|Volume 50 Number 13, April 11, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
For only the fifth time in her 68 years as "Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland" and "Head of State of the entire British Commonwealth of Nations", on Sunday, April 5, Elizabeth II gave a special address "to the nation and to her subjects".
The media and pundits lauded it to the skies saying that, even though it was less than five minutes long, its "We're all in this together" message was very sincere and heartfelt and brought tears to their eyes.
Like her counterparts in governments which make up the Anglo-American world and community of nations under their sway, she presented the battle against the coronavirus COVID-19 as a war. In her case, it was cleverly done by evoking the 1939 British wartime song, "We'll Meet Again", as sung by the enormously popular Vera Lynn. Lynn, who is still alive at 103 years of age, was widely known as the "Forces' Sweetheart", and came to symbolise the spirit of resistance in the fight against fascism. The lyrics of the song, which Vera Lynn made famous, say:
We'll meet again,
don't know where,
don't know when,
but I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through
just like you always do;
'til the blue skies drive
the dark clouds far away.
So will you please say hello
to the folks that I know.
Tell them I won't be long.
They'll be happy to know
that as you saw me go
I was singing this song.
We'll meet again,
don't know where,
don't know when,
but I know we'll meet again some sunny day.
The Queen in her speech asserted: "We will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may still have much to endure, better days will return."
The context is the global pandemic and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding it, with whole societies in lock-down, people and nations isolated from each other, whilst working people are carrying out essential services at the risk of their lives. In the run-up to Sunday night's broadcast, much was made of the forthcoming speech. The BBC's Royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, kept appearing in mini-announcements to reveal what Her Majesty would be giving in a speech of momentous import. Parallels were drawn between this speech and the period of the Blitz in London during 1940-41 at the start of the Second World War. The reference to Vera Lynn aptly summed up the mood of the nation at the time of the Blitz and after to endure the hardships necessary to defeat fascism, whilst lifting the spirits of everyone fighting across the globe.
Whether by accident or design, no matter - the timing of the speech coincided with the announcement that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, already infected by the coronavirus, had been admitted into the ICU in a London hospital. The speech thus also served to rally the troops, so to speak, should anyone be worried about a power vacuum in command of the nation in time of crisis.
Since the suspension of the Parliament and declaration of emergency measures, it has become evident to all that the entire authority and decision-making power is concentrated in the Prime Minister and Cabinet-rule. Boris Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus on March 27, sending the government and chains of command into further crisis. The media and political opposition and pundits were at sixes and sevens. The prospect that the Prime Minister was himself critically ill, all of a sudden raised the scare of who would rule in his place. This became the prime concern for the ruling circles. Besides speculation about which cabinet minister was entitled to replace him, others indulged in hand-wringing suggesting that if only Britain had a written constitution, all would be clear. Or that suspending Parliament was all well and fine but the elected representatives must be given a say.
Step in the Queen to calm the nation in what is in fact a rather desperate measure to give the impression that the government has the consent of the people to implement whatever agenda it sees fit during this pandemic. The suggestion is that this is the British way. It must be done as was done in World War II and that is that. Trust us.
It is not for nothing that in the US and Canada the current battle against the coronavirus is also rendered as a war in which, this time, we are all on the same side. The US Surgeon General declared this to be "Our Pearl Harbour, Our 9/11". Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has been using this war metaphor over and over to communicate the message: "We will get through this together," "We look after each other - that is the Canadian way."
All of it raises a very pertinent question: Who is the "We" the Queen represents and others refer to? The peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland? Certainly not, let alone of peoples of the "Commonwealth Nations" which she declared herself head of after her coronation some more than 60 years ago.
Right from the opening sentence of her speech, it was as if this pandemic has created a blip in the otherwise solid and constant path followed by Her Majesty's government. We were told that this was "an increasingly challenging time, a time of disruption in the life of our country", that there has been "grief for some", and "financial difficulties to many". But we will prevail.
By inference, the message was: "We're all in it together", the One Nation conception of everyone pulling together and putting aside their individual aspirations and needs to get the job done and defeat the enemy. In this case, though the Queen did not directly allude to it, is the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, she said at one point: "Together we are tackling this disease and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it."
All to say that the difficulties people are facing are not man-made by successive governments who have been paying the rich handsomely from the state treasury while the people are forced to fend for themselves. In the world of the rich, essential workers are expected to put themselves in harm's way for the greater good. We will mourn their passing and carry on... It is our duty.
What people see is something else. In contrast to the spirit of the Blitz when the conditions and authority at the time of the anti-fascist war in the 1940s were in sync, today's conditions and authority clash. We are not in this together because the authorities in command have for thirty years unleashed a vicious anti-social agenda on society which has all but destroyed the system of public health, education, transportation and the aim of society based on the motto One For All and All For One. The motto of the ruling classes today is: All for One. That's it. Let Everyone Fend for Themselves and so long as we get richer, the consequences be damned.
In this regard, the essence of the Queen's speech is an appeal to workers and people of the "British Isles" and the "Commonwealth" to entrust their fate to those who have destroyed the national health system and made the rich richer and the poor poorer. There is a subliminal message that if anyone gets sick it is their fault for somehow not social distancing despite properly or adequately or for who cares what reason. The lack of care for the care workers, essential workers, elderly and others is not mentioned. On the contrary, a false impression is given that the government is looking after everyone.
We have a context where of necessity people are physically isolated from each other but no mechanisms are in place to find collective solutions to problems at a time the government is only looking after number one.
The conditions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic bring out starkly that people are barred from participating in having a say in the decisions which affect their lives. It is very important that in this situation, unions and workers are speaking out and demanding the kind of protective gear and working conditions they require to do their job of caring for people while they also have a huge role in getting this virus under control.
There is a lot of diversionary discussion which juxtaposes the emergency police powers which Boris Johnson has concentrated in his hands and what it means for the Parliament to be shut down. The Parliament is said to be the only mechanism the people have to express their will via their representatives. But again, in comes the Queen to rally the troops to march on and accept that they will not be seeing many of themselves ever again but they can at least cling to the hope that they will and, in the meantime, their contribution to their loved ones is to do their duty and hope for the best.
Some would say that the Queen's sincerity would be a tad more to the point if she opened her castles to house the poor and the homeless and her warehouses, kitchens and estates to feed the working poor the system she is presiding over has created and discarded. But that too diverts from the pertinent fact that the pandemic not only poses a physical danger to all the members of society without exception but also stands as a metaphor for the paralysis of power and decision-making that has engulfed the whole society in Britain, and many societies across the world. In all respects, we have reached an impasse, the resolution of which requires the acknowledgement that the situation demands the people's empowerment because the rulers are unfit to govern.
To be in the hands of the likes of Boris Johnson, whether sick himself or in perfectly good health, is a disaster for the peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland. The ruling class interests he and the successive governments before him represent, no matter what their political stripe, have caused havoc in the past thirty years, destroying the medical system, forcing everyone to fend for themselves, increasing the number of poor people and the extent of their poverty, while putting the onus on the people to sort out all the problems, including this coronavirus pandemic.
And the fact is that the Queen has presided over it all to hide from the people where the decision-making power lies. She is the stand-in for the fictitious person of state which represents the rule of the high and mighty against the rule of the alleged "mob". The Royal We is not you and I, it is not the people, her alleged subjects, those who are ruled over.
By speaking in our own name we can find out who we are and what we need and how we think we can get it. The only way forward is one which takes account of the ensemble of human relations, and to what they are revealing which is that the people cannot afford to entrust their fate to the self-serving ruling class.