For a rationalist and socialist—come to that, for anyone who enjoys such trifles as multiculturalism and equal rights—Christmas in the UK can be…jarring. There’s the nativities, yes, and the omnipresent consumerist excess. There’s the come let us adore him and the cash-drawer noise at the start of I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday. And then there’s the Queen’s Speech.
For those of you from Australia, or North America, or Mars, or however far it is one has to go to escape Queen Lizzie’s RP tones, ‘The Queen’s Speech’ isn’t a post-feminist remake of that Colin Firth movie, shot by the ‘herstory’ movement for the sake of balance. It’s a televised, pre-recorded Christmas day address by Our Liz, in which she imparts deep insightful heartwarming meaningless platitudes into the wide-gaping ears of her loyal subjects. Which according to my passport (I believe I’m entitled to an Irish one too, but my current little brown book is British), means me.
I never used to be overly riled by the monarchy. It’s wrong, that’s obvious. It’s wrong like an unelected House of Lords is wrong. Nobody is better than anybody else by right. The idea that a human being may turn to another human being and say ‘I am better than you, do as I say’ apropos of nothing but birth is essentially what every victory in Homo Sapiens’ patchwork history has been a victory against. Against apartheid, against slavery, against male-only suffrage. But the glitzy little instantiation of this idea sitting waving in Buckingham Palace has only recently managed to really get my goat.
Oh, let them be!, thought I—up to a point. Their powers are purely ceremonial, I reassured myself. Queenie wouldn’t ever refuse to grant an election. Besides, the tourist dollars her spoiled clan bring in probably dwarf whatever they suck from the public purse. But frankly, I’ve had it with that. Let the tourists buy Yorkshire pudding.
Maybe this flame was lit by the oily spectacle of this year’s Royal Wedding, inescapable even in the antipodes. Certainly it was fuelled by the Princess Anne debacle at my own university, an illustration of cronyist money-greased privilege so odious that the Student newspaper’s frontpage simply read, “A FUCKING DISGRACE.” The flame was fanned by the recent media suggestions that the ill-health of Prince Philip, a man whose public persona consists entirely of being a dickhead to anybody with the audacity to be foreign (except himself), was a matter for national concern, rather than for a sort of guilt-tinged schadenfreude.
And after this whole conflagration, there came the Queen’s Speech, which contained not a single abdication.
Well, that’s enough. They’re obnoxious. Stop them. If we must, if it would somehow ease the transition like those nice Allied forces in Baghdad did so successfully, we can let Liz live out her life. She does, at least, perform the bizarre role which life has allotted her with decorum and a degree of understatement. A few more years of the poshest rounded vowels humanly imaginable, and then Britain can quietly slide into being a republic with no real bother to anyone.
It’s the content of Lizzie’s little piece-to-camera – which you can watch below if you genuinely don’t have anything better to do, such as playing Bomberman or arranging your clothing by RGB code – which brings my ‘rationalist’ outrage in. For the most part, the Queen’s Speech dealt in the vague waffling mentioned above. In addition, there was a passing reference to the Brisbane floods, which I was shocked to realise happened only this year. But then, at the end, she suddenly went all Jesus.
The speech is flecked with a few religious moments, as indeed one might expect from a Christmas message by a Christian, who do tend to persist with the bizarre notion that they somehow own the day (not that it changes much, but even Wiki notes that the date of Jesus’ birth was unknown; the Christian connections of December 25th are lifted directly from previous Pagan faiths. Here, let Stephen Fry inform you). These moments, though, were fleeting and essentially harmless. Then, at the end:
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Remind yourself: this is nominally the monarch of the United Kingdom. The Head, albeit in a powerless, ceremonial way, of State. And she is telling her State, her State of 1.6m Muslims, 600,000 Hindus, 336,000 Sikhs, 267,000 Jews and 152,000 Buddhists (source), to find room in their lives for CHRIST THEIR FUCKING LORD. This, makes me angry. I’m not even so offended for the atheists, agnostics and aren’t-really-sures. They, for the most part, are going to be independently minded people who can take religious dogma and brush it aside with a bit of a giggle. But to be of another religion – and in many cases a first- or second- generation immigrant to these islands – and be told by the unelected Symbol of Britain with her term for life that your creed is lesser than ours. Convert, cries the missionary, to be one of us. One might call that unwelcoming. Resentment could quite justifiably result. It’s that same old problem, that same silly struggle, again. And we can’t even vote ‘em out.
I think I should say, before I seem so unseasonal as to resemble the plums in Tesco’s produce aisle, that I really like Christmas. Take out the Christ, obviously, and the mass as well, and you’re left with a delightful mashup of silly traditions, terrible songs, indoor trees, family reunions and the only rituals in the world more elaborate than me, Gareth and Patrick making coffee of a morning. Christmas is a night out with my mates on Christmas eve, piles of food, and then the awesome rite of present-giving, which satisfies both the altruistic and the selfish urges. And all the silly monarchs and silly religions in the world couldn’t stop that being a magnificent time.
So wherever and whoever and whatsoever you are, I hope your 25th of December was stuffed with all your favourite ceremonies, tinsel and fluff, and that your waistline is every bit as strained right now as mine. And I’ll leave you with a song by a man who feels much the same as I – a song which, the first time I heard it, brought me closer than I’d normally admit to tears.
Be glorious, all y’all.