In England, there has long been a recession in the air, which has been temporarily masked by the cheap aroma of Boris Johnson’s government. But now it is unknowable. When people used to say that the Queen should be respected because she “does the job well”, I never quite understood what that meant. As far as I could see, her job was to simply show up, go through the protocol and not go off script. But the truth is that what other people saw showed trust, unity and stability, when the country she was ruling over got little. Hers has been a sanity presence against war, financial crisis, Brexit and Covid.
That’s what a good head of state is meant to do, we’re told: be there for moral support in times of national emergency, and stay away from times of political upheaval. But what she says, or rather what she doesn’t say, covers the country with a sleepy, warm and unreality. That’s gone now.
There is a reason, wherever you go in the world or wherever you visit in history, different peoples who have never been in contact come up with the same idea of a higher power. Whether it’s one spiritual deity or a few animists, humans need to impose a sense of reason and higher purpose on their otherwise complex existence. The queen’s position grew stronger as the country grew further apart. The most important role of the queen, who continued to assert herself as less human and more divine, was to soften the blow of the loss of the empire, the lowering of the flag, the evacuation of the colonial administrators and the broken armies. It was Britannia, still naïve, not the pale post-war politicians who were struggling with the economic crisis at home and the loss of British superpower status abroad. The royal family’s wealth, prestige and majesty, enough of the remnants of that status, so important to Britain’s identity, endured. The jewel remains in her crown, if not her empire.
As the situation worsened, the Queen was more protective of the country’s identity. In fact, there was no such thing as a peaceful empire and a grateful Commonwealth, which was always a fantasy. The sun did not set on the empire: the conquest was driven out, often in bloody battles. Generally speaking, different accounts of colonialism emerged when colonists came to Britain with economic, racial and political legacies. As the Commonwealth of Nations began to remove the Queen as their head of state, calls to be honest with the past began to rise. And when the royal family began to be talked about as a symbol of the causes of the country’s severe inequality – a lot of wealth inherited from dubious origins, some of which are connected to the slave trade, the scraping of class respect, blood rights and this lack of accountability.
But the change in the culture of the country, the structure of the class and the economic landscape demanded these contradictions, so much so that the queen became a refuge. A fictional representation of a time when things were simpler: when it was Shakespeare; Eid Blyton; spirit blitz; stand alone against fascism; useful toffs; a hard working class; the welfare state; swinging 60s; and friendly black and brown faces cleaning floors and repairing wards. As long as the queen existed, the country existed.
The truth is, along with the glorious empire, that country never really existed. For the queen, the national vision itself is also questioned whenever her policies produce new people who are rejected. Every time a mine is closed, a wasteland is policed, a foreign country is illegally invaded, profits are cut, and the country’s “news” is tested. But these challenges never stop. The Queen was always comfortable, smiling, her clothes, her skirts and her habits all frozen, and none of them attracted.
In order to play this stabilizing role, it had to be preserved at all costs, because by inhabiting all the unresolved structures of the land – nostalgia, the desire for governance, the need for a fixed point of reference – as Britain was damaged by something that known as no written constitution and little history to define it. By combining muteness and longevity, the queen served these needs. It was a constant presence in the lives of almost all British people today. From the knowledge of a fictional bond is made, a relationship that is not complicated without ever knowing anything real about her, and it is strengthened by what felt the personal address of the year for you, and made false by the fact that the details of life Her family – births, marriages, divorces and deaths – have been, and will continue to be, reported to you with breathless joy, hurt and great sadness by the media as if these people were your relatives.
It has also become, in a country still, at heart, a hierarchical and conservative culture, a kind of reasonably satisfactory red line. This will be especially true in the coming days as she comes from Balmoral in London to lie in state, and the demands and protection of public mourning will not be different from those imposed on an absolute monarchy. When it comes to the Queen, you can be called a heel to feel that you have very little to do with her. We may not have as much respect for our politicians as America does, but we like to tell people to cut back and show respect when given the chance. When your politicians are liars and you desperately need to believe in your leaders, when your common practices are divided among a million donors and when your extended family is broke, people want something to respect. People want certainty and confidence that they can lash out and say, yes, everything else in modern Britain may be catching up, but not this.
But nothing is sacred. Not the queen, nor her family, who in recent years have criticized the allegations, strongly denied, of the involvement of Prince Andrew in the victim of sex trafficking, and the investment of the property in questionable funds. And it is not the country that gave him a bridge but an alibi for a very long time. That was the work that the Queen came to fulfill in her later years: that of a woman who stepped forward when the public health infrastructure was crumbling, and opened the gap between an absent government. There is a fine line between promoting morale, and dismissing human actions by treating them as God’s actions.
I sense that some of you are drooling, dear readers. I understand. Some may think it’s too soon to talk about the disorder. But with the Queen passing, we’re entering a new chapter where our only hope for a more confident, connected country is to talk more about our flaws. The queen is gone, and with her goes our nation I guess. It’s time for her to rest. And more than time for the country to wake up.
Nesrine Malik is a journalist
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