Monday 12 April 2021

The Waning of Official Ideology

We all like revelations, but my joining millions of others in the great television turn off on the evening of Prince Philip's death probably does not qualify. Terrestrial TV, with the exception of Channel Four, was nothing but a blizzard of propagandistic Persil, of suds and foam on a rapid spin cycle laundering away the Duke's awful reputation. In the simpering tones only Nicholas Witchell can muster, we heard about Phil's keen love for nature, and from a retinue of former toadies about how his frequent racisms and "gaffes" were ice-breaking efforts at humour, of eliciting conversation from poor sods forced to paste on the smiles and play the grateful subject. Indeed, so persitent has this myth become in the short retelling that Boris Johnson saw it fit to repeat some of them in his own Commons eulogy.

This kind of nonsense coming from the state didn't require much forecasting. The declaration of eight days of morning, the injunction BBC presenters are to wear black for the period, Tory efforts to memorialise the Prince with a new royal yacht, the suspension of government business, and the clearing of the parliamentary decks for hours upon hours of tributes. Naturally, all sides of the house - 132 MPs were down to deliver their eulogies - united in a toe curling display of flummery. The Speaker Lindsay Hoyle set the scraping tone, calling the dear departed the "Father of the Nation". Keir Starmer paid his regards to this "source of stability", and Theresa May (remember her?) alighted upon his example of service. Responsibility for the most deliciously idiotic comment fell to Harriet Harman (it had to be a Labour MP), who suggested this pinnacle of the class system was "profoundly countercultural".

Jacob Rees-Mogg outlines the ruling class common sense best by repeating the same paragraph over and over again with a slow building cadence of religious histrionics. The Prince's example was "about service to an institution embodied in an individual who represents the nation." Rees-Mogg talks about the oath before God, the unbreakable sacrament of service, and how the royal couple's vows in the presence of the almighty conferred their relationship with the nation with divine blessings. Just don't talk about the rumours of the 30 affairs that have filled the French press since the weekend. Returning to Mogg's invocations, they're redolent of the ancient sovereignties of the absolute monarchs. Hence the passing of Philip is a diminution of the UK state's official personhood, and only the pageantry of ritual and its impingement on the convenience of its citizenry can the event become the event, a moment where the mortality of the royal person is the foil for the (aspirant) immortality of the institutions that made Philip possible.

What was unexpected, at least to the media managers and opinion formers, the politicians, and the Palace itself was this "event" greeting a vast ocean of apathy and indifference. The live feeds on YouTube of the Commons tributes numbered between just 200-350 watchers, a good chunk of whom will be journos looking for a bit of copy before the printers roll. Meanwhile, the BBC received 100,000 complaints and were forced to pull its online form following a decision from on high. The possibility of a Diana-esque period of popular mourning was anticipated by the powers-that-be, and to their minds it's black armband day out here in real world land. But no.

And so the tributes, the pull-out souvenirs, the schedule cancellations and the speechifying will only succeed in affirming the state for a small number of (mostly powerful) people. Indeed, had the government gone all-in with the full pomp of a state funeral this might have catalysed resentment and opposition, especially when the 127,000 Covid dead are barely acknowledged. We're lucky then that among the Duke's final wishes were instructions for a somewhat modest service not even the Prime Minister will be attending.

The official mourning does say something though the distance between them and us, which is curious considering the political mastery the Tories have demonstrated on the issues of the day. There does seem genuine surprise among ruling circles at the lack of appropriate mass respect, even from the (nominally) reliable forces of social conservatism Tory politics falls back on. Does this matter? The state can do without willing supplicants and scraping subjects as long as indifference doesn't pass over into opposition and the abomination of activism, but it's enough to give the more intelligent bourgeois operators pause. Despite the Deeply Solemn Moment, the shit daily flung at the Windsors' own heretics and renegades, and the thumping Tory majority, explicit fealty to the formal discourses of state is worryingly weak. And how this might be repaired neither the Tories nor the rest of the establishment have a single clue, except hoping that going through the motions enough times, especially when the Queen passes away, will be just good enough.

Image Credit


Ludus57 said...

Phillip's passing unwittingly gives the ruling class a chance to reflect on their achievements.
If I were them, I would be worried.
In spite of apparent Tory hegemony, their greatest weapon - Thatcherism - has succeeded in undermining all the forms of social propriety that they regard as essential.
How can an "All for one, and one for himself" kind of society come together or unite around supposedly national symbols? It can't.
And there is the problem.

David said...

Great piece. I suspect they have done real damage with this display of arrogance. Centrist Dad that I am, I usually don't mind the royals too much, but I very much resent being told what to think and what to feel.

Meanwhile the Greensill scandal comes fourth on the BBC News, after the grandkids contributions. At least C4 news and Sky [!} gave it some treatment.

Anonymous said...

The guy who put the Phil in philander?

Kamo said...

Phil the Greek lead an exceptional life, but I don't think he was a 'great man', his achievements were 'mixed'. A lot of the shit chucked at him is hysterically overbaked, yes he held some views that were fairly commonplace in a white European male born a century ago (whether being deported from his homeland and abandoned by his family as a child reinforced them I don't know), but he certainly wasn't the pantomime villain the usual suspects want to present him as.

The problem with the wall to wall coverage is that it's lazy, it's an excuse for the media to fill space with endless copy paste, it's churnalism at it's worst. My Mum complained to me she had wasted £3 on a Sunday newspaper as every part of it inlcuding the supplements was crammed with the same material.

dermot said...

I've been wondering for a while what the death of QE2 will do. Some damage to the monarchy, but a lot more to Unionism methinks (Scotland and NI in particular). Hard to imagine Charlie garnering the same semi-mythological focus as Mummy. Remember the heartstring tugs of "Don't let me be the last Queen of Scotland" in Indyref 1. Good luck playing that wheeze again, Chuck. He ain't got nothing on this:,_April_1945_TR2832.jpg

I think TPTB are terrified...and they should be.