Sometimes it feels like Britain is a parody of itself. Almost too ironic, too ridiculous to quite be real, like we’re all stuck inside some particularly grey version of The Matrix where the aim is to restore us back to Victorian levels of suffering and misery. It has certainly felt this way since the Queen passed away last week.
Of course, the death of a head of state, particularly one who served for seven decades, is always going to induce an outpouring of grief. Whether or not you are a fan of the concept of monarchy, the Queen was a constant in British life throughout most of our living memories.
For those who are fans of the sort of leadership that is unelected and very much elite, this is going to be a particularly sorrowful time – perhaps a time to wear black, to lay some flowers or say a prayer. I expected the back-to-back coverage on all major television channels, the documentaries about her life and the live-stream of Buckingham Palace – after all, we saw the same after the death of Prince Philip last year.
What I didn’t expect was for mourning to become a sort of pervasive catch-all excuse that obscures our economic and political realities and infiltrates all aspects of our lives, to the detriment of the poorest and most disadvantaged.
In the name of national mourning, things have become a little odd and, frankly, preposterous. A few days ago, it emerged that the volume on checkout beeps had been turned down in Morrisons stores as a sign of respect for the Queen – and that customers were struggling to scan their shopping as a result. In Norwich, a cyclist posted a photo to Twitter showing that a city centre bike rack had been closed for two weeks of national mourning – and that any bikes attached to it would be removed.
Random and innocuous events like children’s football tournaments and duck races with little discernible link to the royal family were cancelled up and down the country and brands capitalised on the national grief by introducing peculiar initiatives out of respect for the Queen. The Met Office even cut back on its announcements – as though the weather too had paused for national mourning.
But things haven’t just been bizarre in the past week. They’ve now reached the point of becoming genuinely troubling, with downright dangerous and long-lasting consequences for those already struggling up and down the country.
First are the grave implications on our democratic right to hold those in power to account. Petitions on the government website have been suspended, limiting the public’s ability to use their voices to enact change. Following the horrific killing of an unarmed Black man, Chris Kaba, at the hands of a police officer, the new Met Police commissioner refused to face media scrutiny due to national mourning. How convenient.
And in a further dystopian twist, citizens exercising their democratic right to protest have been arrested or harassed by authorities for crimes constituting nothing more than holding a sign saying “Not my King” or calling Prince Andrew a “sick old man”. Under the catch-all excuses of respect and decorum, even lukewarm anti-monarchy sentiments are no longer acceptable in this nation of hollow platitudes, it seems.
Having said all this, I could abide silent supermarkets and cancelled sports events – even the shady timing of the government’s recess could be excused given the Conservatives’ track record of offering little support to those who most need it anyway – but what justifiable reason is there to cancel medical appointments on the day of the Queen’s funeral?
Yes, it’s because it’s a bank holiday that these vital services are shutting down, but it feels nigh-on impossible to justify closing food banks, cancelling children’s cardiology appointments or delaying MRI results.
Why is it that other grieving families whose funerals were planned for Monday need to reschedule laying their loved ones to rest, simply because the Queen happened to pass away at a similar time? Even those who deeply mourn the loss of the Queen can surely see the hypocrisy and irony of the situation. We could have surely held the funeral on Sunday instead – and planned a bank holiday of remembrance at a later date.
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As is often the case, the brunt of these decisions will be felt most by those who are already experiencing the harsh reality of life during a cost of living crisis. The thing is, poverty doesn’t take a bank holiday. Not even for the Queen’s death.
As mourners pile up marmalade sandwiches outside a palace filled with gold and jewels, families struggling to feed their children will wonder how to cope when their local food bank is closed in the name of national mourning. Those who have already faced increased waits for hospital appointments will now have potentially critical medical care pushed back, with potentially life-threatening consequences – especially for those with disabilities and chronic conditions.
It is estimated that millions will be spent on the Queen’s funeral – at a time when markers of child poverty have risen by as much as 14 per cent in some parts of the country in the last 18 months, and households across Britain face energy bills that will plunge them into debt and destitution.
The passing of a soul is a sad thing, but this death of a billionaire monarch steeped in inherited privilege will be felt most by the communities already facing manifold disadvantages – and I would hope that the sheer irony of that is enough to turn the stomachs of even the most ardent royalists.