The coronation of King Charles III tomorrow in Westminster Abbey is the only show in town this weekend. It is supposed to be a scaled down affair this time but there will still be plenty of pageantry: soldiers in splendid uniforms, various dignitaries in their fine regalia, golden carriages from a different age, very serious ceremony in the Abbey, the balcony appearance. The grand spectacle that Brits like to stage.
But who cares?
An entirely unscientific poll of the shops around the corner from us shows that only 3 out of 8 are bothered enough to display flags or bunting. Someone who was doing some work in our house yesterday said that they would record the event, and fast forward the boring bits. It’s all very different from the last coronation in 1953 which we both remember. The grey images flickered on the small screens as we crowded into the houses of television owners. We were rapt in our attention to this new wonder called television as much as to the coronation itself.
Actually, there was another smaller show in town yesterday. Today is sandwiched between the local elections yesterday and the coronation tomorrow. These represent twin pillars of our nation. These elections offer the opportunity to register an opinion on who will best serve the area in which we live. We voted at 1 p.m. yesterday and one of the officials told us that 130 people had voted that morning out of a ward electorate of nearly 6000. Later in the day there must have more activity at the polling station but the total electoral turnout in our ward was under 40%.
When offered the privilege of exercising our vote so many of us neglect it. Many will shrug it off with a lazy ‘They are all as bad as each other’. Privilege comes in different shapes and sizes. It doesn't hurt any of us to consider what privileges we enjoy and whether we employ them for the common good.
King Charles III stands atop a system of privilege and power based on heredity. Below that apex, all kinds of people who have some sense of entitlement based on their family line hold on to their positions. The entertainment value of this social hierarchy is evident in the widespread popularity of shows like Downton Abbey and films like The Queen and The King’s Speech. The UK has a love-hate relationship with the class system.
We believe we would be a better and more equal nation if that system was pruned. At the same time, we recognise that deep in not only the British psyche but also in the human psyche is a hunger for hierarchy, for someone to ‘look up to’. Other countries have sated that hunger by abolishing monarchies and creating elected leaders – with varying levels of success. Elected representatives of the people seem to abuse their privileges as much as do hereditary leaders. And, to be fair, to do about the same amount of good...and bad!
So how much do we care about this coronation?
We are not yet republicans. We both come from royalist families and these days retain some sort of respect for the monarchy. But only in the absence of a better model and a better way to create one than divisive revolution. A shift towards republicanism would need to be gentle and linked with a continuing and widespread loss of interest in the monarchy. There are sinister populist and nationalist forces at work which would put democratic stability at risk – even here in the UK.
Our coronation street party tomorrow will be a very soggy affair if the forecast is at all accurate. Maybe the weather is a symbol of a continuing but rather limp support for the monarchy. Our big, old Union flag – now red, grey and blue – will probably remain in the garage throughout! See that as a metaphor if you will. But we can still say with some conviction ‘God save the King!’