Queen’s Jubilee Flummery, Boris Johnson’s Desperate Rebranding

Photograph Source: sasastro from Suffolk – Newmarket Jubilee Parade & Party-005 – CC BY 2.0

A hereditary monarch is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary doctor or mathematician.

 – Thomas Paine

When she became Queen, Britain still had loads of colonies and she seemed fine with that. Then that largely stopped and she also seemed fine with that. Analysis of all the mutually contradictory things she has seemed fine with over her exceptionally long reign isn’t going to help the country and is very unfair on an elderly woman who has handled the frankly surreal circumstances of her existence with stoicism and dignity.

David Mitchell

Mercifully, I was not in Ukania for the queen’s 70th anniversary as the reigning monarch. If I was, I’d spend the extra holidays in a pub with my republican pals, rather than focus on the endless media obsequies.

In any event this jubilee represents a sombre occasion for my family.

On 3 July 1953, when Princess Elizabeth was crowned as queen, we lived in a then British colony. (Elizabeth became queen the moment her father, King George VI, died on 6 Feb, 1952, though her Coronation took place in 1953.)

On Coronation Day in 1953 my 4-year-old younger brother Patrick was seriously ill in hospital with diphtheria. His lungs were clogged with fluid, which could only be unblocked with a manually operated device (these days such devices are of course electronic and monitored by computer).

As Patrick’s lips turned blue my mother, who was with him, hunted desperately for a nurse to clear his lungs. The nurses’ station had no nurses on duty.

Apparently, most of the hospital staff had been given the day off to celebrate the Coronation. My frantic mother (forever an ardent fan of the royal family) found a nurse eventually, in another ward, but by then it was too late for Patrick.

Which only poses the question: what is at stake, and for whom, when such officially-orchestrated events, with their attendant and incessant media hype, take place? We can be sure there were thousands of others in the British Empire who were grief-stricken like my mother on Coronation Day in 1953.

But media-focused flummery is the order of the day in 2022.

The pivot of attention was the celebratory service in St Paul’s Cathedral, at which the queen was not present— the festivities of the previous day attended by her had tired her out. It was more comfortable for her to watch her show on TV, and who can blame any 96-year-old for doing this?

Also not in attendance was the queen’s favourite child, the disgraced Andrew, said to be recovering from Covid.

Meghan Markle, dutifully accompanied by her husband Harry, made what was deemed a low-key reentry into the royal family after a 2-year absence, and quickly became the centre of tabloid-driven attention, albeit short-lived because of the incessant 24/7 news cycle, when she arrived in London. Each succeeding Jubilee event monopolized the news cycle for its proverbial 15 minutes or so.

The queen also passed on the Jubilee concert the next day. It featured Rod Stewart, Brian May of Queen, Elton John via video, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alicia Keys, Duran Duran (as a concession to “younger” tastes), with Diana Ross as the closing act. Most music commentators complimented Her Majesty on declining to appear at an event that barely deserved to be called a “concert”.

Of more potential political import were the loud boos and jeers which greeted Boris “BoJo” Johnson when he entered the cathedral for the Jubilee Thanksgiving. This was a staunchly royalist crowd, many camping overnight for a good vantage point, who would normally have a reflexively tribal affiliation with the Tory party.

BoJo read one of the lessons at the service (from Philippians 4:8): “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right … think about such things”.

Many on all forms of media noted that whoever chose the readings for the service, BoJo’s especially, had a profound sense of humour.

BoJo being booed by his own side was seen by some commentators as a particularly damning verdict on his prime ministership.

BoJo was caught lying to the queen (over Brexit) — small potatoes for those of us who have long been accustomed to his inveterate lying, but something amounting to treason for royalists. Lying to plebs can be forgiven, but lying to Her Maj is the horror of horrors for diehard royalists.

The jubilee celebration could only be personal—as a country Ukania had nothing to celebrate.

The NHS is on its knees, thanks to Tory cuts, and Brexit causing many staff from EU countries to leave the service and return home. It has “lost” 25,000 beds, and an astounding 14 million patients face delayed surgery, including 300,000 for heart ailments.

A third of its general practitioners say they plan to leave the NHS in the next 4 years, citing intrusive bureaucracy and disheartenment at the terms and conditions of their work.

Where crime is concerned, police failure to investigate burglaries has increased twofold, and prosecutions for rape have plunged by 70%. In the final quarter of 2021, 96 criminal trials were aborted for lack of a judge, against just 4 the year before. The judicial system is a shambles.

Brits have had to cancel their already paid-for summer vacations because the privatized passport office took months to deliver their new passports. Processing visas for Ukrainian refugees has been scandalously slow for the same reason.

Crossing the Channel at Dover requires a minimum wait of 4 hours.

The Tory privatizations since Mrs Thatcher have been a bust.

Half the children’s homes in England are now in the clutches of offshore private equity operators, raking in profits from their ability to fleece local councils by charging exorbitant fees with no fear of regulation while the Tories are in power.

The civil service has been pared to the bone, with more staff cuts in the offing. BoJo wants to cut the civil service workforce by a fifth, amounting to 91,000 jobs, in a misguided attempt to “save taxpayer money” in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis. Services managed by the civil service are becoming increasingly substandard, and will decline further when the latest cuts take effect.

In the midst of these cuts BoJo just increased the staff of Chequers, the prime ministerial country retreat, where he is reported to spend more than his predecessors in living memory.

For the sybaritic BoJo, the pleasures of life have always been an absolute priority.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.