You either mourn for the Queen’s death or face repercussions… in a democracy?
After nearly a fortnight of nonstop news coverage, shop closures, event cancellations, and, perhaps worst of all, the removal of the crossword from the Metro, even the most ardent republican must be wishing that the Queen had lived forever.
Veneration of the Royals, the Queen especially, is nothing new. But what was once a low background noise is now a booming cacophony. The Royal Wedding, it seems, has nothing on the Royal Funeral.
Regardless of the volume, however, the message is the same: unquestioned respect for the monarchy as an institution. And if we must love the Queen, it stands to reason that we must grieve for her. To do otherwise would be aberrant. It would be disrespectful. As the English Football Association said of Sheffield International and Byron House, who played a match despite the ban in place on the weekend of the funeral, it would be despicable.
This vilification of those who flout the rehearsed requiems plays its own role in maintaining the legitimacy of the crown, especially in the face of a younger generation growing increasingly apathetic toward it. But that generation needn’t worry. Their concerns are unfounded. After all, the Queen was a progressive icon. She was the ultimate feminist symbol of the 20th century. Apparently. She was a quiet (one could even say deafeningly silent) supporter of gay rights. In short, she supported the exact kind of progressivism that the British state likes: shallow, belated, surface-level change which does nothing to address the deeper inequalities at the heart of our society.
To do more creates problems. To question the existence in an unelected head of state, or the legacy of imperialism in this country, or the ludicrous inherited wealth held by a handful of people, is the kind of activism that invites the kind of response faced by numerous protesters in recent days.
Symon Hill, for example, was arrested under the Public Order Act 1986 after loudly criticising King Charles at his proclamation. A woman in Edinburgh was charged with breach of the peace after she was arrested holding an anti-monarchy sign. What’s more, Paul Powlesland heard from police that, had the blank sign he held in Parliament Square read ‘Not My King’, he too would have been arrested under the Public Order Act.
As a law student, part of me reacts as if I’ve identified a key issue in an exam problem.
Almost instinctively I recall that the common law offence of breach of the peace, as set out in the authoritative case of Smith v Donnelly, would likely not apply to the alleged behaviour of the Edinburgh woman. However, the fact that the language of the Public Order Act does not criminalise holding a sign reading ‘Not My King’ is not as important as one might think. That the law was applied incorrectly in these instances does not mean that some other law, as yet unenacted, will not soon be correctly applied to achieve the same end: curtailing of protest. The kind of draconian restrictions on free speech which, by the day, seem more and more likely to be enshrined in legislation, cannot be excused by the mere fact of their technical legality.
We must resist the dangerous inclination to view the world strictly in terms of what is legal and illegal, rather than what is right and wrong. The distinction between the two is one that ought to be kept in mind, given the seemingly endless attempts to, through standard legislative procedure, erode the rights of everyone in Britain, as is evidenced by numerous proposals, from the widely denounced Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, to the mercifully aborted plan to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a “British” Bill of Rights.
The Queen’s funeral, a multimillion pound affair, comes amid the worst cost of living crisis in decades. As her face is morbidly emblazoned on every surface in the land, the homeless are callously shunted from our streets and starving refugees prepare to be shipped off to Rwanda. As ordinary people are unjustly arrested, Prince Andrew sits in luxury.
To many, the monarchy is Britain. It is, therefore, fitting that, much like Queen Elizabeth herself not very long ago, we are a nation on life support.