Happy anniversary of the accession of the throne of Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith, everyone!

Posted on February 6, 2012


Today is the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. How did you celebrate? I had a lie-in at a friend’s house and then walked around in the snow and then got a train home and had some quiche for my tea. It’s been glorious.

The Queen, meanwhile, spent the day on a “low-key” tour of King’s Lynn and a Norfolk primary school. Real celebrations kick off in early June with a “pageant” and a 1000-boat parade down the River Thames.

But in times of recession and a growing mood of anti-authority anger, why is the Queen still so popular?

She does have a lot of things going for her – she’s old and small (some people seem to find this “cute”), she has a well-acknowledged political intuitiveness, and she supposedly possesses that tart upper-class sense of humour that the “common man” often seems to admire. “Oh really Philip, you didn’t expect anything less, did you?”

Elizabeth is the perfect definition of Britain’s 21st-century self-image. We like to think of ourselves as a bit unlikely, sympathetic, with a self-effacing modesty that barely hides the old British grandeur, imperial entitlement and that crushing sense of our own nostalgia. This might be the only way the British monarchy is directly representative of its people.

Despite Buckingham Palace’s attempts to re-brand “commoner” Kate Middleton as a salt of the earth, Durham miners’, sexy bitch-ornament – she’s not. (There are a number of explanations for this, but the best one is just to look at her mouth. The absence of lips is telling indeed.)

She has no lips, see? Photo credit: comrade foot

Middleton was a godsend to a royal family looking increasingly out of touch, haughty and a bit pointless. Scandal followed scandal; there was Prince Harry the posh Nazi bastard, Charles the adulterous, media-hating, arrogant arse, and Prince Philip.

And does nobody see something wrong with an institution whose main claim of relevance to modern society is that the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister is supposed to have an “upstaging arse?”

But I’m forgetting something. Despite the subservient political discourse, and misty-eyed nostalgia (most of it with little bearing to real-life), monarchists always pride themselves on the one joker left in their deck – tourism.

Tourist revenue is a common good that undercuts all republican arguments, they say, particularly in times like these: “If all those tourists weren’t buying plates with Princess Diana’s face on it, and all those nice Japanese people weren’t buying extra memory cards for their digital cameras because they’d already used three up outside Buckingham Palace doing kooky peace signs with their toes pointing inwards, where would it come from?”

But Britain isn’t seen from abroad principally as a monarchy, is it? It is seen as a place of history – and the monarchy is incidental to that.

This 2010 Telegraph article by Caroline Gammell demonstrates the unthinking acceptance of this tourism argument. The article’s sell – “Overseas tourists spend half a billion pounds a year visiting all things royal when they come to Britain, the first survey of its kind shows” – is a cop-out.

Apparently “all things royal” includes the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle as well as Buckingham Palace. (I suppose that makes Norfolk’s Dersingham Infant and Nursery School “royal” because the Queen walked about in it today.)

These are destinations whose touristic desirability would not decline significantly should Britain become a republic. Foreigners would still visit the castles, museums, National Trust homes and English Heritage ruins, pubs, restaurants and whatever else if the Queen stood down. So the monarchy doesn’t attract £500 million from overseas visitors, Britain does.

Indeed a 2008 VisitBritain survey found that the royals were by no means top of the list for outside visitors. The British Museum was the “culture and heritage” site with the most visits (5.9 million) – standing at the top of a list of 25 attractions, none of them definitely “royal.”

According to the survey, “it is no surprise to find that visiting places associated with the Royal Family/Monarchy is regarded as one of the best activities to do in Britain (ranked 3rd).” But – it admits – “there is some variation in how the activity is perceived by different nations.” Which is why there isn’t a royal destination on the above list.

With this in mind, amaze at the ability of our royalty to reduce intelligent British people to preaching subservient, absolutely nonsensical schmaltz. We love to mock the Americans for being so patriotic and so stupid, but apparently, we’re no better. Today, close friend to the Queen, Lady Penn, told the BBC how Elizabeth had been the “still small voice of calm in a really social revolution in this country over the last 60 years.”

Worse still was the BBC coverage of the royal wedding last year, featuring anchor Huw Edwards and historian Simon Schama. As I wrote on the “Big Day,” (sorry to quote myself but it’s easier than re-hashing):

Since when was it still acceptable to call someone “common?” The BBC’s coverage of the event […] used the word quite liberally. “We’re all commoners here,” declared Edwards as the royals began to descend on Westminster Abbey. He later theorised on the “concept of the commoner” with Schama, who, with starch-pressed knowledge and eloquence, happily joined in celebrating the presence of mini-buses as part of the grand procession to the wedding. The “coaches” (royalty intact) “makes the point,” said Schama. “They’re just like us.”

This was certainly a low-point in a day full of them. And there will be more this summer.

So I hope you will join me in completely ignoring the next anniversary of Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith.

Posted in: Politics