After two arrests due to “anti-monarchist sentiment” and further police violence & the blithe ignorance of it I think it’s safe to say that Britain has gone utterly insane, contracted a state of collective madness akin to St Vitas’ Dance with genuflection.
The acts of arresting people for the crime of not giving unabashed fealty to the crown and to the veritable stranger beneath it are heinous enough- but both were justified in the worst possible way – and fits neatly into the exact reason some of us have been shouting from the rooftops for over 2 years, showing a stomach churning continuation of the ever-steady march towards state oversight that simply should not be there.
“Be respectful” has been daubed indelibly across my eyelids now. When I get into bed at night and close my eyes it lights up like a neon sign, burnt as it is into my vision. It’s hardly an alien sentiment: someone has just died, a person has lost their loved ones, so of course be sensitive at this time. However, we must drop the pretence that this death is similar to our own losses: losing your mother, your grandmother, is a horrific loss which swallows your entire world: but it does not swallow the entire world the way the loss of a 92 year old monarch who has long headed a country known for its violent imperialist past does. Nor (I would hope) does it stir up such polarising emotions in differing crowds who all want to be heard. The queen’s death is sad in the way that any inevitable death of a person is sad: a person who existed now does not. But sentiment runs high on both sides of the wall: those who do not support the monarchy and those who are actively opposed to it are unable at present to voice their frustrations without fear of very real repudiation.
We are told to be respectful by not mentioning the transgressions of the crown historically and more recently against other nations, other peoples – or even our own laws, as though it is not recent history that the queen intervened personally to ensure her wealth was hidden from public scrutiny, that shadowy work was done to obscure just how true the “the royals pay for themselves in tourism” line is, that Charles is legally exempt from inheritance tax laws because “they” (whoever this oft referred to “they” is) would not wish to diminish the wealth of the crown. We are asked to keep our sentiments to ourselves. I understand. I don’t mind on a personal level: nothing will change whether I verbalise my distaste for the idea that some are just born more special, more important than me or not- people will support that system no matter the eloquence of the argument, and of course people will be offended by it because it questions beliefs they’ve ingested at every casual glance at a “HMQ” postbox since they were born.
But there it lies, bare to see: those who cry that people should be allowed to offend (the tory government is full of these people, you will notice) have crafted, carefully, legislation that endorses the right to offend – but only if you offend who they want you to.
Where are the “free speech” loving Brits now that two people have been arrested under one of the worst scrivances from Priti Patel’s poisoned pen: the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing bill? If you want to defend free speech, this golden essence of it that you have supposedly so deeply imbibed, surely you must be agog at the idea that one man was arrested for questioning who elected the new king and a woman who was arrested for holding a sign, something which we quite literally decried Russia for when brave dissidents were arrested for holding anti imperialist signs – or just blank or random ones – on Russian state TV?
It is, as I’ve always said, not about “free speech”. Nobody wants “free speech” if it doesn’t agree with them, and the right are just as censorious as the left. We should- we must- drop this pretence first of all, if we are to move this ridiculous debate forwards. Be honest! I don’t care if you’re anti “free speech”, I just beg of thee to utilise your free speech to verbalise what it is that you want to censor.
But the broader issue is, Britain has been forced, prodded, cajoled into a maddening period of enforced grieving to which very few of us may actually subscribe.
This is not to lessen the very real pain of those who may feel sad, upset, angry at the loss of a figurehead they relate to: I have been upset and grieved for people I didn’t personally know when they died, be it music legends like the late great Amy Winehouse, historic figures who passed before I was even born but whose efforts allow me as a gay man to enjoy the freedoms I do now: and harsh repudiations won’t stop someone from mourning anyway. I don’t understand what those who so hate the monarchy expect to achieve. People either already know of the crimes of the crown and the British state and flatly don’t care, or they don’t know and won’t suddenly change their minds because you expose it to them in this state of heightened emotional turmoil.
However, when the literal law is turned on us to hem us in to this collective outpouring of feeling and forces us to only verbalise sentiments in line with public acceptance, this is too far.
Prohibiting people, on pain of arrest, from expressing their distaste whether long- held or personally directed at King Charles (even typing that made me curl my lip up) is a completely inappropriate use of power. Precisely what verbalising anti monarchic sentiment does to “threaten or endanger” anyone at the proclamation did, one cannot guess. And not asking for but telling a country we must show loyalty to a man who has had a peripheral presence on our lives, known mainly for a bottomlessly classy ex-spouse, for large fingers and a propensity for sexting his wife feels like true authoritarian nonsense writ large for all to see. But it appears that we collectively got the wrong glasses out… very few are reacting with the apoplexy I expected at this brazen display of monarchic countenance.
Most of us were born under the rule of Queen Elizabeth and knew nothing else: she was just there, on our stamps, on our money, sometimes on our TV. She partook in silly sketches, she set a supposed example (most of us didn’t need) during coronavirus- but one suspects it was easy to stay at home when your home is larger than my entire apartment complex, easy to isolate when you had staff on hand who were prevented from mixing with their own families to continue waiting on you. We didn’t question or begrudge it because it was part of the daily milieu that made up our lives. It just was, an incontrovertible fact.
Suddenly we are not asked, but told- take that energy, that passive flow of acceptance and direct it at this stranger: and best yet, do not question, simply do. There is no room for you mongrels, you lessers, you peons to object to this change- this is your new figurehead and you will like it or you will face consequence! How dare we not meekly nod along with the idea that fealty is not earned but taken!
This, though, is part of an even larger trend of even more blatant deepening of the authoritarian wave which has been sweeping the UK more and more openly for years. Many of us have been up in arms since its announcement about the disgrace of a technically minority government authoring voter disenfranchisement, eschewing public scrutiny on covid law breaking and PPE contract violation to the tune of millions of pounds of public money disappearing into the bank accounts of the already reach, the meek passing of the police, crime, courts and sentencing bill -for months and years we’ve attended protests, signed petitions, written to our MPs, formed pressure groups and spoken to glossy eyed family members because we didn’t think but knew bone deep that it would spell nothing but horror for our expression as free countryfolk. Are we wrong?
Chris Kaba was recently shot to death by police, and conflicting reports are awash: he was/was not armed was/was not in or out of a car, was/was not running from police. One suspects it’s simply a matter of time until this new, draconian, arms-of-cthulhu bill is invoked to somehow justify the death of a man who should not have been shot. And adding insult to quite literal murder, sky news falsely reported that the march for justice for Kaba was actually a march in memory of the queen’s death. Kaba’s murder by police is the latest link in an ever growing chain of police malfeasance and one of the many reasons a host of people ever growing spoke out against the utter foolishness of enshrining more vague powers to the police and paring back public assembly rights. The PCCS bill was always tacit revenge for the temerity to gather in objection to racist murder, and it wasn’t (as so many will try to sell) imported from America; Renni Eddo-Lodge spoke eloquently about the Brixton riots in her book “why I’m no longer talking to white people about race”, so if those among us want to deny that the UK has a racism problem it doesn’t just show a gilded perception of the nation itself but a fundamental ignorance, an unwillingness to engage with critical literature and therefore a justification for us to disengage entirely with the conversation.
When I say that the country has gone mad, I wish it was simply the state I was referring to – Liz Truss is off on a jolly jaunt around the country to try and ingratiate herself with a public exhausted by a chain-link of horrifying public issues, along with the new King (lest he forget that she once spoke passionately about being a republican herself) amid the deepening cost of living crisis.
But it has long been obvious to those of us with any semblance of public awareness that “the state” in in “a state”: it is in crisis, helmed for two years by a sentient balloon animal filled with the air of lies and before that by a woman whose most salacious deed was, by her own admission, running through a wheat field and not the disgusting mismanagement of mass deportations under her gaffe-rich time in Patel’s role as home sec. But it is not just the state. Many people I had admired for their forthright, punctilious commentary on the monarchy have simply folded, given in and begun to tow the line: “be respectful”:
Bear with me whilst I pull up memes you shared all of 9 weeks ago where you made fun of the concept of hereditary monarchy which you’re suddenly reporting people on twitter for sharing, like an overzealous school prefect.
Is it fear of the draconian crackdown on the true essence of free speech- speech used to criticise power and the state, or is it simply that it was popular to insult the monarchy until it wasn’t? I’d say have the courage of your convictions but that could be more literal than we want to admit before long, apparently.
Those of us who so often have callous insults jabbed at us with the immediate defence of “but free speech though” are rankled and full of rancour at this dislocation of sanity: amazing how in the UK, the nation of free speech lovers, it’s fine to aim jibes at minorities you hate who have less societal protection and power than you, but heaven forfend you criticise the rich, the entitled, the born-into-more privilege-than-you-could-ever-fathom crowd: lord knows I’m sure Charles is feverishly scrolling twitter and reading every critical tweet, gnashing his teeth as he did at the aide who wasn’t quick enough to move his pen-box.
The UK has begun to suffer a collective delirium, a mass case of the vapours and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that right at this moment I feel surrounded by those who feel as I do: like I woke up in another dimension the other day, everyone around me alien but unaware of my covert status: mayhaps we’re the mad ones! Slap on a tiara and just mourn for the sake of peace… but I can honestly say I don’t think we are the mad ones. It’s honesty.
I’m more than happy to let people get on with the business of publicly grieving a figure they may have liked for whatever reasons they chose to do so, but I won’t be compelled to partake in it because “it’s the British thing to do”- everything I do is “the British thing to do”, because I’m British whether you like it or not. I won’t offer feelings I don’t feel… unless the state care to compensate me as an actor (my rates are steep but fair), nor will I try to silence those who raise fair objection over the monarchy, the crown, the state- because people are allowed to feel and say as they do, and the least harmed by criticism are those who have power encapsulated into their very being, like hereditary heads of state: the crown still costs more than I will ever earn, regardless of how I feel about the person wearing it. So allow us the freedom, at least, to feel how we feel: and if that freedom is truly lost as these arrests and the behaviour of the police continues to indicate, let us drop the pretence that we live in any sort of democracy or free country and at last vindicate those of us who have expressed our fear of that loss at long last.
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.