By now you must all have heard about the Queen’s visit to UEA on Friday, to view an exhibition of Fijian art. What you may not have heard is the sound of anyone giving a toss. People I’ve talked to seem genuinely unmoved by the prospect of the Royal Visit.
My favourite response was from a guy who asked ‘didn’t she come last year?’ Well no she didn’t, but she has been here before. In 1994, to open the Queen’s Building, and in 1968, when her visit was greeted by well-attended republican demonstrations.
These protests included a seminar on democracy held outside, and were fuelled by resentment at the UEA’s name being attached to the monarchy, an institution they saw as constitutionally irrelevant. I think it would be fair to say that most students still hold this view, but the ideological fervour seen in ‘68 – the zenith of student activism across Europe – has certainly been lost. Indeed, there are a number of reasons not to be filled with rage at the UEA’s latest dabble in pageantry. First, of course, is that she actually seems like quite an adorable old lady nowadays, unless you subscribe to the somewht bizarre conspiracy theory that she’s a shapeshifting lizard.
Second is that, as people keep telling me, ‘she’s done a lot for this country’, and indeed her service for Great Britain includes training as a mechanic during the Second World War. She also overcame quite a nasty cold over Christmas. Then there’s the ‘bigger things to worry about’ argument. Students who really are politically active would rather spend their hashtags and e-petitions on serious issues, winning justice for Harambe, for example.
Equally, you’ll be excused for feeling just a twinge of irritation at the visit. Can we really forget the pooling of £370 million of taxpayers money for ‘essential’ refurbishments of the Buckingham Palace? Did no-one suggest that all those hospitals she’s opened could probably do with a sliver of that right now? It’s also difficult to ignore our commonly held political ideals. As an unelected, hereditary head of state, she is above democracy and the rule of law, and thus represents the last vestige of an absolutist, imperial Britain. She can, technically, dissolve parliaments, refuse Prime Ministers, declare war and drive without a license. ‘But tradition!’ retort the Royalists.
‘To be fair’, one royal-sympathiser said, ‘she’s never done anything against me personally’. Right, but neither has Trump, has he? And that didn’t stop 500,000 marching on London last week in a poignant show of resistance against the sexist, racist and divisive dogma of America’s new president. Almost fifty years on from 1968, perhaps a revival of anti-monarchical protests on campus would be a welcome sign that students still care. The lack of protests marking Her Majesty’s visit on Friday suggests that students’ overwhelming emotion towards the monarchy is disinterest. Perhaps our generation will be remembered for it’s apathy, although I doubt we’ll care very much. JR