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England, my lionheart, where were you yesterday?

April 30, 2011

Perhaps I’m a peculiar sort of Irish socialist but I love England.

Maybe that’s because my grandfather was English and I bare a sassenach name. Maybe it’s because my cultural diet owes more to England than Ireland: my youth spent listening to The Jam and The Smiths; reading Alan Sillitoe, Keith Waterhouse and Stan Barstow; watching Film Four and the BBC. My political heroes are almost exclusively English also – Gerrard Winstanley, George Orwell, the Chartists, Tom Paine, Tony Benn.

On the other hand you might just put my Anglophilia down to being an Ulster Prod. Those Church of Ireland Sunday School class must have had some Anglicizing effect after all. Whatever.

But for someone who loves England yesterday was fucking painful because on display were all the English characteristics that I have to ignore if my affection for the place is to remain undiminished.

Like any love affair you have to learn to overlook or live with your lover’s follies. Every lover has them – the malapropisms that you allow to go uncorrected; the toenail clippings that litter the bedroom floor from time to time that you discreetly sweep up; the morning flatulence that you pretend not to hear. But every so often your lover might present you with such a demonstration of indecorous and unbecoming behaviour that the foundations of your relationship are rocked and shaken. Yesterday was such an occasion for me and England.

The obsequiousness and the inanity of the BBC’s coverage was toe-curling at times. The suspension of democracy, reason and rational public debate was terrifying, simply for the ease with which it was imposed – republicans arrested on the most tenuous of suspicions; dissenting groups’ Facebook pages deleted; and the infuriating assumption that everybody at least acquiesced to such a grotesque public spectacle.

Even the Irish broadcaster, RTE, where I retreated at one point, interviewed ‘Royal Correspondent’ Jenny Bond, who told us that in all her years covering the monarchy she had tried not to ‘gush’ (really, Jenny?) but today she would make an exception. She told us that even people who weren’t monarchists were enjoying the day.

Fuck off! Fuck off! Fuck off!

This is what is so perfidious about the whole Royal Road Show, it can brook no dissent, no alternative, it can barely even tolerate indifference to it’s preposterous, archaic existence.

This child needs airbrushing…
20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2011 1:06 pm

    Poor Rab! But it’s never a surprise to see the BBC kowtow to the Royals. What worries me is the way the hysteria infected the Irish media to the point where it topped RTE’s news agenda. Indeed the news presenter on the Six O’Clock news spoke of the Royals on first name terms and even wore an evening dress (!!) almost identical to the one Kate Middleton wore for her engagement (thanks to my mum for that sharp observation!). And as for “gushing”, the Sunday Independent has been advertising that tomorrow’s edition will include a bumper Royal Wedding supplement and expert analysis from their top columnists. Expert analysis? Of a wedding?

    Ah yes, there’s nothing like a show of post-colonial servitude to highlight just how bankrupt Ireland really is.

  2. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    April 30, 2011 2:50 pm

    Well, I was wandering around central London yesterday Rab, having gone to the Republic street party, and thus I saw quite a lot of the ‘Joyous People, Rejoicing ‘ heading back to their railway stations to go home. Several thoughts occur in retrospect:
    1. This wasn’t particularly London : London is a third non white according to the Office for National Statistics and I saw very, very few people from BME communities amongst the masses carrying their sad little Union Jacks and camper chairs back to Waterloo or Kings Cross. These were folk who had come to town for a Big Day Out. No doubt there were a few royal obsessed nutters who’d come down from the Midlands and the North (or Brisbane, or Ontario or wherever….perhaps even Belfast) but the majority were almost certainly from the SE commuter belt, warming up for the Olympics….
    2. Not all the local street parties were pro. This doesn’t mean they were necessarily anti as such, more that a lot of them just used the day off to have a bit of a shindig.
    3. Jamie over at B&T has it about right, I think, when he says, “The wedding would have been watched because it was on the telly, even by people who didn’t want to watch it. It was another edition of Britain’s Got Royals …”Just as there is a pleasure – or so I’m told, anyway – in jointly discussing the usually appalling acts on the X Factor, so there is a certain rough democracy in being the one to pour the most entertaining scorn on Princess Beatrice’s ‘antler hat’. Yesterday didn’t have that genuinely frightening ‘Bulldog Spirit/Land of Hope and Glory’ feel of the analogous events in 1981. It felt more like some weird posh version of ‘It’s A Knockout’.
    4. Mind you, you’re quite right about the TV coverage. It was disgracefully supine. But I’m not sure that was the actual atmosphere ‘on the ground’ as it were.

  3. April 30, 2011 3:43 pm

    Surely the only serious Chartists were Irish Rab? 😉

    As for what Peadar O’Donnell used to call “the other British state in Ireland”, I can’t say I’m surprised at the media, although tales of hairdressers giving out champagne did shock me. I suspect the people hoping for mass protests against Elizabeth will be in for a bit of a shock too.

    I did see the headline on a newspaper website that the wedding proved Britain was revolution-proof, but I’ve thankfully purged which paper it was from my memory.

  4. April 30, 2011 3:48 pm

    And AA’s comment has just made me even more depressed than normal about my weekly trawl through the Sindo’s website tomorrow.

  5. Rab permalink*
    April 30, 2011 6:25 pm

    ‘Bout ya AA, Charlie and Garibaldy,

    One thing struck me during the BBC coverage (and I have to confess I took only a passing interest, since I’d better things to do) but every time I glanced at the screen I didn’t know whether to rage at it or die laughing. Sometimes the banality and inanity of the commentary made a better case for a republic than I’ve ever managed.

    The ‘historian’ discussing the royal wedding cakes with Huw Edwards like anyone with a life give a shit was priceless. It reminded me of the sort of witless half time match analysis that accompanies another disappointing England performance on the football field. On other occasions I felt like I was watching a reality TV show. Do you remember when Big Brother started and they tried to dignify it as a social experiment by parading various experts offering loads of pointless analysis about the participants behaviour in the show?

    Huw Edwards was embarrassing. I think Terry Wogan would have been a better choice. I mean, he presented the European Song Contest for years. His ironic tone wouldn’t have been out of place yesterday.

    There must be some subversives in the BBC though. Didn’t they broadcast Shrek in the evening – a story about a ogre who steals a princess from a feckless prince.

    Good point about the Chartists, Garibaldy. Has anyone written in any detail about the relationship between English and Irish radicalism? I know there is a brief reference in E P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

  6. April 30, 2011 9:42 pm

    I’m extremely pleased to report that I watched precisely sweet FA of the coverage, and so have no idea about how was talking what nonsense. I might have watched had Wogan been doing it but. I did however watch Shrek.

    My opinion of British radicalism is roughly that it lost its way some time in the 1650s after a promising start, and hasn’t really found it since. I might be being harsh on some of the more radical elements, but when I see the likes of Tristam Hunt (the History ****) talking about Britain’s radical tradition, I want to vomit.

    Marianne Elliott’s Partners in Revolution has a lot on the United Irishmen and their counterparts in Britain (United Scotsmen etc). I think there is stuff on O’Connell, O’Connor and Irish and British radicalism, and some later C19th stuff, but I’m not really sure.

  7. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    May 1, 2011 8:24 am

    I can’t speak with any confidence on the Irish contribution to Chartism, but I think the definitive answer to those inclined to judge one country’s radical history by the standards of another was given a very long time ago in EP Thompson’s The Peculiarities of the English.

  8. May 1, 2011 11:15 am

    Interesting point Charlie. I wouldn’t suggest that there has been more social radicalism in Ireland than in Britain. But I think it’s reasonably to suggest that for a country with such a big working class and organised labour movement, Britain has not been as radical as it might.

  9. Rab permalink*
    May 1, 2011 12:44 pm

    I’ve always thought of the Irish as more rebellious than radical, and while I can think of many great English radicals, the English aren’t know for their rebelliousness. But then as soon as I write that I realise that ascribing a set of characteristics to any nation is always very hard argument to sustain.

    I’ve been reading George Orwell’s The Lion and the Unicorn recently and it looks to me like he was grappling with the preceived conservatism of the English working class. It’s interesting, though, when you look at the student protests before Christmas and the anti-cuts movement it’s difficult to argue that the English are inherently conservative or docile, although one of the discourses deployed by the powers-that-be at the time was the notion that that sort of behaviour was damned un-British.

    What really pisses me off about the BBC’s coverage of the Royal wedding was the assertion that this event somehow represented Britain in its best light. First of all, I’m inclined to agree with Tom Nairn when he says we are ‘after Britain’. I bet that most Scots were indifferent to the whole event and as for the wee six? You don’t need to ask!

    So the whole thing looks a peculiarly English affair, enthusiastically supported by a rump of UKanians on the Celt Fringe. But even most people in England (and I suspect Charlie and Jamie call it just about right) see the whole thing as an extension of TV light entertainment; an instalment of The Reality Royals’ Show. But there is certainly a sizeable section of the establishment hanging onto the Windsors for grim death, determined to maintain the old enchanted glass at all costs (sorry more Tom Nairn).

    One other thought occurred to me on the day: it was terribly nice to see the inclusion of Catholic guests at the wedding, even if none of them will every properly participate in such a ceremony. Is it impolite to mention that while even Northern Ireland is in the process of riding sectarianism from its politics, England has a head of state that occupies a sectarian institution?

  10. May 1, 2011 8:46 pm

    Good point about rebellious and radical, but also about the absence of national characteristics.

    Orwell should have knowm petty bourgeois nationalism when he saw it 😉

    And I hope you’re right about NI shedding its sectarian politics, though I have my doubts.

  11. backwatersman permalink
    May 1, 2011 9:27 pm

    What struck me about all this was that I spent the day in Leicester, where you would hardly have known that anything unusual was going on (unless you went looking for it). Then I came home and watched the BBC’s “highlights”, where the entire country appeared to be in the grip of Wedding Fever – mostly rabid royalists with a sprinkling of “anarchists” dressed as zombies to provide balance.

    What they never do is interview some bloke in Solihull who says “She seems like a nice enough girl, but I’m not that bothered either way, to be honest. But it’s a good chance to creosote the fence.” Perhaps the problem is the gap between the way the world is mediated and the way is actually is?

  12. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    May 1, 2011 9:46 pm

    Rab, let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine Kate was Catholic. Basically no-one in England – well only 0.01% – would care. But that 0.01% would include the entire hierarchy of the CofE, the Daily Telegraph and, crucially, the Palace. The Palace would surely understand that stopping being ‘Defender of the Faith’ would imply the disestablishment of the Church, which, in turn, would start rather too many awkward questions about other aspects of the Monarchy. The sectarian practices remain in place simply to avoid the effect of disturbing other things…

    Mind you,despite what you, as a local say, I suspect the reaction in Norn Iron might be somewhat more visceral and immediate…

  13. Rab permalink*
    May 2, 2011 9:04 am

    To be honest, Charlie, if BBC Northern Ireland had not been assiduous in bringing it to my attention, I’d never have known anyone here was at all bothered and I live in a pretty ‘loyal’ part of Northern Ireland. There were a few ‘Wills and Kate’ banners and flags about, but that might only be because at this time of the year loyalist areas are busy putting flags up anyway. Otherwise, this could have been Leicester.

    Northern Ireland’s grassroots are still deeply sectarian, as you suggest Garibaldy, but at least we have legislation in place to try to combat it and culture which is ever mindful of bias (often fanatically so). On the other hand, the upper echelons of England are sectarian and it goes completely unremarked upon. So we have the peculiarity of a multicultural country that excludes Catholics, Muslims, Jews etc from holding the position of head of state. It probably would have been impolite to mention this on the day of the wedding, after all there were all those pressing questions about the wedding dress and cake to consider…

    Backwatersman, as you say there seems to be some distance between how the world is and how it’s mediated but still, the BBC, our national public service broadcaster, demonstrated once more that when the shit hits the fan it will readily leap to whatever tune is called by the 0.01% Charlie highlights as really, really caring about this stuff. All this pomp and ceremony services somebody’s purposes. Ultimately it looked to me like the occasion to get down and polish the old enchanted glass and try to reconstitute a version of English national identity that I find pretty repugnant – undemocratic, exclusive and irrational. Not the England I love at all.

  14. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    May 2, 2011 9:51 am

    When loopy Charlie, heir to the imperial throne, witters on about wanting to be ‘Defender of the Faiths when he gets the Big Job I suspect it puts the wind up those courtiers who actually do the day to day running of the Monarchy. & not because they are sectarian – or at least not mainly because they’re sectarian*.

    It’s because he would be pulling at a very long thread which might untangle all sorts of things that the Palace, the Civil Service and most conceivable occupants of No.10 would prefer not be untangled. Once the actual workings of this institution get pulled into the cold light of day and looked at in a ‘modernising’ context all sorts of untoward thoughts might start occurring to the oiks. Stuff like: ‘what’s the House of Lords for, exactly?’ Or ‘who do the Armed Forces swear allegiance too again’? Or even, ‘this separation of powers thing that the Yanks go on about – what’s that all about then?’.

    *The upper classes are certainly not any more ‘sectarian’ than the Ever So ‘Umble Loyal Masses on one key point: neither could contemplate a non white royal family member. In England colour trumps religion as a cause of discrimination every time.

  15. Rab permalink*
    May 2, 2011 10:13 am

    Thin edge of a large wedge? Certainly. I’m sure the notion of a non-white, muslim in a crown would terrify some sections of the establishment and their loyal subjects even more than President Blair.

    The Lords, the forces’ oath of allegiance, and broader constitutional questions are all central political issues but there monarchy exercises a sort of cultural power, which acts in concert with, and/or underscores the political privileges that monarchy upholds. This is what was on display last Friday. The Royal wedding was infuriating. At times in was hysterically funny and easy to mock but it was never benign. I’ve long thought that Liberals and the Left don’t really understand culture as well as the Right does.

  16. May 2, 2011 10:20 pm

    I think the Act of Settlement religion thing would probably go fairly quickly if it ever came to a prince of wales having a catholic girlfriend he wanted to marry. There are few people as keen to be part of the establishment as the English catholic leadership, so no chance of them rocking the boat.

    Just glad that the wedding will now be well and truly knocked off the front pages etc.

  17. Dr. Disco permalink
    May 3, 2011 9:24 pm

    Bah humbug. It was brilliant. Spent the evening in London the night before and took photos of all the flags and tents. And what does Orwell say about tents, eh? Eh?

  18. Rab permalink*
    May 5, 2011 7:18 am

    Not sure what Orwell said about tents but I know Tom Paine’s position on royalty.

  19. Philip Watson permalink
    May 16, 2011 8:34 pm

    Not having a television, I wasn’t troubled by the day’s events. Mrs W went to her friend’s place to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the frocks, and criticise the hats; meanwhile, I spent a useful and pleasant few hours working on the veggy patch. My swedes and leeks (particular favourites) are looking promising this year, so I’m happy.

  20. Rab permalink*
    May 17, 2011 6:40 am

    hello Philip,
    Happy is the man who hasn’t an TV on such dreadful occasions. My time would have been better spent tending to the tomato plants out our back. Living in a the relatively cool, sun starved north of Ireland, tomatoes take some tending.

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