people to spouting utter nonsense. Her Majesty’s 60 years of aloofness punctuated by ribbon cutting somehow constitute a service that the public in Britain and elsewhere are revering with a complete suspension of any rational analysis. So it is that the social media are brim with “God bless the Queenie!”, seemingly with full regard to Forster’s warning “that it is the height of impropriety to consider what it does connote”. The likes of “Your service makes me proud to be British” are also difficult to fathom. Johnson’s dismissal of “pretended patriotism” as “the last refuge of a scoundrel” comes to mind and I am left wondering what “cloak for self-interest” underlies the bunting, mawkish blathering and barbecues.
There are many reasons, increasingly historical, to feel proud to be British. Feeling a connection with the innumerable Britons who have achieved so much throughout history should spur Her Majesty’s subjects to great deeds. However, the Queen’s most notable achievement of the last 60 years seems to have been not to have gaffed while all about her gaffed like crazy. Her abstention from It’s a Royal Knockout, which killed the credibility of the peripheral royals, is a major reason we’re having this four-day weekend and not some other presidential festivity.
Her not falling into or contributing to the torrents of sham public emotion that fuel the confusion between genuine and voluminous responses are something to be revered. In an increasingly image obsessed society, her achievement of realizing that a public figure should also be a private individual is a worthy example. Even Prince William has a Facebook page. Given the obsequious fawning it has attracted, we the people are credulous of this piece of image management and don’t for a moment think that perhaps it is nothing more than an attempt to give an appearance of keeping in touch with the proles managed by a valet.
But the monarchy is a powerful symbol. Those favouring its abolition would say it’s a symbol of halted progress but they overlook its history. Nearly a century before the French and Americans thought they were blazing trails in modern state building, England had had a revolution, decapitated its king, tried out being a monachless Commonwealth and thought better of it. The interregnum lasted 11 years from 1649 to 1660 and monarchic service resumed, de jure unbroken. When Louis XVI lost his head, France followed. The country only righted itself after a century of chaos which saw the Terror and the rise and Waterloo of the 19th century’s proto-Hitler. America admittedly fared better but did base many of its founding principles on the concessions granted by the parliament-muzzled, post-restoration William and Mary a century before. So the British monarchy’s survival is not necessarily symptomatic of a politically lethargic populace.
But what does the monarchy symbolize that makes people go periodically nutty for bunting and cold chicken in mayonnaise and curry powder? And what has let people be content with the austerity-laden spectacle of this diamond jubilee, when the last saw monuments of triumph erected throughout the empire. In 1897, phallic Victorian timekeepers sprung up across the continents (Penang pictured). The best today’s MPs can muster is the rather limp proposal to rename the long-standing clock tower at the Palace of Westminster.
Perhaps the cloak of self-interest is simply narcissism. The Queen represents a distorted and glorified reflection of her subjects. So the bling, fortune and unassailable authority attached to her position are surely worth celebrating if we can claim them as our own, even if the nation and its inhabitants are broke, insecure and downtrodden.