Monday 2 May 2011

Royalty's Last Hurrah

Now that a new global media event, the execution of Osama bin Laden, has completely pushed aside the endless coverage of the royal wedding, there's at last a chance to reflect on what, if anything, last Friday's anachronistic nonsense says about Britain.

Like many a secular anti-monarchist, I had vague plans to get out of the country for the duration of William Windsor's wedding. But instead I was with close friends in the West Midlands and found myself, amusingly, at a royal wedding street party in a suburb of Coventry. Even more of a surprise is that I quite enjoyed myself, although it was decidedly strange. I've no idea, of course, whether this street party was representative of others around the country, but it certainly lacked the patriotic fervour I remember from previous royal weddings. Nor did it share the flag-waving sycophancy on display in the Mall earlier in the day. There were Union flags, naturally, plus plenty of red, white and blue bunting; but it seemed rather appropriate that the faces of the privileged bride and the cosseted groom had been cut out of the large portrait photo so the kids could pose for pictures. The royals were essentially missing from the street party and it was all just an excuse for sharing a few beers in the street without the prospect of complaints from the neighbours about anti-social behaviour.

Oh, and then there was the Morris dancers. I suppose they were supposed to represent a quaint vision of what it means to be English, not unlike the wedding itself, but most people looked on in bemusement during their first jig and then ignored them altogether.

This kind of general indifference, combined with disappearing levels of deference towards symbols of authority, meant that for all the appearance of popular enthusiasm and involvement, the royal wedding was really just a pageant, a fashion show and a celebrity photo opportunity, one that needed the bribe of a public holiday and plenty of official encouragement for people to join in. For all the ludicrous Ruritanian uniforms and gilded fairytale coaches, what the public seemed most concerned about was true of any wedding - how did the bride's expensive dress look and would the best man pull the chief bridesmaid? And that's why I can't see the monarchy ever managing to carry anything like it in the future. This was its last hurrah.

But in the mean time, God help anyone who showed the slightest dissent. The response of the police to the limited number of tiny and mostly irrelevant protests was completely disproportionate (see below). So too was their reaction to an 'unofficial' gathering in Glasgow - perhaps the youths who arranged it on FaceBook should have considered booking some Morris dancers.

This level of heavy-handedness is either rooted in a belief that no-one will care enough to complain, or a nervousness in the days and weeks before Friday that perhaps more people would refuse to fall into line behind the official narrative. On the day, the state got away with it comfortably, showing just how far our basic civil liberties have been undermined - but perhaps the growing number of protests since the coalition government took office has had a greater impact in unnerving those in power than we had all previously realised.


And then there's this: news that the police shot someone with a Taser at an unofficial royal wedding street party in Cornwall.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see you blogging mate!!

I ended up, briefly, at a street party which was mainly an excuse for people to get pissed and for kids to ride around on their bikes practicing their royal waves!! There were loads of union jacks as well.

But indeed it was shocking how even if there was a slight whiff of dissent the cops came down heavy handed, way OTT and seemed like something out Minority Report. Scary and undemocratic. And the young guy in the vid being arrested for carrying a pen is scary beyond belief!

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