January 1st, 2018
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
Elizabethan will mean whatever you want: certainly vanishing empire and influence, her colonies and dependencies now no more than an archipelago of tax havens. She has reigned over nearly twice as many Conservative years as Labour. Whatever social progress that marks her era came mainly from those Labour punctuations – abolition of capital punishment, Race Relations Act, abortion and homosexual law reform, equal pay and sex discrimination acts, civil partnerships, minimum wage, Sure Start, devolution, human rights, nursery education, a vast expansion of universities and more. Above all, Labour’s late 1970s brought the most equal distribution of income ever recorded.
But Margaret Thatcher caused the greater change in political culture, along with 1980s sky-rocketing inequality. Her start on uprooting the 1945 welfare state is now being carried further than she ever dared, as David Cameron and George Osborne shrink the UK government to smaller than the US state. By 2020, if their plan holds, public spending will be at it its lowest, just 35.2% of GDP, compared with Germany, say, at 44%. Thatcher’s dictum that you will always spend the pound in your pocket better than the state will has entered the DNA of British politics, where tax is always a “burden” and never the good-value price we pay for civilisation. By the Queen’s death, we are set to have the weakest and smallest government in the EU, with less social provision, less scope for national collective endeavour. We may also be out of the EU and, if so, Scotland will be gone too, the Queen’s realm diminished physically, morally, socially and culturally from those Young Elizabethan ideals.
That’s hardly the Queen’s fault: she is rumoured to be a Macmillan One-Nation patrician Tory, with some notion of noblesse oblige, especially in social housing. But the institution of monarchy is deeply ingrained in the British psyche as a conservatism that tolerates the intolerable – the corrupt payola House of Lords, our archaic constitution and our crude voting system that defies people’s choice of a party reflecting their beliefs.
Maybe Shakespeare is partly to blame. The history of our monarchs is so profoundly embedded in us by our greatest writer that his plays on the rise and fall of kings elevates them in our minds, adding cultural depth and meaning to the absurdity of monarchy.
…That’s how shimmering royalty grips and warps the imagination, with Disney-dressed little princesses everywhere, Princess on Board signs in car back-windows. The magic of royal unattainability was nowhere more crushingly displayed than in that faultless image of the Duchess of Cambridge, lettuce-leaf thin, sleekly white-clad pushing her Silver Cross pram. A role model? Babies are universally lovely, but that picture must be the despair of exhausted mothers, leaking breasts, struggling sleeplessly to keep a newborn safe from a fractiously jealous toddler. That’s before thinking about comparisons with 3.5 million children living below the poverty line. Or the political cant about social mobility, or the new £1m inheritance tax threshold.