What the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth’s death tells us about 2022 Britain
The death of Queen Elizabeth II pressed the pause button on civic life in Britain. The issues thundering deafeningly over the heated summer; inflation, impending fuel doom and Liz Truss’ custodianship of a spluttering Tory party have all disappeared from the news cycle. Instead, the political, social and commercial institutions of Britain have entered their own self-imposed lockdown. Between the date of death and the day of funeral Britain mourns, whether the populace agrees with it or not. Business is not as usual.
As ever in these events, it is highly doubtful whether Cadbury’s Chocolate or Shell Energy have any true feelings of empathy towards the departed Queen. But to make a statement about how much Her Late Majesty’s death has affected you is the thing to be done, and to not be seen doing it would be very bad form indeed. Therefore, branded Twitter accounts from leviathan multinationals down to the seediest of sex saunas are outlining exactly what that meant to them and how they will be commemorating the mourning period and the funeral. In many ways, the whole thing has been very touching. Not because of the shallow corporate grief of course; rather, because of the multitudinous small and unprompted personal displays of mourning.
Naturally not everyone on this sceptre’d isle shares the sense of loss and grief. No sooner had Her Majesty departed her earthly realm than footage was posted of a bar in Liverpool where the patrons were gleefully ringing a bell and shouting “the Queen’s dead.” Fans of the team that bears the city’s name, usually so keen to observe grief protocols, were heard chanting during a minute’s silence – promptly cut to 25 seconds – before their game against Ajax on the 14th of September. It seems the denizens of Liverpool will not excessively be mourning their sovereign.
It may seem trite to extrapolate a national reaction to the passing of Queen Elizabeth through the prism of sports fans, but in the safety of the stadium there is wisdom in crowds. Absent church and community, spectator sports allow communal thought and action. White working-class British men don’t go to chapel anymore. But many of them do go to St. James’ Park, Ibrox and The Hawthorns – as well as a hundred other assorted stadia. Over the past ten days, clubs and fans throughout Britain have taken it as a matter of intense pride to observe the mourning period in all its dignity (or to reject it outright in the case of Celtic and Liverpool).
It wasn’t only the stadia of Britain that were party to enflamed passions, however. As the Queen’s funeral cortege passed through the silent streets of Edinburgh, a young man took it upon himself to berate Prince Andrew, following the hearse, for his alleged sexual indiscretions. When the man was forcibly removed from the crowd by two burly private citizens and into the arms of the Scottish Police who arrested him for Breach of the Peace, the same left-wing commentators who smugly remind those prosecuted under Section 127 of the Communications Act (2003) that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences suddenly became dyed-in-the-wool free speech activists. Appalled Guardianistas, BBC reporters and even ‘libertarian Tories’ like David Davis opined in outraged tones that “Britain cherishes free speech.” Quite where this delusion comes from is unclear, as the Crown Prosecution Service now prosecutes hundreds of people a year for the crime of being mean on Twitter.
Perhaps the most telling aspect about the Queen’s passing, however, came from the crowds outside Buckingham Palace on the evening of her death – the first to sombrely sing ‘God Save The King’ for more than 70 years. It was difficult not to notice that these people were overwhelmingly white – as was the crowd who turned up to hear the acclamation of King Charles III, and the football fans belting out the anthem after a long minute of silence. Not old, necessarily, nor rich – but certainly white. That this is the case should be no surprise. Despite what TV advertising wants to suggest, Britain is still majority white, and a healthy majority at that. As with the Jubilee in June, the fragmented classes of Britain came together in moments of national import. The mourning period has shown that the British populace can still fulfil their end of the bargain. To see personal displays of respect paid in a way that is not ostentatious or self-serving has been hugely refreshing.
One such personal tribute came in the form of a dapper young man named William Single. Just 18 years old, and on his own in the big smoke having departed Coventry at 5 am, Mr. Single gave a short interview with PA News outside Buckingham Palace expressing that he had brought himself to London to say thank you “because she served for 70 years and worked every day of her life.” To the gregarious Twitter commentariat raised on a diet of irony, screeching and selfishness, of course, this was an act too far. They promptly made fun of him for his tie, his hair and his surname out of sheer ressentiment and pettiness, which ultimately showed just where Britain’s unhappiness truly lies. Atomised and isolated, these people cannot envision being part of something so important as a nation. They look through the windows of the cottage from the darkness of the forest and are filled with rage to see a homely hearth and an ordered, comfy room. Like the vampire they cannot enter, so throw effluent at the windows and urinate on the threshold. Unpleasant to those within, but certainly not tempting them to join the unhappy few on the outside.
Whilst the largely white, urban and affluent media commentators tied themselves in knots trying to refrain from saying something career-ending toxic within the first twenty-four hours (and then, upon seeing the mood of the nation deciding to couch their criticisms in deontic modalities, “whilst it is terribly sad, surely it would be better if…”), Black Twitter showed no such reserve. Perhaps the worst comment of all came before the Queen had even died. In a viral tweet, Professor Uju Anya of Carnegie Mellon University said that she has “heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” The comment lacked all the subtlety and nuance one might expect from a Trotskyite Wakandan professor in a modern American University, and was quickly zapped by Twitter mods (who almost certainly wholly agree with the sentiment), but the race-baiter was unbowed. More troubling than one insane linguistics lecturer was the number of retweets, likes and messages of approval, many from Britain – mostly in London – with the flag of their Caribbean or African nation in their handle.
Meanwhile in Leicester, a sectarian war is brewing between Indian Hindus and Pakistani Muslims. I suspect the conflict is not over who cherishes the memory of our sovereign lady the most. In ‘The Queue’, hundreds of thousands of people behaved in an exemplary and dignified way as they lined up to pay their last respects. Of course, some trouble came from a man named Muhammad Khan who rushed towards the Queen’s coffin only to be nailed by Policemen in tunics, as well as from Adio Adeshine, accused of sexually assaulting people queuing. This is not to suggest that all white people are pro-monarchy or that no ethnic minorities are, but that Britain in 2022 is extremely divided on the issue.
Clearly, a gulf is irrevocably opening in this country between the newest arrivals and those who have been here for longer. Despite the best efforts of the education system and the government, many young Black and Minority Ethnic youths hold no affinity for our country, history, or customs. On the 10th of September in Central London, encouraged by Hope Not Hate and Black Lives Matter, thousands of young black people held a protest over the death of convicted criminal Chris Kaba. Whilst the Queen made her final journey through the purple hills of Scotland, a large group of young black men and women, many masked, marched through the capital. The optics were awful, and one imagines that any potential sympathy from middle England will have been whittled away to nought by timing alone.
Yet if the past ten days have taught us anything, it’s that the old Britain lies like silt under the pond. You cannot see it through the water or distinguish it from the pebbles on the bed, but stir it, agitate it, and it rises once more. For a huge proportion of people in this country, Queen Elizabeth II meant something tangible. She was both continuity and comfort, a link to the past and present in all our futures. The events since the announcement on the 8th of September may just have served to remind some that this realm, this England is a very special place. Despite vociferous antipathy, we have retained some of our national symbolism and tradition. The tricorn hats and ostrich plumes accompanying the coffin weren’t anachronistic. Our state is built on the foundations laid by the Georgians, tweaked during the Regency, and finessed by the Victorians. Just because something is old does not mean it has no merit.
If we remember who we are, then we might remember our purpose. The future of the monarchy, like the future of our country, is uncertain. Both could dwindle to insignificance, ride again to Olympian heights or lurk frustratingly somewhere in between. But I’m much more optimistic now than I was two weeks ago. To hear the cries of ‘God Save The King’ awoke something laying dormant, something I feared deceased. An older Britain – a reverent, respectful and ordered Britain has shimmered into view, like a comet that only visits once every 70-odd years. Our grandparents knew this Britain. We have read of it in books, and now, for ten days it blazes in the sky with all its endearingly ornate pageantry and intense ritual before it disappears again for another twenty years or so – should God choose to save The King this long.