Monday 6 June 2022

Monarchy may be the self-destruct button for the UK


It is possible, as a few outliers have suggested, that ‘Keith’ Starmer didn’t really mean to say that it was our ‘patriotic duty’ to celebrate the Jubilee over the weekend, but I somehow doubt that he was particularly dismayed at the way most of the mainstream media, including the Telegraph for whom he wrote an article on the question, reported him as having said exactly that. Certainly, his Shadow Culture Secretary has been quick to jump on the bandwagon and claim that Labour is now the party of true patriots. Patriotism may, or may not, be ‘the last refuge of the scoundrel’ as a different Johnson from a different century put it, but it inevitably provokes questions as to what it means.

Labour seem to be defining it around support for what they refer to as “world-leading” institutions, and what they refer to as British values, such as “integrity, decency and honesty” and “tolerance, openness and generosity”. It’s impossible to argue that those aren’t values worth defending and promoting, and even taking a certain amount of pride in – but there’s nothing uniquely ‘British’ about any of them. And anyone with any degree of self-awareness would struggle to claim that they are values which the UK in the twenty-first century is actually displaying to the world. Those who claim (and we must include Labour in this) that these values are somehow ‘British’ and therefore ‘world-leading’ are crossing the line from harmless patriotism into dangerous exceptionalism, and implicitly claiming some sort of superiority for the nation or state to which they belong. It’s a step too far for many of us.

The institutions in which they tell us we must take pride include the monarchy itself, despite the fact that this great ‘unifying’ institution, whilst it might currently enjoy majority support, is slowly becoming irrelevant to increasing numbers, a trend likely only to accelerate after the inevitable departure of the current incumbent in the not-too-distant future. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with a certain amount of patriotism, nor with the idea that the state itself should encourage it, but in hitching itself to one particular definition of what that means – and a definition which is recognised mostly by a demographic which time and reality is slowly eroding – Labour is in danger of placing itself on the wrong side of history. Again.

They’re not unique in that, of course. For those who see only that which is and not the potential of what might be (another category in which we must include the Labour Party), the monarchy is as natural as sunlight. Perhaps for those who become adopted citizens of the UK, it really does look as though the nation is defined by the monarchy; certainly the omnipresence of it and its symbols seems to be a key part of the citizenship process. And probably for those involved in the celebrations – and especially those at the very core – let alone those whose awareness of it all was ‘informed’ by media coverage, it may well appear to have united communities, people and ‘the nation’. They are highly unlikely, in the course of their organising and participating, to have come face to face with the views of avowed republicans, even if not a few of the latter will have quietly participated in the festivities, either for the sake of communal harmony or even just because they fancied an outdoor party. But defining ‘the nation’ in terms of those who support the monarchy is defining it in a way which is, ultimately, exclusive not inclusive.

This isn’t about Scotland and Wales on the one hand and England on the other (although it is notable that antipathy, or even simply apathy, towards royalty is more prevalent in Scotland and Wales); there are plenty of people in England who will also feel that such a definition of ‘the nation’ is one that they are just not part of. It is true, though, that in Wales and Scotland there is an alternative vision available if people choose it, something which people in England will struggle to find, especially with a Labour Party apparently trying to prove itself even more committed to a backward-looking view of Britain that the overtly nationalist Tory Party. It’s yet another indication that the long-held view of many independentistas that the Union will eventually be destroyed by England’s exceptionalism rather than by the demands of its Celtic possessions may be correct.


Gav said...

It is indeed annoying to be told that the monarchy is a unifying institution when it patently isn't. However there is I think a good argument that over the last 70 years we [yes I know "who's we?" and all that] have been quite lucky to have had a King Log (or Queen Log, if you like) in post.

dafis said...

Interesting comment from Willie, the man who would be Prince of Wales, when addressing the mob on Saturday. Referring vaguely to football, he said that this is the year when "it comes home", that same old same old English refrain that suggests they own the World Cup. I don't recall him being so enthusiastic after Wales had eliminated Ukraine from the same competition yesterday. As Prince of Wales or the heir to that title he should be a touch more enthusiastic about the team. There again they don't wear his feathers like the other sycophantic bunch.

Spirit of BME said...

Good post.