2000s >> 2002 >> no-1173-may-2002

Editorial: The belated death of a class warrior

So, she’s finally gone. The BBC dusted off its pre-prepared reels of fawning documentaries and gave Peter Sissons the task of breaking the bad news to the public. Sissons, however, forgot the script and put on a maroon tie, much to the chagrin of the Daily Mail, who seemed to want him charged with treason.

Then one million pathetic crawlers emerged from under their rocks to line the streets of the capital – or at least that’s the way it first appeared. In reality, many turned up just to see the spectacle. And for the million who turned up on the day another 57 million voted with their feet and didn’t.

Why should they have paid their respects to Britain’s most famous parasite anyway? Few in society epitomised the privilege and condescension which are the traditional hallmarks of the owning class better than Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. That patronising grimace and vague wave of the gloved hand (like “opening a jar slowly” she once said, but in reality more like a thinly disguised two-fingered salute) were the body language of one who considered herself “born to rule”.

Of course, this was an arrogance that was as baseless as it was base. For what was the Queen Mother actually good at? What did she do? Did she ever make things? Or look after people? Or teach them? By all accounts she couldn’t even open her own curtains or squeeze the toothpaste from its packet without having assistance from one of her fifty servants. Sure, she drank gin a lot by all accounts but any of us can do that and it can hardly be considered a talent. She liked the gee-gees too – and a flutter – but then so does your average derelict.

Some people in the queues outside Westminster Abbey said she “stood by the nation during the war”, but what exactly did they mean by that? Were the blitzed and beleaguered working class in wartime London supposed to thank their little ration books that she hadn’t decamped to join most of the rest of her family in Germany? And why should we all be eternally grateful to her for this since?

During the blitz the working class in the East End of London took a different view of her entirely. When she lorded it over them on one of her walkabouts, they returned her salute to them with interest, pelting her with rotten vegetables. Then, after Buckingham Palace was hit by a couple of stray bombs she made her famous statement that “I can now look the East Enders in the eye” despite the fact that for nearly all the blitz the King and Queen were holed up in Windsor Castle. It was one of first of the many PR stunts for which the entire royal family are now famous.

And some public relations triumph it was – at least for a while. It is in many respects quite amazing that the Queen Mother was able to cultivate the image she did as “the nation’s favourite grandmother”, representing an oasis of virtue in an otherwise barren scene. The epithets most commonly deployed to describe her by those who had never met her: “caring”, “considerate”, “dignified” and “loyal”, were phrases devoid of real meaning. How could it be otherwise when she spoke in public rarely if ever, didn’t give an interview from 1928 until her death and never wrote an article or otherwise do anything to instil such emotions or elicit such responses?

Her political views were just about as reactionary as they come – far to the right of where popular opinion currently resides, enough to make even Mr Blair blush. She was an old-fashioned ruling class warrior – anti-trade union, suspicious of (and patronising towards) the working class and distrustful of arrivistes like Blair and New Labour. She reportedly said on one occasion that she preferred “Old” Labour but even this was only for their novelty value and so long as they stayed in opposition, where they belonged.

In the end, she died when the popularity of the thing she held dearest – the Royal Family as exemplars of ruling class standards and etiquette – had already started to badly fade. That so few people were really bothered or troubled by her death is testament to this as was the decision by the BBC to significantly scale down its coverage compared to what had been envisaged some years ago.

Socialists – like increasing numbers of the working class as a whole it would seem – will remember her for the things that truly defined her existence: her uselessness on the one hand and her daily embodiment of ruling class privilege on the other. Born in different circumstances into a different environment she may have grown to be somebody genuinely useful to society. But, unfortunately, and to paraphrase the lady herself, she was born to be a parasite. And for that we can only say goodbye . . . and good riddance.

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