Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Wills', Kate and the Return of the Ghost Town

The happy couple
According to BBC News, this morning's biggest story is the engagement of William Windsor to Kate Middleton, following what is being called a "marathon eight-year courtship". And maybe it is significant in a way. Not for the wedding itself of course - which will just be two people saying some words in a building - but for the way it will be used, and the way it will be viewed.

Prime Minister David Cameron declared himself delighted at the news, saying it was "A great day for our country, a great day for the Royal family and obviously a great day for Prince William and for Kate." When the Cabinet were informed of the "unadulterated good news", ministers apparently gave "a great cheer", and "banged the table".

And well they might. At a time when the government is going flat out to increase the gap between super-rich and poor, they will no doubt be hoping that the royal family performs its ceremonial role, and 'unites the country' - i.e. chloroforms the opposition in workplaces and on the streets. I am reminded of satirical website The Onion's headline for the 1981 marriage of William's mother, whose engagement ring Middleton now wears: "Fairytale Wedding Distracts Rank-and-File: Economically Ravaged British Underclass Temporarily Forgets Miserable Lives".



July 1981 was an interesting month, and not just because I was born. With Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal reforms biting, poor young people rioted in Liverpool and Leeds, following uprisings in Brixton and Birmingham earlier in the year. The Specials were at number one with Ghost Town, a song which - as Harpy Marx has blogged - "capture[d] the moment". But yes, certain layers of society were distracted by the ill-fated wedding of Charles Windsor to Diana Spencer. There was bunting - not fighting - in many streets, as people toasted the "fairytale".

Nearly thirty years have passed, and social conditions have worsened for the majority, because Thatcher was just the beginning, and her disciples continue her work to this day. However, those three decades have not been lived in vain. Many have become 'disillusioned' - in the true sense - with royalty, and indeed all those in power, who are rightly seen as entirely self-serving and detached from everyday life. Despite the media fanfare, a glance at the BBC's 'have your say' page for the engagement shows a general lack of interest, plus concern about how much the patriotic extravaganza will cost. 'Steve' perhaps sums up the consensus with the following: "Oh goody rejoice the World is saved. Hope they have a nice wedding,no doubt we will be picking up the tab! Any chance of a day off?"

And there is the dilemma for the ruling establishment: a lavish wedding will no doubt overwhelm some people into 'uniting' behind the royal family. But at a time when every penny of government spending on 'commoners' is being questioned, the spectacle of a parasitic elite indulging in taxpayer-funded back-slapping would provoke furious anger in others. Because, of course, "we're all in it together".
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