Wednesday , June 19 2024
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A breadless circus

Like most of my countrymen and women, tomorrow I will be doing anything but tuning in to the circus that is the Royal wedding.  This is not because I have anything against the young couple themselves – both strike me as decent individuals (although that is, perhaps, a luxury afforded to the rich and privileged).  Nor am I in any hurry to see Britain become a republic (we’re having enough trouble with Brexit just now).  I am simply indifferent.

The trouble – for the British elite – is that I am not alone.  Far from it; according to a YouGov poll for the Huffington Post, just 30 percent of Britons are interested in the Royal wedding.  The other 70 percent, like me, simply couldn’t care less.

For what it is worth, this is one issue where both sides of the Brexit debate are united.  Two-thirds of remain and leave voters (66% and 68%) said they were not interested in the Royal wedding.  Sex was the only indicator that produced a significant difference, with 45 percent of women expressing interest compared to just 16 percent of men.  Interest also rose slightly with age.

Importantly, the results do not reflect British attitudes to the monarchy itself.  A majority (55%) still think the monarchy is a good thing, while just 14 percent think it is a bad thing… so no republic anytime soon.  This could change when the current monarch dies – which, since she is 92 year old, could happen any day now.  Few people alive today can remember a time when the current queen was not head of state; most of those few who can, remember her as Princess Elizabeth.  And by keeping her head down, she has successfully made the monarchy something that is just taken for granted.  In the course of her reign she has had 14 Prime Ministers (starting with Churchill) and seen 13 US Presidents (starting with Truman).  The instability that follows her passing may well change British attitudes toward the monarchy.  In another YouGov poll, of those supporting the monarchy, a full 92 percent said they like the current queen.  In contrast, just 52 percent said they like her current heir (himself 69 years old).

For now, the monarchy as an institution looks safe enough.  One reason for this might be the current example across the Atlantic of what can happen when you ditch a monarchy in favour of an elected president.  Moreover, even if a President May or a President Corbyn had better manners than the current incumbent of the White House, they would be equally unappealing to the other side.  In the current climate, adopting a president would be akin to having a Brexit referendum – with all the division and vitriol that goes with it – every four or five years.

Our indifference to the latest Royal wedding is further evidence that we are a highly divided nation.  As with the Brexit referendum, the surprising surge in favour of Corbyn last year and the recent opposition to Theresa May’s missile strike on Syria, the Royal wedding demonstrates once again just how divorced those within the “Westminster Village” are from the wider population.

Every mainstream paper and TV and radio channel has been ramping up its cheerleading in a failing attempt to rally the masses to the spectacle.  The government – no doubt seeking to divert attention from (among many other things) the dog’s breakfast it is making of the Brexit negotiations – has implemented changes to the licensing laws so that the working masses can enjoy a state-endorsed hangover on Sunday morning.  In short, the Royal wedding is a classic example of the bread and circuses that have been used to distract the lower classes since at least Roman times.

The problem with this latest attempt at bread and circuses, however, is that there is a distinct absence of bread.  Indeed, not only are millions of users dependent upon charitable handouts from a network of foodbanks that barely existed before the Tories came to power in 2010; but those foodbanks are themselves running out of food.  While official employment figures are high, this is only because the figures are fiddled so that anyone who does at least 1 hour’s work or training per week is counted as employed.  In a similar manner, the slight increases in the average wage that the government trumpets as positive economic news only occur because inequality is now so great that a pay rise for those at the top is sufficient to cancel the impact of pay stagnation and cuts at the bottom.

At a time when children are fed bread and water because they cannot afford school diners, and when charitable teachers buy sanitary products to give to female students whose families can no longer afford them, should we really be surprised that the overwhelming majority of us couldn’t give a toss about a £32m plus wedding that one way or another the British public will be paying for?

Arranging a circus in which the masses get to pay for the bread that the rich get to consume might not be the smartest thing to do at a time when Britain is sliding into a socio-economic malaise worse than any witnessed in the industrial age.  As I pointed out last autumn:

 “However, before they patronise everyone with the latest version of Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” as a rich person’s solution to bread shortages, they might want to consider the damage that those people have already wreaked upon the British elite.

“It is precisely those communities that have had their faces ground into the dirt for the best part of 40 years that tipped the balance in favour of the economically disastrous and administratively paralysing vote to leave the European Union.  It was their counterparts in the USA who chose to inflict Donald Trump on the world rather than put up with any more business as usual.  And that is just the start…”

The unifying role that the British monarchy once played is no longer working.  For now this is translating into indifference.  However, if Britain’s elite continues along its current path while their tame propagandists in the Westminster bubble continue to pretend that hungry children have all the bread they need, one way or another that indifference is going to turn to anger.  When it does, so-called extremists like Trump and Farage and Corbyn and Sanders are going to start looking like political moderates.  But by then there’s going to be guillotines in the town square.

As you made it to the end…

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