Sycophantic subjects celebrate sixty years of…

“Almost everyone agrees that the Diamond Jubilee celebrations have been a great success. The Queen evidently does, and was plainly touched by the love her people showed her. The monarchy, already strong, now seems impregnable.”[1]

Patriotic flag-waving for loyal British subjects

The UK media were awash with breathless coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee as the ageing monarch celebrated 60 years on the throne.

For over a week, TV and newspapers (and not only in UK) have revelled in a largely subservient coverage of the latest excuse to have a party bash. Then came the event itself – an extended public holiday, so that her loyal subjects could wave flags, hold street parties, attend ceremonies full of pomp and colour, catch a glimpse of the royal family surrounded by upper-class courtiers, watch 1,000 boats floating down the Thames (in the rain) – an endless pageant of – what? And, now, endless analysis of the family itself, their role in a so-called democracy, the lack of social mobility they are held to personify, the succession to the throne… endless!

Last August, citizens (not subjects) were rioting in several of the UK’s main cities, protesting social injustice and venting their anger at “the system”. Ten months later, and everyone seemed to be on their knees in praise and humble adoration of the constitutional monarch. Truly, a fickle public.

Public disservice broadcaster

The resounding sour note struck over that extended weekend has been the general criticism of the BBC’s coverage of the events.

Throughout my own lifetime, Brits have always turned to the public broadcaster to watch mayor national events, going right back to the Coronation itself, in 1953 (the first time I remember watching television). There was no choice of channels then, but the BBC has always attracted the largest audience on such occasions, even after the introduction of commercial competitors. The same was true for this jubilee – almost 16 million tuned in to the BBC at peak times.

But Stephen Fry, British actor and comedian (?) called the coverage “mind-numbingly tedious” and accused a commentator of ignorance (mind you, one can level precisely those criticisms at him!). A veritable rash of criticism mounted, complaining of poor technical service, of presenters who had obviously not bothered to do any factual preparation, to stupid and irrelevant items, and even cutting short part of the closing firework display in order to show a promotion for Euro 2012. The BBC, of course, remained largely oblivious to the charges.

The undoubted doyen of commentators for royal occasions, from coronations to investitures to funerals, was Richard Dimbleby. It is said that he spent a full 6 months preparing for that coronation back in ’53. That sort of meticulous homework was not in evidence in 2012.

So, probably the first time ever in UK, the BBC’s commercial broadcasting rivals took all the plaudits. I have no comment to make on what I saw on CNN, except to say that it, too, was awful, fawning rubbish – but then they do have an excuse, in not being able to grasp the theory and practice of this intricate medieval institution called British royalty.

Counting the costs

It’s already reported that the weekend saw a £700 million increase in tourist revenues. On the other hand, the extra day off added to a traditional public holiday has been estimated to cost the country between £3 and £5 billion in lost output and productivity.

Then, there’s the actual cost of mounting this extravaganza of red, white and blue – I haven’t seen any figures yet, nor do I know who footed the bills. Dare I suggest that the UK taxpayer, already suffering the burden of a new recession, will cough up mightily?

Madam Windsor and her extended entourage already cost their subjects dear.

“According to the Civil List, the total official spending by Elizabeth which was paid for by the state in grants and the civil list in 2011 was a whopping £32.1 million: £13.7 on the civil list and reserve, £11.9 million on property, £6 million on travel grants and other grants and £0.5 million on communications and information grants.

“This figure does not include the cost of security as well as many other expenses. ‘Republic’ estimates the annual cost to be at least £202.4 million; ten times more expensive than its German counterpart. Unfortunately we will never know the true cost of the Royal Family as Elizabeth’s accounts are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation and her accounts are not scrutinised by the National Audit Office.

“What we do know is that Elizabeth’s own personal fortune is about £310 million according to Forbes magazine. The royal art collection is worth up to £10 billion. The value of the Crown Estate’s property portfolio is £7 billion. The rural part of the Crown estate is a cool £1.05 billion. The value of the Elizabeth’s personal share portfolio is £90 million. The value of the marine estate is worth £587 million. Windsor estate is valued at £186 million.”[2]

I wish I could run my own financial affairs that way! Look after my personal fortune while getting a massive state subsidy, and have my accounts legally hidden from scrutiny by anyone.

Red/white/blue – flagging up symbolism

One of the more quirky items I read recently was a light article about the Union Jack – sorry, Union Flag [3]. The British flag, waved in everyone’s face at the slightest whim, is a fascinating piece of historical symbolism and, some would say, national misrepresentation in the 21st. century.

It’s composed of the following:
the red cross of St. George on a white background;
the white diagonal stripes (saltire) on blue – St. Andrew’s cross of Scotland;
the diagonal blue cross on white – St. Patrick’s cross of Ireland (added later).

The development of the Union Flag

Jack or Flag?

The article I cited [3] raised the question of which term is correct. ‘Union Jack’ is a technical term, applicable only when the flag is hoisted at the bows of a ship or boat (it’s an ensign when raised at the stern). So, the generally correct term, despite what we were taught in school, is ‘Union Flag’.

What about Wales?

Dear ol’ Cymru is not separately represented on the flag that symbolises “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”. Why? Because, when the original “Grand Union Flag of the Kingdom of Britain” was introduced in 1606, Wales had already been “incorporated” into England (by the Act of Union 1536, also (correctly) known as the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542). So, no Welsh Dragon, no red/white/green colours to be seen!

Suggestions to remedy this now-perceived anomaly include the addition of the dragon slap-bang in the middle of the current form of the Union Flag. I fear the idea is still-born, unfortunately, principally because of the negative attitudes of jingoistic “Englishness”. Anyway, here’s one idea.

One of many suggestions to make Wales visible

And Ireland?

The St. Patrick cross was added after the 1800 Act of Union between Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain. Saint Patrick’s Saltire is rejected by many Irish nationalists as a British invention. In modern usage, it is sometimes associated with Northern Ireland as there is no universally accepted flag for the island of Ireland.

What of the future?

The Welsh are unhappy not to be specifically represented on the flag. Irish nationalists are unhappy with the imposition of an ‘English’ symbol. Scotland is actively mulling a declaration of national independence. The St. George cross is widely associated with English extreme nationalists and football hooligans. Little wonder that the Union Flag, to many, is an outdated relic typical of the monarchy it supposedly represents.Anyone for change? For modernisation? For representing whatever the UK may truly be in the 21st. century? (Flag manufacturers need not apply!)

There’s a short history of the development of the Union Flag on this blog [4], from which I took the composite illustration.

What’s in a family name?

In one of the many, many polls carried out about this jubilee and the royal family, respondents voted the present queen “the most popular British monarch of all time”. True, there are still old-timers around who remember some of her immediate predecessors – but, what a fatuous question to ask! Elizabeth II compared to Elizabeth I? To Henry VIII? Edward I? Victoria? How can anyone make a meaningful comparison?

Note the names I’ve deliberately chosen above. The succession of monarchy in what has become the UK has, down the centuries, remained the prerogative of a few select dynasties. The present queen belongs to the House of Windsor. Her husband, apparently born in exile on a kitchen table, bears the title Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, as a member of the Danish-German House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. The name of Windsor was only adopted in 1917, by King George V, when (according to Wikipedia) “he changed the name of his family from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (a branch of the House of Wettin) to the English Windsor, due to the anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom during World War I.”

Two matters of note in the quote above: the “English” Windsor – not the British; and, “Saxe-Coburg and Gotha” – so that’s why Simeon Borisov of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Tsar Simeon II (Симеон Борисов Сакскобургготски) Saxecoburggotsi (as he’s known here in Bulgaria) was invited to a party luncheon hosted by Elizabeth II as part of her recent celebrations!

The tangled topic of who is related to whom across Europe is too extensive to tackle here. Instead. I’ll do some more reading, and devote a future post to the topic. Talk about in-breeding and mutual support of exclusive patronage and domination! It’s enough to make one a full republican!

An endless summer jamboree

Now, we the masses are supposed to be entertained by Euro 2012 – one for the racists, by many media accounts – and then the Olympics, with all its public exclusivity, commercialism and repression. At least we have all survived the Eurovision Song Contest, yet again. All great occasions for “waving the flag”, whatever it may represent… or not.

[1]: Daily Mail:

[2]: The Independent:

[3]: The Independent:

[4}: Party image: Daily Mail

[5]: Union Flag composite:


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