Long to rain over us

Well, thank God that’s all over: the longest Bank Holiday of my life. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee turned out to be a good weekend for publicans, but much less so for republicans. At times during the dampened pageantry, feudal circumstance and flag-waving fever I genuinely felt quite alone. Out of step. Locked out of the love-in. It was an odd feeling. I had no interest in last year’s Royal Wedding, but it only lasted a day and was easily avoided. This loop of God Save The Queen and hip-hip-hoorays ran from Saturday to Tuesday, each day festooned with itinerary highlights and spectacles to ring round in the commemorative Radio Times. Street parties, flypasts, parades, concerts, bonfires, unpaid stewards, rosy-cheeked children, face-painted adults, those plastic Union Jack hats with elastic under the chin, Union Jack bunting unfurled, Union Jack cava uncorked … I saw a woman walking down our street with two flags attached to either side of her head, as if she was a car during the World Cup. I wished the neighbours good weather for their street jamboree – kitchen tables in the road, official roadblock, cars cleared – although I’m afraid they didn’t get it.

I don’t seek outsider status. I never felt that much like a rebel, or an outcast, growing up. Even when I had uncompromising hair in the mid-80s. Voting for Neil Kinnock in 1987 and 1992 felt nominally out of sync with the consensus – an act of rebellion in its own, NME-sponsored way. My views on certain issues have become rather entrenched and extreme in the past ten years, I admit, but we won’t go there. Politically, I was disenfranchised by New Labour and the Iraq war and it felt at the time like a pretty permanent situation. I had no idea just how repulsive a subsequent Tory government might be. But I’m hardly alone in this assessment. If the Spectator is going after Cameron and Osborne, it’s hardly storming the barricades to decry them as remote, self-serving, silver-spoon-fed buffoons.

But the Jubilee? I have been seriously overwhelmed by the apparently universal waves of approbation for the Queen. It’s as if the nation has been drugged and somehow I find myself mysteriously immune. A million people, “subjects”, subjecting themselves to the humiliation and inconvenience of attending a public event in London at a time of heightened security and threatened rain, with no guarantee that they’ll actually see the Queen? I did my level best to avoid the TV coverage, but saw the worst of it on Channel 4 News, which maintained a certain distance, but nonetheless covered all aspects of the festivities. It would be idiotic to deny that hundreds of thousands of people – and not all of them with the commonsense waiver of tourism – had a fantastic time at the boat thing and the pop concert and the Waitrose garden party and what looked a protest march up the Mall but was actually an act of self-kettlement and had no complaint. All those people walking up a pedestrianised road to watch the Royal Family on a balcony on large video screens, erected by the Greater London Assembly and thus paid for by the cash-strapped citizens of the most expensive city in Britain. I did as London Transport advised me to and avoided Central London for four days.

What got into people? I don’t mean to mock or to undermine, I merely ask the question. It’s clear that any shade of republicanism at a time of public holiday and extra drinking is unwelcome. I typed a few incendiary Tweets, but I did not take to the streets to wave a placard. I sincerely believe, as previously stated, that the Royal Family should be privatised for tourism, and that the 86-year-old Queen and the 91-year-old Duke should be allowed a peaceful retirement. Their eldest son, too. By all means call William a “King” but strip him of all constitutional powers (I heard someone on the news last night reminding us that the monarch has important political duties, to open Parliament and to choose Prime Ministers, but this is bollocks, she doesn’t, and shouldn’t anyway, have any democratic leverage) and let him generate tourist money for a PLC. If we replaced the Queen with an elected head of state, one who was re-elected every four or five years, I could live with that. This person might not be able to command a nation to wave OK!-sponsored flags and shout “Long live the Queen” from behind crash barriers to the news cameras, but it would stop this country looking like a museum exhibit. Even in the edited highlights, I grew weary of seeing grown men and women, but mostly men of course, dressed in garters and braid and wearing impractical headgear. Dressing up is fun, but these costumes smack of the Tudors, and The Tudors is a period drama on telly. How embarrassing that people still look like this on state occasions. I am a great fan of the state, but not on days like this.

Which brings me to my final moan. I am not a spoilsport. Ordinary people deserve a day off now and again. This is not about how much money it cost – although you can expect the pre-Jubilee estimates to spiral upwards as the true charges come in – but the simple equation at the heart of it: we, the people, saying “Thanks!” to a woman who had no choice but to take the job in 1952, for not jacking it in, or dying, in the meantime. At least other celebrities who have us gathered in large numbers, cheering and spending our money, give us a bit of themselves. We do not, and cannot, know this woman, or her family. She is, by definition and design, remote. Perhaps she should have our sympathy as well as our respect and admiration. Though her daily life is not enviable, she is considerably richer than even some of David Cameron’s old schoolmates. She likes horses and dogs, we know this much, but spends most of her life waving, travelling and dressing up, and not with her horses and dogs. It’s a waste of a life. And now her husband has caught an infection, which must have royally ruined her weekend, and all because he was made to stand in the rain and cold for four hours on a Saturday while some boats went past.

Meanwhile, the killing joke, unpaid “subjects” from Plymouth, Bath and Bristol who had slept under a bridge and had to change into their steward’s uniforms in the street, worse high-viz jackets so as to stop other “subjects” moving freely about public streets. Good on John Prescott for demanding an investigation in the company that hired them.

When I was an NME-reading idealist, I would have assumed that the musicians I admired would no more play for the Queen than to play Sun City. But on Sunday night, nearly all of them did, or so it seemed. Statues, in my utopian vision, were to be kicked over. Serfdom was a thing of the past. I was knocked back on Twitter for expressing my dismay that Madness would lend their talent and reputation to such an event as the Diamond Jubilee Concert, but I can’t help it. I’ve just always had them down as occupiers of the left field rather than the establishment. What I have discovered is that the battle lines have been moved. It’s now fine to support the monarchy (and by extension our attachment to the long-gone Empire and all its ceremonial trappings and honours), but still be a bit left wing. I mean, we expect those who’ve accepted a knighthood – Cliff, Elton, Macca, Tom – to bow and scrape before the monarch who tapped them on the shoulder with a sword (does she actually do that?), and even excuse the likes of Robbie and Gary, who must be angling for similar royal appointment in the future, but where do Madness fit in? Sir Suggs? Sir Woody? Sir Chas? What about Ed Sheeran? Is he, too, a royalist? (He’s 21, so perhaps he has yet to formulate any political opinions?) As for the comedians, of whom I definitely ask too much, I guess they’re in the noble tradition of Billy Connolly, Spike Milligan and Ben Elton in cosying up to the Royals, and that doing the Jubilee Concert is no worse than doing the Royal Variety Show. But I expect my satirists to stay outside the tent so that they can urinate in, and find the acceptance of orders of the British Empire antagonistic to this important position. Should I stop worrying about all this?

At one end of the scale there’s Melanie Philips in the Mail – a paper whose post-flotilla coverage even outstripped the Telegraph‘s 17 unbroken pages – claiming a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat at the flag-waving multitude on the banks of the Thames; at the other end there’s Owen Jones, a young man prepared to nail his colours to the mast and declare himself a republican on telly. I’m at the Jones end of the spectrum, but it’s lonely out here.


19 thoughts on “Long to rain over us

  1. I have no issue at all about your Republican stance but Madness…talent…really 😉 I mean compared with the rest of the line up they (did) have some kudos and integrity/credence but talent…. never! In all honesty though I have to say I never did get them, My early teens were spent with the JAMC, Echo and the Bunnymen and The The.
    My late teenager years were injected with a mixture of Stourbridges’s finest etc but all this time I was annoyed by Madness, they always seemed to be the band that the mainstream music likers thought gave them cool ( I am not claiming at any point in this comment however that I ever precieved myself as cool, because I didn’t).
    It is a bit like Coldplay now (or Muse/Snowplough), mainstream music lovers (nowt wrong with it just a fact) think Coldplay etc are a bit edgy and desperately use them as a badge of cringe inducing honour.
    Wow I think I have compared Madness with Coldplay best be gone!

  2. What a relief to read this. I totally agree – I didn’t join any Republican marches though, because:

    a) It seemed a bit churlish to spoil the day, however minutely, for others

    b) I have a strong feeling that angry royalists are more vicious than even the hungriest of beagle packs

    c) It was raining.

    To think that the Monarchy was at its most unpopula for years when Diana died – where did it all go right (for them?)

    Many thanks for a good read.

  3. I found it quite easy to be indifferent. I stuck with 6Music, as I invariably do, so missed any of radio Jubilee coverage. I don’t watch much live TV so missed the Jubilee news there. And round our way the only thing I attended that had bunting was a tea party, but that was a local community fundraiser rather than any royal forelock-tugging thing.
    However I am aware that people did turn out for all the hoo-ha and like Andrew I do find myself surprised by the widespread enthusiasm for all things royal. No person should feel the need to bow to another person, for any reason at all, let alone because of an accident of birth. And for the simple fact that seemingly intelligent people get sucked into doing so is reason enough for me to ditch the whole thing.
    What these last few days have revealed is that that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

    As for Madness, I always had them down as a fairly conservative (small c) bunch who liked to make a buck. I quite like them (my first ever LP was their debut) but they were always pop stars first & foremost.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    If it’s any consolation though, I think you are not alone. I mean, I think you’re part of a minority – but it is probably more significant than the wall-to-wall sycophancy from the media leads us to believe (did you see The Guardian front page on Saturday, trying to put some left-wing spin on the Queen as not subject to the market. Hooray for her, then).

    I was also pretty sad to hear John Lydon say that he was not being anti-monarchy when he sang ‘God Save The Queen’ in ’77. Really, I think he probably was, but only because it seemed to fit in with the class divided aspect of the time. Now any kind of republican political project looks quaint – because a monarchy is fine now. It’s all fine now – as evidenced by Paul McCartney et al at the concert (do you think John Lennon would’ve been there too, had he been alive? Maybe not since he did refuse a knighthood or something, didn’t he?)


    I recognised and accosted you at a busy train station once sometime last year. Sorry about that!

  5. My Father-in-Law passed away on Monday so it was a weird experience seeing millions of people incredibly happy while coming to terms with the events of the day. I think the both ends of the emotional spectrum were seen in our house that day.

  6. If being Britain’s head of state is so unimportant that it can be left to accidents of birth, why don’t we just pick a random eighty year old and make them king or queen until they die, at which point we can pick another one? They can turn it down, obviously. I mean, why not do that? And in any case all this “What’s the alternative? President Blair?” stuff is just nonsense. In its embodiment of The Establishment, the monarchy is absolutely a political organisation. For one thing it is the number one agent acting to preserve and promote the monarchy. Anyone who thinks the Queen doesn’t have and use political influence is a fool. Remind me what this weekend was really all about again… We’ve got a new Princess with a nose job now. Sorry, Diana who?

    That said, I still don’t care whether we keep them or get rid. And I’m not sure that it’s really a Left / Right thing. I mean I’m sure there are many more anti-royalists on the Left, but there are plenty on the Left who are not anti-royalists and there always have been. And I’m not even sure I’d have placed Madness much to the left of centre anyway. There was always a gawd-bless-yer-ma’am element to their music. It’s not an exact science but I’ll grant a pass to anyone who’s old enough to remember the coronation. Macca turns 70 in a couple of weeks doesn’t he? (Is he richer than the Queen? I hope so.) For what it’s worth I reckon Lennon would have played too. (His oft-mentioned returning of the MBE wasn’t an anti-royalist statement after all. And he was a shameless hypocrite.) But what was Elton doing there?! Did he do Candle In The Wind? Beacon In The Wind?

    Anyway, you’re right – this weekend has been awful. Well, awfully long. And kind of depressing. Yes, I am a killjoy, as it happens. But if you wanted a party you could have just had one. You don’t have to wait to be told by someone who – let’s face it – wouldn’t like you even if she met you. So many flags waved and no satisfactory answer to the simple question: why?

  7. “But I expect my satirists to stay outside the tent so that they can urinate in, and find the acceptance of orders of the British Empire antagonistic to this important position. Should I stop worrying about all this?”

    No, please don’t. It’s important.

    After reading this terrific post, I don’t feel so alone.

  8. As for the funeral of Diana and the marriage of William, I got out of the country for the whole ‘bread and circuses’ charade. The rehabilitation of the appalling Prince Harry as some sort of twinkly national hero/heart throb has been (for me) the most depressing element of all here – is there no limit to what people will swallow?
    Anyway, you’re not alone, far from it. Thanks for that piece.

  9. Oh good. I was beginning to worry that it was just me.
    I tend to leave Sky News on while having lunch or while doing the cryptic crosswords and soon got sick of the whole thing.
    As I am also averse to true life crime, shark documentaries and re-runs of Friends and Top Gear I ended up turning to the channel TV5 and leaving a French detective film on as background because it was unlikely to feature any flag-waving. Or Jeremy Clarkson. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but at least it calmed me down.
    Keep up the good work!

  10. You are not alone. Thanks for describing just how I have felt about the whole bloody episode of mass hysteria. It angers me that it took this ultimately meaningless event fuelled by a media frenzy, to inspire patriotism and flag-waving in so many people and to get them onto the streets of London. It’s a real shame that they weren’t as motivated to march the streets to fight the cuts to our public services or to stop the NHS reforms, or to preserve the things that really ought to fill us with national pride.

  11. You are not alone. Thanks for describing just how I have felt about the whole bloody episode of mass hysteria. It angers me that it took a meaningless event fuelled by a media frenzy to inspire patriotism and flag-waving in so many people and to get them onto the streets of London. It’s a real shame that they weren’t as motivated to march the streets to fight the cuts to our public services or to stop the NHS reforms, or to preserve the things that really ought to fill us with national pride.

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