Simon Kelner: Bring on the bread and circuses – and the hypocrites

Kelner's view


At the start of the week, my colleague Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was characteristically forthright in her antipathy towards the Jubilee. Not for her a union jack plate, some bunting and a street party.

Instead, she wanted to see the Royal Family dragged into the street, stripped of their ceremonial and constitutional duties, Buckingham Palace turned into an Internet cafe for the homeless, and Jamie Oliver installed as the people's head of state. Actually, she said only one of those things – she's clearly a fan of Jamie's soy-baked salmon with zingy salsa – but I admire her passion on the subject. I have a different kind of problem when it comes to the Royals and the Jubilee – I just can't get excited one way or the other.

I think I'd quite like to live in a republic. I'd definitely prefer to be a citizen than a subject, and I can see that the privilege bestowed on people as a birthright doesn't have much of a place in a modern democracy. But I can't quite see how we get from here to there, without a bloody revolution or the monarch voluntarily deciding to chuck it all in and proclaiming that it was the end of the line.

I don't have strong feelings about The Queen, either. I don't see her as the symbol of the worst excesses of the British class system, but nor do I go all gooey-eyed and Gawd-Bless-You-Ma'am at one sight of the world's most energy-efficient wave. I do think The Queen, and the history she represents, adds lustre to our national self-image.

The financial argument can be worked whichever way your sympathies lie: the Royal Family, with their planes, trains and automobiles, are a drain on public finances, or the pageantry and traditions they embody brings billions into the country in tourism. (I have to say that anyone moving around central London in recent days couldn't help but incline towards the latter view.)

The truth is that I have an uncomfortable sense of disconnection with the Jubilee celebrations. I walk past shops with fabulous displays of Royal memorabilia, I see bunting everywhere and flags flying proudly from public buildings, and none of it touches the sides as far as reaching towards my emotions is concerned.

I am very pleased to have a double-bubble Bank Holiday this weekend, and I intend to go to a street party in the heart of the English countryside on Monday. Am I a hypocrite? Maybe I am, but surely I can't be alone – certainly not among i readers anyway – in taking my ambivalence along to a jolly, well-intentioned communal party. Or, even worse, am I turning conservative?

Too much of our public discourse is conducted on black-and-white lines, and there is sometimes not the room for a nuanced, or some may say confused, opinion. Sorry, Yasmin, but I just can't buy into your republican dream. It turns out I'm susceptible to bread and circuses after all.

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