Have been lecturing abroad a lot lately and have frequently had to explain that, when I call myself a republican and a liberal, I mean something very close to the opposite of what those terms currently mean in U.S. English.
I have never been a monarchist at any point in the 40 plus years I have had political consciousness. The notion of hereditary rule always struck me as absurd. But I have nothing against the Queen personally, and on meeting her have found her quite likeable, even when conversing on the tricky subject of why I don’t accept “Honours”. As I have said before, if I had been born into a life of such privilege, I would probably be a much more horrible person than she. We are all to a degree intellectually and socially trapped by our circumstance of birth and social milieu. Few break out of it entirely and a minority of those that do are actuated by admirable motives.
Nor am I completely immune from either patriotism or nostalgia, not the respect that attaches to the old, particularly when they are “battling on”. So I have no doubt that I witnessed some of the televised celebrations with more of a lump in my throat than the large majority of readers of this blog.
But an excellent antidote was the BBC’s panning to the VIP box during yesterday’s Jubilee concert, particularly before the Queen was there to distract. I felt completely removed from those people in the VIP box, as though they were an alien race. Always haughty, often bored and disengaged, occasionally condescending to be amused, and from time to time self-consciously “joining in” obviously for the benefit of the cameras rather than personal enjoyment. Myriads of sleek or puffy aristocrats and politicians, they were completely other from the people who in some strange way they are supposed to represent.
From Thatcher through Blair to Cameron, the gap between rich and poor has accelerated in this country as never since the early industrial revolution. Just one indicator – boardroom income increases are outpacing worker income by around 10% every year, consistently.
I do not doubt a majority of the country felt nothing but patriotic pride at the celebrations. Patriotism is the great and indispensable instrument of social control. But as for me, in this small corner of Ramsgate, I was wondering where you buy a decent guillotine.