26 May 2012

Stuff the Jubilee - hold a Party for Progress

by Trevor Phillips

The ‘Queen’s Diamond Jubilee’ public holiday on 5th June invites celebration of the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth 2nd to the throne of the UK. The Queen seems nice enough and has done a good job by most accounts, so I hope she has a pleasant day. But with her accession she was also appointed as the UK’s unelected Head of State – an arrangement considered intolerable by millions of democratic people, including myself, so I shall not be celebrating. And yet by voicing this view I can expect to be considered ‘unpatriotic’ by millions of my fellow citizens – or ‘subjects’ as they might prefer.

It’s easy to see why. After months of telling us to be excited, the UK media is still pumping up all the faux wonder of aristocracy and pomp and the absurd idea that the haves and have-nots of Britain are one, sharing family - united and headed by the monarch.

A week ago the Queen had her own Jubilee party to celebrate the wonders of hereditary rule. Guest included the unelected despots ruling Bahrain, Swaziland and Saudi Arabia. Personally, if we are known by the company we keep, I would have chosen differently. We paid the bill, of course. Now we are all supposed to hold Jubilee street parties, wearing Marks and Spencer frocks. Norfolk County Council, says its gushing Jubilee souvenir magazine, will pay £30,000 for the cakes.

If you don’t fancy any of this, there is an alternative. UK Uncut, http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/ the anti-cuts direct action group known for targeting tax dodgers, will hold street parties in the run up to the Jubilee, which will ‘resist the cuts and celebrate a future that is decided by us, not a handful of billionaires'. It will call for a ‘future uncut’ and protest against the government’s austerity agenda and the closure of local public services.

What a great idea! You could hold your own Great British Street Party celebrating the real Best of Britain - not the capacity to inherit wealth and power, to colonise peoples and reign over them, but our wonderful qualities and achievements: the post-war (WW2) creation of the NHS and the welfare state; our public services and support for the vulnerable. Will Norfolk County Council provide the cakes?

Events in East Anglia could adopt a local flavour, enabling kids and families to enjoy street party fun without jingoism and deference. We could theme the events around heroes such as Robert Kett, Thomas Paine, Elizabeth Fry, Wilf Page or Edith Cavell. How about a ‘Street Party for Progress’ where the songs celebrate shared humanity, compassion and the gains won by such champions of social progress? Instead of 'long to reign over us' and 'Rule Britannia’ we could sing of community and resistance. Try Leon Rosselson’s ‘The World Turned upside Down’.

You choose. It’s an opportunity for ordinary people to claw back cultural space from the minority who control the media and shape public consciousness. We can have fun – with dignity - and resist their onslaught on our lives.

The Egg-and-Spoon Race could take on a new form: the egg as the fragile welfare state and NHS carried on a spoon of democracy and public support. As care for the egg is more important than winning any race for profits, instead of a sprint neighbours could carefully pass decorated chocolate eggs to each other across fences and hedges.

Pass-the-Parcel might involve a list of corporate tax dodges and off-shore bank addresses enclosed in a blue box (wrapped in yellow paper) adorned with slogans such as 'Big Society' 'No Alternative', 'The NHS is safe in our hands'. Whoever finally strips it to reveal the true contents is declared ‘Daily Mail Traitor of the Month’, and wins a prize.

Musical Chairs could represent hospital beds, youth services, disability benefits or spaces in a depleted Citizens Advice Bureau. In this revised game, when the music stops, participants refuse to scramble for fewer chairs and instead collectively grab back the stolen chair and punish its snatcher. What fun! Ginger beer, anyone?

Why should national anniversaries be the property and gift of the Establishment, used to reinforce the Conservative world view that the status quo is preferable to change and progress? Where deference to power is disguised as patriotism, defined as loyalty to a figurehead or space.
Why not patriotism to a nation’s great institutions like free Legal Aid or an unprivatised NHS?

In 1982, at a ‘Stuff the Jubilee’ party in a Norfolk garden, I enjoyed the company of people sharing my values who wanted to escape the cynically managed hypnosis of media events, and the obsequious attitudes of royalists and forelock-touchers. In the sweltering heat, we mimicked our cultural rivals with a game of croquet on the lawn. I took my shoes and socks off. A doctor sitting nearby asked about the mole on my foot and insisted I saw my GP promptly. Within days I was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital undergoing removal of a malignant melanoma which might have killed me.

Amongst cancer patients, waiting for skin grafts to cover my biopsied foot, I had pondered on possible death and how magnificent was the NHS and all the public services established after World War Two in the teeth of a bankrupted economy. Establishment figures now tell us such basic rights and services are no longer affordable. They wish to take us backwards to an age when only the wealthy would be protected. But to achieve this they must keep us in an infantile, deferential and passive condition, believing them to be naturally superior, accepting their right to rule, fearing change; worshiping images of continuity, stability and hierarchy; singing their songs until the unexamined words become our own, cowered by their accusations of disloyalty to 'our' culture and its symbols; fearful of being called 'unpatriotic'.

So stuff the Jubilee. I will choose my own themes to endorse, people to revere and occasions to commemorate: and I reject the ones chosen for me. I hope to find some UK- Uncut activity to join. Or a street party for the values of real community not deference - and drink to Kett, Paine, Fry, Page and Cavell. I often joke that my politics saved my life, so if you join in, don't forget to take your socks off.

Stuff the Jubilee badges from the Coalition of Resistance:


  1. couldn't agree more. Time for progressives to reclaim patriotism, celebrate what truely makes Britain Great and defend our communities against this ideological onslaught from a privaleged minority. I hope you find your alternative jubilee celebration (maybe a naked one just incase!)

  2. Nice one Trevor! we might also remember, as the candidates for the archaic position of Archbishop of Canterbury jockery for position, and their supporters in the various camps of the church lobby for their favourites, that for all the rhetoric about the division of powers in 'modern' Britain (checks and balances you know) the Queen is not just Head of State but also Head of the Church, that the House of Lords remains unreformed and Bishops as well as other 'noble lords' sit in it still, and that vast tracts of London and other parts of 'Great Britain' are privately owned by members of the aristocracy and the Church. So stuff not just the Jubliee but the Establishment of state and church - and enjoy a democratic, progressive party (there arent many about now!)

    david s

  3. Brilliant post. And it all sounds so familiar here in Greece. Worshipping national symbols of a glorious past (how glorious for the ordinary Greek in the agora?) accompany an unquestioning attitude towards the present. I suppose our modern royal families have been the big clans, the Papandreous, the Karamanlises, the Mitstotakises, who now, under pressure from the cracks in the system, local and global, are being debunked.

    Socrates said the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’ and the current crisis is shaking people out of an uncritical respect for the past and concentrating the mind on the real roots of the current recession: deregulated markets, driven by risk and greed whose ‘mistakes’ are translated into bail-outs paid for by the real economy, by real wage-cuts, pension cuts, welfare-of-all-kinds-cuts and the destruction of a productive, real economy in favour of financial speculation.

    The upshot is that the new ‘agora’, the global markets, impose cuts on all the things that make life dignified (health, education, a clean environment) – any attempt to protect these symbols of human progress are attacked as unrealistic – there’s no money – but whether the money is there or not is a question of political priorities not some implacable, impersonal law of economics. The US could bring back, for example, the Glass-Steagall Act and Europe should pass similar laws separating the ‘high street’ banks from the speculative banks, forbidding the use of people’s deposits in high-risk speculative games which end up as bail-outs funded by the cuts you refer to. Thanks for an amusing and thought-provoking blog.

  4. I'm actually keeping the 'Your Norfolk Souvenir Edition'; it's the most hilarious and depressing piece of junk mail I've ever come across.

    Vive la République!

    PS - I don't think the EDP would have published your column ;). Keep up the writing, it's appreciated.