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Why should young people give a shit about national symbols?

December 10, 2010

There will shock and outrage at the mistreatment of some of our most treasured national symbols this morning. The car carrying Prince Chuckie and his bride was attack and Winston Churchill’s statue was vandalised and even pissed on.  You will not be surprised to learn, that I am unconcerned.

I have nothing against Charles and his wife personally. I’m sure he’s a decent enough old spud. Nevertheless I can find no rationale for his ascension to the position of Head of State, other than at some stage in history his ancestors where among the biggest and most ruthless bandits, who basically bullied and murdered their way to the top of the social hierarchy.

Forgive me, but I’ve never be convinced by the whole ‘divine right’ argument, although on occasions I have found myself rather perversely standing up for Charles against professed royalists who would rather see the crown pass from his mother and straight to his son, William. As I point out to them, that’s the problem with your Monarchial Head of State, you just don’t get to choose. And so, barring an incidence of gross police negligence that sees Charles murdered in his car on the way to the theatre, I suspect he will be king one day. I’ll continue to be indifferent to him personally, while loathing the position he inherits.

Winston Churchill on the other hand is a figure I continue to have a residual respect for, given his leadership in a war that defeated fascism. As a symbol he is a reminder of a period in British history that can make a much stronger claim to the ‘We’re all in this together’ narrative than the period we are in now.

But frankly I just can’t summon up the sort of outrage evident in today’s tabloids at the sight of young people pissing on Winnie’s monument.

Why would we expect a generation of young people to give a shit about national symbols such as a Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales when the national Parliament was in the process of abandoning them to the vagaries of the the free market? You cannot pursue policies that seek to encourage aggressive individualism and then expect people to care about cultural icons that speak to notions of our national communion.

In any case, yesterday in Parliament the government metaphorically pissed all over the achievements of the generation that won the Second World War. In fact successive governments have vandalised a post-war settlement that delivered the National Health Service and improvements in welfare provision and education – the sorts of institutions and services that hold a nation together, that instil the sort of horizontal comradeship that nations depend upon.

The latest gross act of national vandalism took place yesterday in a Parliament that was forced to meet behind barricades and mounted police for fear that young people might hold it directly to account.

What need for such violent protests, some cried, when we have a democratic process? Well, they got their answer after the vote when some politicians lamented, not that they had broken promises to the electorate, but that they had made promises at all. Seen in this light, trying to make bold distinctions between legitimate political processes and criminal forms of protest just don’t stand up.

Olde England is dying. But the new England looks in rude health.

It’s times like this I wish Joe Strummer were still with us…

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