Hard Reign Falling

King Charles’s first speech since the death of his mother was, in stark contrast to the performative fawning and crocodile tears from our politicians, corporations and sundry others, beautifully restrained, well crafted and delivered impeccably. If there was a perfect time for such profound Englishness to be displayed, that was it. It is a fiction to which many of us can subscribe simply because it feels safe and professes to subscribe to feelings of continuity amid changes to systems and circumstances in which the future of the human race is in question.

Regardless of whether or not one personally feels affected by things like climate change (and all that it entails), inequality in all its forms and all manner of bigotry, it’s understandable that the outpourings of grief from these shores, both genuine and manufactured, at the Queen’s passing might offer some strange comfort. It might also offer an outlet for anger and frustration, built up over years, in response to that other side of Britishness; not the fictional ‘fair play’ but the very real colonialism, nationalism and exceptionalism that underpins the might of European and American hegemony. How we feel, and why we feel what we feel, is, therefore political. As a small ‘r’ republican, I did not expect to be so moved by the replacement of one sovereign by another and I’ve been thinking about my emotional response. When a public figure dies, we are not really mourning them, unless we knew them personally, we are reliving, or even experiencing for the first time, our grief for those we actually knew and loved. Or we might be grieving for something else – the loss of our youth, the end of an era, the loss of old friendships or the loss of innocence. In my case, it is the loss of innocence.

As I’ve mentioned in other pieces, I can date my loss of innocence fairly accurately to 1968 and Powell’s Rivers Of Blood speech. Before that, The Queen (her Accession was only 4 years before my birth), Churchill, The Beatles, Henry Cooper and countless other British icons were fantastic, magical and almost deific symbols of security and continuity; even if they did wrong, they could do no wrong. Children do, of course, have those defence mechanisms in place in order to survive – yet many children grow into adulthood without shedding their protective fantasy cloaks and continue to proclaim their nationalist exceptionalism even as they progress to the mighty realms of state and politics. Such infantilisation, wall-to-wall (10/09/2002) on the BBC today, is not only a blanket in which to wrap the population, but a blanket to pull over our eyes as if any loss of innocence we might have experienced had never happened.

After Powell’s speech, my childhood brain fully expected to hear that he had been arrested and locked up, that he had had some kind of mental illness and that he had been taken to hospital. But my white family all supported him apart from, it seemed, my mother who attempted to appear less authoritarian and vaguely leftish but made no defence, within our earshot anyway, of her children. The media, for weeks afterwards showed scenes of mass support for Powell, there were documentary features about him, interviews with the ‘Great And The Good’ both in support of Powell and against him – but I did not hear anyone close to me, at that time, say he was wrong. From ‘68 until his death in ‘98 he was treated, for good or ill as a serious person. And, of course, he was serious. The famous Dick Cavett interview and the discussion between Jonathan Miller and Powell exemplified the white intellectual seriousness of the discourse on race. Miller, of course, comes out as a compassionate advocate of co-operation but both men talk about the issues as if they have every right to decide how British people of colour should react to Powell’s ideas.

For the next 30 years, Powell was somewhat of a media star whether as a politician or the go-to intellectual white man. My 12 year-old expectation that he should be carted off to an institution, lasted from when I fist heard the speech on television to shortly afterwards when I realised that those great symbols of Britishness were not going to come to my aid. Though Powell believed in ‘voluntary’ repatriation (at first : later in life he considered other options), not one member of my family thought to be vociferous against the idea, they simply assured me that they would somehow protect me if the policy got through. While the Child Migration Programme, in which 100,000 children from poor backgrounds and/or of mixed race were forcibly taken from their parents and shipped to Australia and elsewhere right into the 1970s, was totally legal and sanctioned by the powers that be, my white family thought that it was in their gift to stop the forced repatriation of their own children and grandchildren in the event that Powell’s creed became law.

The Royal family in general and the sovereign in particular, for good or ill, represent ‘us’. In general, as symbols of hierarchy, power, continuity, Britishness and all that is deemed to be good for the nation and, in particular, as head of state. The fact that the sovereign of a constitutional monarchy acquiesces not to wield party political opinion does not mean it does not wield party political opinion; saying nothing while terrible things happen to others is a political statement. Using soothing words to persuade people that all is well when it clearly isn’t, is a political act. Always supporting ‘my government’ regardless is ethically outrageous. These political acts of omission and commission are designed to bolster the power of the elite; in pre-capitalist societies the carrots and sticks of royal patronage and brutal power were wielded brazenly; friends were awarded huge country estates while enemies were tortured to death or killed in public in the most brutal and vile fashion. Though capitalism clothes everything in shiny, corporate smug self-belief and tends to export horror when it can and award friends via the world of digital banking and offshore accounts, capitalism in the UK relies heavily on ideas of Britishness and social structures underpinned by the royal family’s ability to acquiesce to new forms of the power they used to wield more crudely.

The monarchy is so much more than pageantry for tourists. They help to set a national tone in terms of what they celebrate and what they do not. The extents to which opinion is offered, or not, by a sovereign or his or her extended family, have a massive effect on what is deemed acceptable behaviour. It is not surprising that politics in this country has moved so far to the right, that we’ve had a succession of grim and ghastly politicians on our front benches. The climate crisis, poverty and war are set to ravage the planet in ways we have previously not experienced and we, the people, are expected to be awestruck in reverence for an anachronistic institution that has, almost silently, presided over the build-up to the coming catastrophe. The Monarchy has existed in this country for nearly 1200 years. In that time there have been 61 monarchs with unrivalled power and prestige and access to information. The late Queen spanned an extraordinary phase in human history and has had every opportunity to make ethical choices. Instead she hid behind the veils of tradition and supported the capitalist project without question. King Charles, as the Prince of Wales, was slightly more outspoken yet his strong opinions are either for comparatively trivial matters, such as his daft views on architecture, or fly in the face of rationality, like his admiration for far-right woo pseudo-science. To say the monarchy has been a disappointment is an understatement of huge proportions.

I mourned the loss innocence, the idea that all would be well, in 1968. Many younger people have lost it more recently when they paid attention to climate science, or other important matters, in school and elsewhere. But for many people of colour and other minorities threatened by the rise of the right wing, that feeling of loss is something we carry with us all the time. Our existence as accepted and respected citizens is forever questioned, everyday, by odd looks, micro-agressions, poor responses from shops, stores and public services, verbal attacks, physical attacks, the difficulties finding work, constant poverty and the feeling that, at any moment, a right-wing government will deem us unworthy and ship us off to another country. Neither Enoch Powell nor Mosley, Farage or any of those extremists got very far but now they don’t have to. The far right have infiltrated the Conservative Party to such an extent that their policies are now almost indistinguishable from the ideas held by Powell.

Last night I found myself weeping. Not because the Queen had died but because that era of childhood hope that ended for me in 1968, can never return and the future looks as if it might be a lot worse than expected.


About Nick Nakorn

This is the blog of a concerned citizen.
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