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12 February 2005

OK, look . . .

I am not going to blog about the Chuck and 'Milla Show. Not now, not ever, well, not unless they do something newsworthy. But I can still blog about the things that spring up because of them and their little drama, such as this wonderfully bitchy depiction, by Polly Toynbee, of what monarchy does to a nation, which I have had the misfortune to witness firsthand.

Ludicrous and grotesque for the wretched royal performers and their subjects alike, this is the least dignified of all state institutions. It always was, even in those relatively few reigns when the monarch did behave with due decorum.
The glittering emblem of the sovereign infantilises the nation into an unhealthy fascination with the doings of the royal household, children, servants, foibles and every banal saying and doing. It demeans the idea of citizenship and the meaning of the state. Why should these meaningless people be embedded in our national imagination? . . .
The tyranny of the monarchy is not in its puny temporal power but in its hold over the national imagination. Its spirit permeates politics, poisoning the appetite for reform and imbuing the nation with grandiose fantasies. It imparts an unsubtle taste for the thwack of "strong government" under the firm dictatorship of one party: Her Majesty's government. Proportional representation comes from another part of the brain, less hierarchical, less certain, more consensual - but somehow "not the British way". We have hierarchy hard-wired into us - tyrannical little kings and queens atop every pyramid of management.

That last paragraph particular struck a nerve. While all the "royal wedding" fuss was going on, my workplace in Nottingham was actually graced with a visit from a minor royal: Sophie, the Countess of Wessex. To my staunchly republican American gaze, this was an appalling show. First, they closed off to all of us peons the spanking new and happy-shiny atrium of our building, with its vital deli, shop and cafeteria, between 10:30 and 12:15. Then we were informed we were "welcome" (ha!) to stand respectfully around the balconies on the upper two floors and gawk at the lovely Countess and the beribboned mayor and those lucky few who actually got to press the royal(-ish) flesh. (No flash photos please.) Then the intranet the next day was adorned with pictures of the poor old wait staff in their crisp uniforms standing at attention behind the crystal coffee urn, the ultra-serious PR types and management types looking only a touch less ludicrous as they stood at ease in their poshest suits awaiting her arrival, and in some ways the unluckiest of all, the Countess herself, dwarfed by a huge bouquet that she was apparently obliged to carry around with her the entire two hours she took part in the Presenting of the Enormous 7-foot Cheque, the Song-singing of the Local Schoolchildren Who Would Benefit from the Aforesaid Cheque, the Making of the Speech, and the Listening to the Welcomes and Thank Yous of a Grateful Nottingham.
Meanwhile back at home (our castle!) DH thinks he (but not I, of course) and other British men and women, ought to have a referendum on the role that poor old Camilla will play in the nation. He just doesn't get it. Referenda are not guaranteed in any government, and certainly not a monarchy. I think he wants to have his cake and eat it too, because he is not in favour of abolition of the anachronistic institutions in Britain, but only of their reform, or to be more precise, picking and choosing the bits he likes. I say "You live in a monarchy, which means you are a 'subject' rather than a 'citizen'. If you're not prepared to change it, just deal with it."

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