Monthly Archives: June 2012

Some troubled thoughts on the Jubilee.

I need some help understanding. Why is it something to celebrate – Queen, country, flag, all that.
ESPECIALLY in Liverpool? Why is this bolshy, independent working class city so into the whole queen/flag shit?

I genuinely don’t get it. Aren’t the royal family mostly just a sort of embarrassing joke? That kind of hereditary power and wealth doesn’t make sense on any rational measure. As a system it is, put simply, “preposterous”. Supporters of the monarchy are the sort of people you know exist, but never really encounter in real life, like people who fox hunt, prefer ready salted crisps or vote for the Tories. Or so I thought, until this weekend…

We often see the argument that within the system we have, this Queen’s probably been quite good at it. I mean, she could have been worse. She’s got that wave down. We’ve been sold a personal story, through extended exposure and familiarity. But even accepting that, it doesn’t cut through the issues with that system

The other defence sometimes put up is that an elected president would be just as bad. Yknow: Bush, Sarkozy, President Blair… People who shudder at the thought are frankly right to do so. A few tinkers with the constitution and yet another election might be a tiny bit better (and I think the past few governments have been a bit daft to miss out easy quick wins to take out the more egregiously sexist and racist elements of it), but if we keep everything else to do with the system we have now, it’s pretty pointless. Having an elected neoliberal head of a capitalist state would make no difference to people’s lives. It’s like LibDem thinking, and we know where that gets us. The system we have is not good enough. The monarchy is a part of it (however a tiny part and an anachronistic irrelevance it seems at times). Any doubts about this being a systemic issue and the monarchy being on the other side must, surely, be squashed by this news story about unpaid stewards. I’ve even seen hopeful appeals to the imaginary, benign monarch: ‘does the Queen know about this?’ as though if she did she’d do anything to change it. Just as there was quite a sweet call to deny Royal Assent to the NHS reforms. Which, of course, she didn’t.

The nationalism thing is, of course, more complicated. I know, intellectually, that some people attach importance to ‘belonging’, and that the national prism is a pretty mainstream vehicle for that. I have to admit that as the child of immigrant, leftish but middle class parents, British/Englishness has never been that important to me. For the record, I’m not proud to be Irish either. I’m a citizen of the world! Those drawn-on borders & accidents of birth that make up our ‘imagined communities’ don’t mean anything to me. Of course, they mean a great deal, in practical and experiential terms, but that doesn’t stop them being a construct.

Having said that, I don’t think ‘don’t be proud to be of this nation because of all these awful things ruling classes did in past’ helps anyone. It reaffirms that essentialised identification along ‘national’ grounds and puts up people’s defences; guilt tends to be unproductive. We know what happens when someone tries to start a public conversation about slavery. BUT I think it’s crucial that we need to recognise that those awful things done by the ruling classes in the past (and present, and future) is what we’re being told to celebrate for the Jubilee. In an exclusionary society, with a brutally exclusionary history, there’s a lot not to celebrate, as articulated brilliantly by Black Feminists.

But the flags and the bunting, the street parties, the mugs with their faces on, the Jubilee-themed everything.

It’s a version of belonging that is so commodified we can buy our way into it. (In our version of consumer capitalism, nothing is safe, as Stavvers has bravely discovered). A bonus day off from our shit jobs (those of us who have them), overindulgence, a false nostalgia for an imaginary past (On Twitter, @mortari created #youin52 as a sinister reminder of what kind of society some people are nostalgic for), maybe a dash of knowing irony. It’s just such blatant bread and circuses tactics I can’t believe anyone is going for it, even if we do all need a bit of fun in our bloody miserable lives.

So why, Liverpool, why? It’s the most deprived city in England, with the highest unemployment, and is being profoundly affected by the austerity agenda. It’s not even as though there isn’t an understanding in the city of its situation as political – between the Tory policy of ‘managed decline’ and an appreciation of tabloid class hate. It’s a city that, last year, celebrated its radical history – but is that just the bourgeois arts establishment? It’s also a city full of Irish-descended Catholics, with (some of) the exploitative experiences of Empire inscribed upon their ‘national’/’ethnic’ histories – or so I thought – and who are expressly forbidden from joining this ruling family. And yet, there were street parties across Liverpool – almost 200 in Merseyside (including, gallingly, in my street. Celebrations held in schools, nurseries, hospitals – all the sorts of places most threatened. Is this what they mean by cognitive dissonance? 

If anyone has any clues, I would be genuinely interested to hear them.