The Queen was after all, still dead

Is it over? Can I go to Centre Parcs now? Can I ride my bike? I may have had my operation cancelled or needed emergency access to the food bank but thank goodness I could feel proud to be British.

Queen Elizabeth funeral procession down Mall

Of course, the full ten days was a spectacle. The country may be misfiring and spluttering, but we are still genius at the precision and awe of pomp and ceremony. The funeral march was a cinematic feast, a hypnotic display of male, Christian, military, patriarchal power celebrating the ultimate matriarch.

The ten days were moving and fascinating, absurd and cringing. There was Charles’s Ascension to the throne, when old men in medieval jackets, tights and buckled shoes cosplayed Blackadder with self-importance.

Nicholas Witchell was like a pantomime dame cranked down with Valium, sparring with Huw Edwards as to who could be the most solemn and hushed. I knew more about the Queen’s whereabouts dead than I did when she was alive. You half-expected Witchell to whisper solemnly: “we’ve had a report from the Queen’s anatomical technology pathologist and Her Majesty has now entered the first stages of decomposition and is moving towards rigor mortis with typical grace and dignity.”

By the third day Huw Edwards had the 1,000 yard stare as he promised “another solemn occasion”.  At points he started talking slowly as he surveyed the endless plains of 24-hour television stretched before him, but with nothing new to say. The Queen was after all, still dead.

“There are going to be so many takes on this” joked someone on social media. And indeed there were (and this is another). There’s the Queen and empire. The Queen and her corgis. The Queen and humour. The liberal Queen. The diplomatic Queen. She was the head of a genocidal empire and the only thing keeping us from the abyss of tyranny and populism. The Queen was, mostly, an enigmatic duty-bound blank so seventy years of feverish history could vomit out endless analysis and discussion. Twitter churned-up PhDs every nanosecond on what this all meant.

Twitter also saw an explosion of a brilliant British dark humour. Snowflake right-wing patriots, those noble champions for free speech and brave warriors of cancel culture wars, patrolled the hashtags to attack and abuse anyone who strayed from the accepted narrative. Patriots hate everything about their country apart from the flag.

You couldn’t get more British than a weather forecast for The Queue for a royal. Meanwhile, an elderly gentleman was dragged all around the country despite the trauma of losing his mother. How the hell did Charles manage it? He had no choice. The Queen is Dead, Long Live the King. The show must go on. We must stop anyone thinking, lest questions arise.

Here’s the thing. A relationship with your country can be complicated and messy. People want something collective, a yearning to belong to something that is bigger than them. They want to feel part of history, their history. They want their rituals. In their grief for the Queen, people see their own grief and their own passing ghosts.

I’ve certainly been watching with my parents in mind, and the passing of their age. I mix moderate republicanism, an interest in history and a fascination for crowd psychology. I’m a sucker for those Cecil Beaton photos. I can see the poignancy of a thread of history starting with a young new age descending the steps of a plane watched by a line of old men including Churchill, to a coffin descending through the floor. I can see how much this means to people. I’m surprised by the reaction around the world. The Queen was the closest we came to the Queen of the world. Four billion watched the show around the world.

New Queen, new age – 1952

Republicans should also wonder about a point made by Clement Atlee, a Labour Prime Minister. “The monarchy attracts to itself the kind of sentimental loyalty which might otherwise be given to a leader of a faction. There is therefore much less danger under a constitutional monarchy of a people being carried by a Hitler, a Mussolini or even a de Gaulle.”

Yet there are so many awkward questions.

We love to travel back to the war and the Victorian era yet why do we close our eyes when we pass by the brutal consequences of empire and colonialism, some of which happened during the reign of the Queen? Why do we silence and bully these voices yet consume endless vox pops about the Queen saying something vaguely funny and human, to gasps of admiration.

We celebrate the underdog and applaud fair play yet why do we allow ourselves to be subjected to a system based on feudalism, class and inequality?

The unions had no choice but to call off their strikes for the passing of a 96-year-old woman, but felt able to exploit COP26, when we were trying to save the planet. How have we got our priorities so wrong?

We eulogise the selfless duty, integrity and dedication of the Queen. We yearn for those values so why did we then elect Boris Johnson?

We all turn to the BBC as the nation’s voice of reassurance during a national moment, yet why are we allowing newspaper owners and politicians to bully and kill it by a thousand cuts?

I could go on. The honours system is now a peculiar British type of corruption in plain sight. The opaque finances of the Crown. The secret influence they yield, for their interests not ours, on our laws and legislation.

We are in a mess, on the brink of disaster. There’s the cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, food crisis, inflation, creeping fascism. It is true that in the grand sweep of history, these things come and go but there are things shaking the foundations.

This green and pleasant land, this sceptred isle, is literally wallowing in its own faeces because it’s more important to reward shareholders and CEOs than it is to modernise our drainage system. Alarming as that is, that’s nothing compared to the consequences of the climate crisis that is now hitting us.

Scotland is agitated and straining at the leash. Not granting a second referendum is refusing Scots the control to ask about their destiny. If so, the union is no longer based on consent.

Bit by bit we are losing our freedoms and rights. When a man is threatened with arrest under the new policing act if he wrote ‘not my King’ on a blank piece of paper, this does not bode well for our freedom to protest and dissent.

Then there’s Brexit. We are stuck in an absurd farcical comedy of manners where the nation’s mad alter ego is on a rampage, but we’re not allowed to talk about it as the house burns around us. The problem is, these people are not just in charge of the asylum, they control the nation.

We are not a broken country, despite the claims of some. Every country has its delusions. But we are hiding behind fairy tales. I could say it’s time for our delusions to face reality but we are also in a state of disassociation. We’ll probably keep feasting on bread and circuses until the Coronation comes around.

If you’re interested…

A republican son, a royalist mother and a royal wedding

A republican watches the royal wedding with the ultimate royal watcher, fact checker, sharp-tongued etiquette stickler. It’s all washed down with booze.

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