Britain's Deficient Democracy
The Winsor wedding
"Everybody” Loves a Wedding
But Feudal Institution Fails to Hold Nation Together
"From the 19th century . . . the farcical state of royal tradition was rectified, first by inventing new ones . . . and second through a campaign in the vulgar press to increase the popularity of the monarchy among British working people". Letter to Financial Times.
Barely a week after the Middleton/Windsor marriage the Scottish National Party achieved a majority in the Scottish parliament for the first time, promising a referendum on independence and demanding control of the Crown Estate in Scotland. Although it is far from certain that that Scotland will leave the UK the argument of monarchists and apologists for monarchy that the feudal institution unites the nation looked more than every like an excuse. But that did not stop them wishing away that part of the population that wants to replace monarchy with democracy.
There is no denying that the wedding spectacle was a marketing success for the monarchists. But that was not enough though for them. Like supporters of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya they hate to admit that there is anyone who really does not love the beloved leader. This made them strident in their certainties. The one third of the populations that wants to be free of the feudal institution and the majority that did not gaze in awe at the Windsor wedding had to disappear. A newspaper quoted "Steve Edge, a 53-year-old owner of a design agency, who said that 'subconsciously everybody loves' the monarchy, an institution he called the 'true brand of Englishness.' You can see it, he said, 'on days like today . . . with over a billion people watching'".
"At Williams IV’s funeral,mourners loitered, laughed, gossiped and sniggered within sight of the coffin”. From letter to the Financial Times
The police really did "disappear" some republicans, holding them in preventative detention. The Metropolitan Police practically made support for hereditary privilege compulsory on the day of the spectacle, declaring that the only acceptable attitude was "joy" and arresting a citizen who publicly declared his support for democracy.
It was no use looking to the news media for balance. The Financial Times, is usually a newspaper of high seriousness, with little space for anything else. On 29 April its Hugh Carnegy wrote that "As a news organisation whose main concern is business, finance and the world’s political economy, the need for the FT to commit to frontline coverage of violent conflict is limited". But it splashed the wedding spectacle across three pages. Even before the event it gave space for Labour MP Tristram Hunt to suggest bizarrely that the Left should embrace monarchy. Simon Schama, in the same newspaper. compared Britain’s ruling dynasty favourably with a number of violent dictators. In a classic false choice he concluded that by contrast the Windsor wedding spectacle was "at worst a harmless distraction; even perhaps worth a bit of a national knees-up".
"At Victoria’s coronation the clergy lost their place in the order of service, the choir was pitifully bad the Archbishop of Canterbury put the ring on one the Queen’s fingers that was too big for it".
Letter to the Financial Times
And it was not over when the wedding was over. Andrew Roberts, the British historian who lives in New York, used his FT diary to berate the New Yorker for daring to suggest that the British were ambivalent about the wedding and that taxpayers would be footing a bill of £:20m. From his American base Mr. Roberts informed us that 25m Britons had watched the show on TV, that there had been 5,500 street parties and that 800,000 people had "crammed the streets of London" for the parade.
Leaving aside the question of whether being entertained by a spectacle is the same as supporting hereditary privilege, these figures tell us that 36.8m people did not watch the show on TV. And if there were 25m viewers that was fewer than the number that watched the 1966 soccer world cup final.
Very many of the 800,000 said to be on the streets of London were tourists from proud republics enjoying the strange antics of the natives. Anyway in a London population of 7m, a crowd of even 800,000 meant that the vast majority found other ways to enjoy their day off work.
What self-respecting individual would want to be stand waiting for the exalted couple to pass in company with the eighteen year old quoted in the Washington Post as accepting the the title of "commoner" without protest and feeling honoured that a "royal" had married someone from this lower class of people?
As for the cost to the people, Mr. Roberts seemed not to have read the FT’s estimate that the public holiday declared for the wedding would cost the nation £:2.9bn. That leaves out of account the many millions of the people's money given to the Windsors each year, with which they paid their wedding expenses.
The digestive biscuit is much like the monarchy. You have it because it is there, because it is what you do, because were it not for the royal family and the digestive biscuit, the United Kingdom would be like AmericaWashington Post
Despite that the attraction of the spectacle for tourists, there were plenty of free hotel rooms to be had in London. The price gouging that the 2012 Olympics has brought was not viable for the wedding spectacle. And those who travelled into central London on the wedding day know, unlike Mr. Roberts in New York, that there were fewer travellers than on other public holidays. On commuter trains and the Tube there are rarely as many free seats.
If we generously allow for 500 citizens at each street party, a mere 2.75m took part in this activity. And they, no doubt, were also counted among the TV watchers. They also seemed to be heavily concentrated in southern England and in more prosperous areas, another blow for the theory that the feudal institution unifies.
There is no expectation that it should be particularly delicious; there is no expectation that life should be particularly delicious
Washington Post writer’s comments on how the digestive biscuit reflects the British attitude to life.
A common theme of commentators was that the attention that the spectacle drew to Britain had enhanced the country’s reputation around the world. It was repeatedly claimed that 2bn people had watched the show on TV. But this was an invented figure that was put out by monarchists before the event and infrequently challenged..
However many watched, what they watched was a celebration of hereditary privilege and democracy denied. It certainly did not engender universal respect for the British. The Washington Post reported compared the British to digestive biscuits, a favourite snack of the groom.
In the American Slate Mark Oppenheimer got it just right. "Good Americans" he wrote, "should not even consider them (the Windsors) royal". "One thing our founders got right" he went on, "was the banishment of titles … No nobility - what a noble sentiment. . . I come not to bury the English royal family, that sad tribe of oft-divorcing, panty-sniffing, plant-whispering non-intellectuals whose matriarch still embarrasses otherwise dignified countries like Canada and Australia by staring out from their money".
The British establisment was not embarassed. It still prefers the super-rich Windsors, living lives of privilege and great luxury paid for by the hard work of the people, to democrats who long for democracy and human equality. It bars republicans from public office, it slanders them in its news media, it ignores their contribution to freedom, and in its determination to pretend that they do not exist, it will even hold them in cells rather than allow a protest against monarchy. This was their day. But it was an embarassement to democracy.
The arrangements for George IV’s coronation included the employment of prize-fighters as bouncers to keep peace between the distinguished but belligerent guests”.
Letter to Financial Times
The Whole World Was Watching
How the Washington Post Saw It
The BBC reported more than 5,500 traditional street parties across the nation, with the wedding seeming to generate a patriotic fervour and a toast to the quirky notion of Britishness. Britons held duck races. They attended ":fancy-dress parties": where men wore women's clothes. They gorged on pork pies in the park and drank bitter Pimm's and lemonade. Why? Because that's how the British have fun.
Urwin and Kerney have decided to throw a party at Urwin's pub, Buffalo Bar, on Friday. It's called "[Expletive] the Royal Wedding" and will feature performances by a band formed just for the occasion, which has named itself "[Expletive] Off, [Idiomatic British Expletive] Off". The band has a special anti-wedding set list prepared, ending with the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" It's going to be, Urwin predicts, "our biggest night of the year".
For arcane reasons of protocol, the entire diplomatic corps is automatically invited, including the North Korean ambassador; for equally opaque reasons, ":royalty" from around the world - the king of Swaziland, for example - are also invited, whereas democratic heads of state, including President Obama, are not. Most bizarrely of all, former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are excluded, while former prime minister John Major is on the list (on the grounds that he is a knight of the Garter, if you really want to know). And Sir Elton John? He is attending because he is a personal friend of the family - so that explains it.
But some of the city - and this is what you can't say on television because it will ruin thebiggestweddingofthecentury - feels like . . . ":I just don't care about the wedding,": says Buddy Webb, who works as an orderly in a hospital. ":I just really could not care less.
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