Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images
Artillery Row

Compulsory coronation?

Guardian columnists can’t stop telling us how little they care

Guardian journalists don’t care about the coronation. We know this because they have devoted the past few months to explaining in great detail, depth and with some passion how little they care. What has so irked them? For one thing they’re very annoyed by the “Big Help Out”, in which people are being encouraged to mark the Coronation weekend by volunteering their time. This you see is crass, because King Charles has a lot of money, unlike everyone else in the charitable sector, an area well known for not involving rich philanthropists and celebrities, who if they did turn up and urge people to donate, would be denounced in turn and definitely not feted in the pages of the uh … Guardian newspaper

The most surprising conversion amongst the clattering classes was to monarchism itself

Although keen on arts spending (£13.6 billion last year, cuts to which the Guardian proclaimed a “calamity”) and simply giving taxpayer money away to the citizens of other countries (£11.4 billion, any cuts to which would be “devastating”), in the case of the coronation they have finally found a form of government spending they oppose. This newfound love of austerity had an even more unexpected champion in the form of Polly Toynbee, who with the zeal of a convert to fiscal rectitude raged against “dependants”, “extravagant” spending and the waste of “taxpayers’ money” ( that really must be a first for her).

How much does the coronation cost? What extravagance of spending has turned poor Polly into George Osbourne? Estimates range from £50-100 million. Hardly cheap, but it’s about the cost of one F-35 fighter jet, for the central state ritual of the United Kingdom. Overall the monarchy costs about £80 million a year, most of that going to the upkeep of historic buildings and security for our head of state. By way of contrast, the US spends about £1.2 billion a year on its President. The relatively more modest yearly spending of our French neighbours on their head of state adds up to about £100 million a year. 

The entire grotesque cast of the Guardian comment team seems to have shown up to shout their indifference from the rooftops, from Zoe Williams, to Marina Hyde, to Catherine Bennett — the last of whom was very miffed to discover that the Church of England is, like, making the coronation religious?? Apparently, plaintive calls for a “secular coronation” have been ignored. No reports as yet if the world’s smallest violin will feature in the coming festivities. 

Never mind Polly’s Taxpayers’ Alliance rebrand — the most surprising conversion amongst the clattering classes was (sit down for this one) to monarchism itself. Not support for Charles, of course, but retrospectively, for the late Queen. Where once they raged against the “dysfunctional, callous royal family”, we are now informed that the “Queen’s death was a genuinely profound moment for the nation”. Last year the Platinum Jubilee was denounced in its pages as “a pageant that celebrates a monarchical regime based on hierarchy, deference and inherited wealth, status and power”, but now contributors have been reduced to pointing out that fewer street parties have been planned for the coronation than for the (now safely lauded and sanctified) Jubilee. Even American opinion was canvassed in this cause, with a stateside commentator solemnly informing us that whilst the Queen was “a much-loved figure”, the US was part of the now global movement of not caring about King Charles.

Mostly though, the world’s sorriest comment team were just tired of hearing about the monarchy (though not, needless to say, tired of talking about it), with Gaby Hinsliff bracing herself for “all the coronation chatter about spinach quiches and gold sticks-in-waiting and who is wearing which tiara”. Fond republican hopes for a glorious festival of indifference were cruelly punctured by the cheery announcement that the great viewing public would be invited to pledge allegiance themselves, with monarchy agnostic Gaby mewling sadly that “we are citizens now, not serfs” (happy news no doubt, to the millions of Britons working on zero hours contracts, first freelancers — now citizens! — whatever next?). 

It must be rather like discovering Greenpeace is a major carbon emitter

The top competitor in the Commonwealth Indifference games was Zoe Williams. She begins her stoic paean by lamenting the lack of a “don’t care” option in relation to monarchy. She doesn’t care so hard she says so four more times. She further bewails the poor poppets who have been “silent for years”, only to have the British system of government force itself into their living rooms. So silent has Zoe been on the issue, that last month she only managed a mere four pieces on the royal family, perhaps the finest of which was “Unseen Camilla: the five ages of a future queen — from mistress to monarchy”. Observing the sheer obsessive volume of Guardian journalism on the topic of the monarchy must, for royal agnostics, be rather like discovering Greenpeace is a major carbon emitter. 

Don’t let it be said, however, that I lack sympathy for my fellow hardworking comment journalists. It must be really tiresome to have days, weeks and months regularly dedicated to the rituals and symbols of a belief system that you strongly object to, or simply don’t have a strong emotional attachment to. But, and there’s no other way about it — isn’t it simply your turn? Oh, yes, I know, you have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ll give you some hints: lots of flags everywhere, big parades all over town, floods of soft-serve saccharine media coverage, every major politician nodding along dutifully whether they buy into it or not — hell, they even have queens. Yes, soon enough the Union Jacks will come down, and the rainbow flags will go up, for June ushers in the happy month of Pride. Then all the emotions currently being experienced by progressives and conservatives will continue, just in reverse. 

Nobody voted for our millenia-old monarchy, but then again it was here first. It’s rather more baffling how an overtly political symbol has come to fly over public buildings, schools and universities with more ubiquity than the actual national flag; how the civil service is practically painting its collective face with a rainbow; and how schools have taken to organising pride marches without anyone bothering to check whether the British electorate is in favour of it. Republicans are fond of pointing out that our literal hereditary monarch took the throne without any consultation (thanks for the update, guys), but seem remarkably reluctant to apply the “we were never asked” critique to other areas of public policy. The problem with asking, as with levels of support for the monarchy, is that you may not like the answer.

Asking forgiveness rather than permission seems like a fine idea for those fighting for a rapidly expanding (and increasingly confusing) series of civil rights, but as the poor republicans hiding under their blankets this May like to complain, opting out doesn’t seem to be an option. Such was the experience of one mother, who certainly wasn’t asked if she wanted her child’s primary school to hold a Pride parade. Izzy Montague was concerned about her son “being involved in a public display of adherence to views which she did not accept”. Don’t like gay marriage? Then don’t have one. Don’t want your child to march in a Pride parade? That’s a “behavioural issue” (according to the school). Anyway, “there was little in the parade that was inconsistent with Montague’s Christian beliefs” (according to the British legal system, apparently). 

Republican voices were mysteriously muted on this issue, but they were extremely exercised by a BBC Merseyside reporter noting that republican protesters were drowned out by cheering schoolchildren on a royal visit. Anti-monarchist organisation Republic was quick to “correct” the record: “Our protesters were not chanting at this point. We will be asking @bbcmerseyside for an explanation. It is also questionable to suggest that children are of a strong view one way or another on an issue like this when they’ve been bussed in for a bit of fun.” Their furious supporters were busy in the replies in their many hundreds, describing the children as “brainwashed” and complaining that the nation’s young were being exposed to monarchism.

The reader may feel, at this point, that I’m making an unfair comparison — and indeed I am, for really there’s no comparison at all. Our ancient, just and law-bound system of monarchy is not “political” in the same way as an increasingly radical ideology that supports housing rapists in women’s prisons or teaching primary school children about gay sex. Happy children being taken to greet their head of state is not brainwashing, but forcing children to participate in political rallies clearly is. For all that the BBC may go into “respectful national togetherness” mode whenever a royal event or Remembrance Sunday swings around, you won’t see militaristic rhetoric spouted by BBC comedians or encounter royalist propaganda slipped into Dr Who

I’m sorry for the liberal journalists who must endure the brief moments in which the utter cultural hegemony of the (mostly unpopular) elite progressive left is broken, and they are forced to tolerate equal airtime given to more conservative sentiments. One can hope that some of them may start to have an inkling of what it might be like to live their lives in an environment in which participation really is mandatory, where their own beliefs and feelings are demonised, and the social costs of objection are severe. I’m not holding my breath. 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover