Elections and Coronations in Spring

There were two Bank Holidays in England at the beginning of May. The ‘Early’ May Bank Holiday fell on 1st May. This, briefly, put the UK in step with much of the world, where May Day, or International Workers Day, is always celebrated on 1st May. But it will only be the case for 2023. One week later Monday the 8th May was gazetted as the public holiday to mark the coronation of Charles and Camilla on Saturday 6th May.

Some of the ideas put forward around the coronation illustrate how tone deaf the Monarchy and their supporters are, although it must be said that the press did their best to make up ‘shock horror’ stories. The first example was the ‘Oath of Allegiance’. This will, as part of the ceremony, be sworn by those present in Westminster Abbey. It was suggested that British citizens watching the coronation could do this (swear the oath), from their sofas to create a “Homage for the People”. The Mirror, a downmarket paper, had a headline: “Religious leaders sparked outrage saying those watching on TV can join the 2,000 in Westminster Abbey”. Lambeth Palace, the source of Church of England press releases, backtracked and said this would be an ‘invitation not an expectation’. I should hope so!

The second example is “The Big Help Out”. The idea is people should volunteer their time on 8th May. Of the 10 recommended activities in my postcode area, two were to donate food via Tesco – a supermarket in the UK, and four were to help in the local Red Cross charity shop. What a joke! Princess Anne (Charles’ sister) went record as saying, “she does not think a slimmed-down monarchy is a “good idea”.”1 Are people excited by the coronation? I think they are underwhelmed. One report said, “It is hoped some 38,000 church bells will ring out but only if enough ringers can be found… there is … a national shortage of campanologists….”

It is not surprising that the death of the Queen and the imminent coronation of Charles has given rise to a degree of national introspection. Do we want or need a royal family? One of the arguments made for them is that they are a tourist attraction and contribute significantly to the national coffers. This does not stand up to scrutiny. According to Al Jazeera the Sovereign Grant, in 2021-2022 was £86.3 million pounds ($108m), £1.29 per person in the UK.2 This does not seem like much, but they have other sources of income through land ownership, and unlike most people they do not pay income tax! There will, hopefully, be a serious conversation about the role of the monarchy.

On the 4th May there were local government elections in many parts of England. As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I was marginally involved in the process. I did a great deal of leaflet delivery for the party. Ailsa is a Green Party member, and she was far more involved than me. I helped her deliver her allocated leaflets and she, in turn, helped me with my rounds. We were happy to do this as it was, effectively, walking with a purpose. The Greens were the most active party in some wards. My observation is the Greens did the most followed by the Lib Dems.

We had a Liberal Democrat councillor in our ward and had been working to get him re-elected. I watched the election results for most of Friday, to my dismay the Tories took all the seats in our ward. However, the Conservatives have lost overall control of our council, the Broadland District Council. The results were Tories with 21 seats, Liberal Democrats with 14, Labour with eight and Green with four. An alliance by the opposition parties can run the council. I believe these alliances are the way forward for non-Tory parties. There was some de-facto cooperation in this election, but there may need to be more if the national government is to change. Unfortunately, the next national election may be as long as 15 months away.

The irony of local government election results being announced the day before the coronation is not lost on me. The hereditary monarchy on the one hand, and democracy in action on the other! The coronation was probably a welcome distraction for the Tories given the scale of their losses. When the dust has settled after the elections and the coronation, I am not sure what I will do with my time. I will go back to working on my memoir, which I am really writing for myself, although I hope it will have wider appeal. I have realised it will fall into two parts. The first will cover the period up to the age of twenty-four, when I started my first professional job, post university. I do not think there is anything controversial in this. The same can’t be said for the rest of my working career. I am not sure how I will deal with this but intend to participate in a memoir writing course offered by the Writers’ Centre in Norwich. I have not signed up yet as I really want to do an in-person course.

In past blogs I have written about books or films I have enjoyed, and which have amused or influenced me. First the film and then books. But before that, let me note the first of the migratory swifts have arrived in Norwich. I thought I heard their unmistakable high-pitched whistling calls on Friday the 5th May and then on Saturday I saw four darting and dancing in the sky. It feels good.

Polite Society. This film is a 2023 British action comedy-drama film. It is great fun. A synopsis of the plot, without spoilers, is: British-Pakistani teenager Ria Khan’s goal is to be a movie stuntwoman. Her older sister Lena, an art school dropout, makes films of her doing stunts. The family attend an Eid Mubarak soirée, where Salim, the son of the hostess, meets Lena and starts dating her. The relationship develops and they plan to marry. Ria, armed with information about Salim, is determined to prevent the marriage, and enlists two schoolmates to assist. The story develops from there. What was intriguing about this film, other than the story, was the cast of almost all Asian characters; the incredible fight scenes with exceptional choreography; the over-the-top characterisation of British Pakistani stereotypes, including the parents and son; and the exquisite costumes and sets, even though it is set in the suburbs of London. It is a totally feelgood film, with excellent acting. It was a well spent, fun afternoon.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, The Last Gift, Bloomsbury Paperbacks, London, 2012
I ordered this book from my favourite bookshop Bookbugs and Dragon Tales3 in Norwich. I had understood that it was set in Durban and Norwich. I am ashamed to say that I had not heard of Gurnah who was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. I was slightly disappointed as Durban does not feature; the East Africa setting is Zanzibar, where Gurnah was born in 1948. Additionally, Norwich is barely mentioned. However, apart from that, it was a good and very thought provoking read. It is effectively the story of the death of Abbas, how he responds to this and the effect on his family. The book was extensively reviewed in the Guardian.4 It is well worth reading.

Ian Dunt, How to be a Liberal, Cranbury Press, Kingston upon Thames, 2020, 480 pages
It is easy to be depressed by the advances of nationalism around the world. This is an important book, and antidote to depression, written by a political journalist and commentator. However, it is long and not an easy read, it took me a month. The discussion of Isaiah Berlin’s philosophy was eye opening. Berlin’s core belief was individual freedom. Dunt writes,

‘Some of the great goods (such as Liberty, Equality, Justice, Mercy, Courage, Studiousness) cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss … there really was no right answer … a moral tragedy…At their most severe, these tragedies were the result of something called incommensurable goods. These were values that were ‘equally ultimate,’ for which there was no common measure to establish a fixed way of deciding between them. They were often fundamental: liberty and equality, justice and mercy, freedom and belonging … .’ (Page 264).

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/may/02/princess-anne-slimmed-down-royal-family-doesnt-sound-like-a-good-idea
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/5/2/how-much-does-the-british-royal-family-cost-its-complicated
  3. https://bookbugsanddragontales.com/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/22/last-gift-abdulrazak-gurnah-review

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