Monday, April 18, 2011

What if they gave an election and no-one came? (1)

Remember 1977?

There seemed to be a widespread and genuine enthusiasm for celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee. The Queen still looked a little like the pretty girl who had been coronated 25 years earlier; people in their 30s remembered the 1953 celebrations with some affection and wanted to recapture some of that fun and optimism; the avenue from Buck House to Trafalgar Square was genuinely filled with people, only 16 or 17 of whom stood any chance of actually seeing the balcony, and the chants of "We want our Queen!" didn't seem to have been orchestrated. There were also some good movies showing at the Odeon.

It was against this background that groups of young men with spiky noses and safety pins in their hair got banned from the wireless for singing anti-monarchist "pop" songs, which seem to have arisen from a genuinely nihilistic outrage against the whole charade. I don't suppose that being anti-monarchist in 1977 was particularly brave -- no-one was actually going to punch you. But it was at least very slightly non-conformist.

It may be that, after the sordid tale of Charles and Di and the national dementia which followed its pathetic final act, there is a conscious effort to play down the wedding of William and Thingy. (And protocol says that the marriage of the second in line to the throne doesn't count as a State occasion.) But I get the impression that this time around nobody really cares all that much about the wedding. It isn't that we've all suddenly gone anti-monarchist and republican: we just aren't very interested.

Cameron has made a rather ridiculous attempt to get his retaliation in first. He has assumed emergency presidential powers with regard to local council traffic by-laws. "It doesn't matter what local council by laws say: I'm damn well Prime Minister and if you want to hold an outdoor party in the middle of a busy road you can, because I said so, so there." So when it turns out that people stayed away in droves, he'll be able to blame elf and safety, left wing councils, political correctness gone mad. Oh, everyone wanted a street-party, he will say, but the cultural Marxist killjoys needed them to fill out a form, do that they didn't bother. (See also: Christian Good Friday Parades, by Marxist Muslim Health and Safety Committees, Banning Of.)

So the attempts to hold "f**k the royal wedding" parties -- or just to mischeivously weed the garden and pretend the TV coverage isn't happening -- look increasingly pathetic. Small minded. It isn't big. It isn't clever. It's mainstream. You can buy anti-royalist tee shirts in Primark, for goodness sake. I did enjoy the suggestion that people who think that it is really really important that we should have an elected head of state with no power (as opposed to a hereditary heard of state with no power) should, instead of watching the big wedding on the telly, invite their neighbours round for a slice of cake and a cosy chat about constitutional reform. A sort of republican tea-party.

Abolishing the monarchy used to be a great big political idea, argued for vociferously by the far left, yelled about furiously by anarchists, debated about in terms of Way Tyler and Tom Paine. Now it's part of a general, cynical, whining background noise. The leftists, liberals and intellectuals didn't exactly win the argument. They just bored everybody else into submission. It looks very much as if we are going to wake up one morning, say, in 2025 and find that the Royal Family went away five years ago and nobody noticed. Oh, there will still be someone with the title "King of England" but that title will only be meaningful to a handful of fellow eccentrics. The same thing has, I think, already happened to the great big arguments about the separation of Church and State. King William V may very well be given a piece of paper that says he is supreme governor of the Church of England. He may keep it in a drawer and bring it out at parties, or have it framed and hang it in the loo. But no-one will know or care because the Church of England will have long since stopped mattering, and I will no longer have any excuse to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism. The people who argue that because 0.04% of the members of the House of Lords are Anglican bishops, England is a theocracy on a level with Iran already look ridiculous, fighting a war which ended a hundred years ago. 0.04% of bugger-all is bugger-all.

This doesn't mean that I don't retain a nostalgic affection for the Queen. And it doesn't mean that I don't find these new anti-monarchists incredibly smug and irritating. "Look at me, putting forward a mainstream point of view! How incredibly daring of me!" But I always found the keen Royal Family fans incredibly irritating as well. Why can't I be a nonconformist like everybody else?



Prankster said...

"...a sort of republican tea-party."

I see what you did there.

Mike Taylor said...

Royal weddings are nice. Lots of people like them. It's good when things happen that lots of people like. So I think it would be nice if they people who don't like royal weddings would just graciously ignore it rather than trying to spoil the fun of those who do.

I can't help thinking there's a sort of classist thing going on here, as well. Unabashed enjoyment of royal weddings is traditionally the preserve of the salt-of-the-earth lower classes; attempts to demonstrate how silly it all is can hardly help but reek of looking down on those Silly, Uneducated Fools Who Don't Know Any Better. It feels like telling people what they ought to like, not dissimilar in spirit to insisting that they should go to the opera rather than the football. It's not an attractive stance.

Sam Dodsworth said...

no-one was actually going to punch you

"Violent attacks on punk fans were on the rise. In mid-June Rotten himself was assaulted by a knife-wielding gang outside Islington's Pegasus pub, causing tendon damage to his left arm. Jamie Reid and Paul Cook were beaten up in other incidents; three days after the Pegasus assault, Rotten was attacked again."

- Wikipedia, referencing Jon Savage; "England's Dreaming".

Although I think that reflects the status of punks as tabloid demon-of-the-moment rather than deep-seated royalism. (See also the fuss over the Smiths and "The Queen Is Dead".)

The leftists, liberals and intellectuals didn't exactly win the argument. They just bored everybody else into submission.

There's never been a major public platform for those arguments - largely because they're boring and unpopular - so I don't think this can be true. I'd blame poor PR-management and general lack of charisma in the royal family, myself.

Gavin Burrows said...

Sam beat me to that Jon Savage quote!

I think Royalty was at that time a 'barometer issue', being anti-Royalist was a way of saying you were against Our Way Of Life, and everyone knew it. That's why reactions could be so virulent.

As you say, things aren't like that today. I can't even think of a similar 'barometer issue', which is insignificant in itself but asked to carry a whole lot of extraneous weight. (Or I can but they work in negative, say over asylum seekers.)

Which I think is partly down of society becoming much more privatised. (Why have a street party when you shelled out for that widescreen hi-def TV in your living room?) And partly because of the rise of celebrity culture. Charles and Di morphed into posh and Becks.

Gavin Burrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Dodsworth said...

I can't even think of a similar 'barometer issue', which is insignificant in itself but asked to carry a whole lot of extraneous weight

Half-seriously... being Muslim?

Gavin Burrows said...

But as Andrew has said "Abolishing the monarchy used to be a great big political idea, argued for vociferously by the far left, yelled about furiously by anarchists, debated about in terms of Way Tyler and Tom Paine."

Being Muslim tends to be a bit of a googly ball for the left. Different factions argue different things about it. The SWP, for example, like to argue any kind of critique, even of the most fringe Sharia law fanatics, is a hate crime. (Their buzz word is 'Islamaophobia.') Anarchists tend to dismiss the whole thing as they are, in the main, anti-religion. And, even if they can agree, it doesn't symbolise Destruction of Our Way of Life in the same way as abolishing the monarchy used to.

Muslims are a unifying issue for the right.

Sam Dodsworth said...

I'd be prepared to argue that Punk was a bit of a googly ball to the left and unanimously reviled (although not a unifying issue) for the right. But I was really thinking of the "insignificant in itself"/"sign of being against Our Way Of Life" combo.

Gavin Burrows said...

You're probably right on both counts. I was thinking about the way republicanism acted as a litmus test, allowing the 'proper' Left to distinguish itself from those who thought things were nearly okay and just needed a bit of tinkering.

Punk's shock value (not least the swastikas!) did make it a googly ball for the Left who tries to appeal to the respectable working class. But more opportunistic factions like the SWP glommed onto it pretty quickly with things like Rock Against Racism. (You could probably also argue the anarchists glommed onto it in the same way if you wanted...)

Richard Worth said...

Funnily enough, GK Chesterton's 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' was based on something of the same premise one hundred years ago, that government melted away because people were bored of it and being King is a minor civic duty like jury service. However, I am not sure if there is any great sense of people wanting a British Republic in a positive way, or anything close to the public disenchantment with Victoria and Prince Edward in the 1870s.

Julia said...

Oddly enough, there were dishes and cakes for sale at my grocery store in Texas to celebrate the Royal Wedding that just happened. I didn't know what to make of it. It's odder to me than selling cactus as food.