Sometimes it feels like Britain is a parody in itself. Almost too ironic, too ridiculous to be real, like we’re all stuck in some particularly gray version of The Matrix where the goal is to bring us back to the Victorian level of suffering and misery. It certainly has felt that way since the Queen passed away last week.
Of course, the death of a head of state, especially one who has served for seven decades, will always trigger a flood of grievances. Whether you’re a fan of the monarchy concept, the Queen was a constant in British life throughout most of our living memories.
For those who are fans of the kind of leadership that is unelected and highly elite, this is going to be a particularly sad time – perhaps a time to wear black, lay flowers or say a prayer. I expected the back-to-back coverage on all the major television channels, the documentaries about her life and the Buckingham Palace live stream – after all, we saw that after Prince Philip’s death last year.
What I did not expect was that grief would become some sort of ubiquitous excuse that obscures our economic and political reality and infiltrates all aspects of our lives, to the detriment of the poorest and most disadvantaged.
In the name of national mourning, things have gotten a little strange and, frankly, ridiculous. A few days ago, it appeared that the volume of checkout beeps in Morrisons stores had been reduced as a sign of respect for the Queen – and customers were having trouble scanning their groceries as a result. In Norwich, a cyclist posted a photo to twitter which revealed that a bike rack in the center of the city had been closed for two weeks of national mourning – and any bikes attached to it would be removed.
Random and innocuous events such as children’s soccer tournaments and duck races with little discernible ties to the royal family were canceled across the country, and brands responded to national grievances by introducing quirky initiatives out of respect for the Queen. The Met Office even cut back on its announcements—as if the weather, too, had paused for national mourning.
But last week wasn’t just weird. They’ve now reached the point where they’re getting really troubling, with downright dangerous and long-lasting consequences for those already struggling up and down the country.
First, there are the serious consequences for our democratic right to hold those in power to account. The petitions on the government website have been suspended, rendering the public unable to use their vote to make changes. After the horrific murder of an unarmed black man, Chris Kaba, at the hands of a police officer, the new Met Police chief declined to investigate the media over 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 that are nothing more than holding a sign that reads “Not my king” or calling Prince Andrew a “sick old man”. Under the all-embracing excuses of respect and decency, even lukewarm anti-monarchy sentiments are no longer acceptable in this nation of hollow platitudes, it seems.
All this said, I was able to put up with silent supermarkets and cancel sporting events – even the murky timing of the government’s recess could be excused given the conservatives’ track record of offering little support to those who need it most anyway. – but what justifiable reason is there to cancel medical appointments on the day of the Queen’s funeral?
Yes, it is because it is a public holiday that these essential services are closed, but it seems almost impossible to close food banks, cancel pediatric cardiology appointments or delaying MRI results.
How come other grieving families whose funerals were scheduled for Monday have to reschedule the laying of their loved ones simply because the Queen passed away at the same time? Even those who deeply mourn the loss of the Queen can certainly see the hypocrisy and irony of the situation. We could certainly have held the funeral on Sunday – and planned a memorial holiday 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 realities of life during a cost of living crisis. The point is, poverty has no holidays. Not even before 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 closes in the name of national mourning. Those who have already faced longer wait times for hospital appointments may now be getting critical medical care cut back, with potentially life-threatening consequences – especially for people with disabilities and chronic conditions.
It is estimated that millions will be spent on the Queen’s funeral – at a time when indicators of child poverty in some parts of the country have risen by as much as 14 percent in the last 18 months, and households across Britain are too have to deal with utility bills that will plunge them into debt and layoff.
The death of a soul is a sad thing, but this death of a billionaire queen imbued with inherited privileges will be felt most by the communities already facing multiple disadvantages – and I hope the sheer irony of that is enough. is to the stomach of even the most ardent of royalists.