This Coronation Bank Holiday weekend marks two events that will retain prominence in British history books forever: the crowning of King Charles III on Saturday 6th May 2023 and the 78th anniversary of Germany’s unconditional capitulation on 8th May 1945 that brought an end to the Second World War in Europe.
The Royal Family and Britain’s World War victories are defining features of our national identity and regularly create occasions for celebration. This weekend, both elements came together with the unforeseen effect of highlighting a common, more sinister undercurrent relating to protest, or rather the right to protest.
For some people the traditional spectacle of ritual, religion, militarism, pomp and swathes of red, white and blue flag-wavers doesn’t reflect any aspect of their lives. Indeed, the price tag of putting on such an event appears obscene in a cost-of-living crisis. And the slightly creepy swearing of an oath of allegiance to the king resembled rather too closely the oath of obedience demanded by Hitler.
‘Not my King’ became their activist cry, just as other universal voices have cried out: ‘No war,’ ‘Just Stop Oil,’ ‘Insulate Britain,’ ‘Not in my name,’ ‘Me too,’ ‘Black lives matter.’
I am with everybody who is either tired of or has been inconvenienced by protestors. But I fully understand the frustration, desperation even, people feel that leads them to take extreme measures in order to draw attention to what they see as being destructive or plain wrong… for us all. Their right to have that voice of protest is indisputable. Aren’t we after all constantly reminded that the Second World War was fought and won to protect our freedoms because Hitler’s evil regime had removed so many?
No wonder then that there was an outcry of concern when, in the run-up to the coronation, the government rushed stronger laws through parliament intensifying the powers of the recently passed Policing Act while resurrecting proposals in the largely rejected Public Order Bill. With extended stop and search powers, the criminalisation of disruptive protests, and the imposition of protest banning orders, the right to peaceful protest is clearly under increasing threat.
“The coronation is a chance for the United Kingdom to showcase our liberty and democracy, that’s what this security arrangement is doing,” Mr Tugendhat, the Security Minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in defence.
Liberty and democracy? Hmmmh… I’m not sure those words quite match the policies and resulting actions!
And while the statement Home Secretary Suella Braverman made on Tuesday 2nd May might sound fair enough, in reality it is pure, misguided hypocrisy:
“The public shouldn’t have their daily lives ruined by so called ‘eco-warriors’ causing disruption and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer money… The selfish minority must not be allowed to get away with this. We are giving our police and courts the tools they need to stop this chaos and I back them in making full use of these powers.”
In another context, say in relation to our water companies and their appalling levels of waste, pollution and greed, a similar statement would make perfect sense, maybe along these lines:
The public shouldn’t have their daily lives and futures ruined by blatant ‘eco-destroyers’ causing disruption to public water services due to the contamination of our waterways and the wasting of millions of gallons of water each day. The selfish companies must not be allowed to get away with this. We are giving inspectors and courts the tools they need to stop these criminal practices and I back them in making full use of these powers.
I personally believe Britain would be a poorer nation, not a richer one without the monarchy. But I still respect the views of those who want a British republic because they see the Royal Family as an outdated, unrepresentative, dysfunctional and extortionately expensive establishment that should be abolished. Given King Charles’s sincere dedication and visionary, common sensical, environmental concerns and solutions, which he has expressed – and been ridiculed for – since the 1970s, my hopes are that he will sympathise with protestors in ways this government doesn’t. And he will help push forward the environmental agenda that the whole world desperately needs to make its priority.
The lessons of the Second World War, especially of the Third Reich with its top-down dictatorship, are more relevant today than ever. Nazism showed us how thin the ice of morality is, how even such a culturally advanced country as Germany could fall through into barbarity. It happened slowly, incrementally, in full sight. Little laws restricting more and more little freedoms…
As I say in In My Grandfather’s Shadow: Germany’s lessons are therefore universal, as are the questions we must all ceaselessly ask ourselves: how thick or thin is the ice today, and what structures are in place to stop us falling through it again?
‘In My Grandfathers Shadow’ is now out in Paperback.
Links to further reading (as always, not all reflect my opinions necessarily)
UK security minister defends new anti-protest laws before coronation – The Guardian
The Shame of the Coronation Arrests – The Spectator
King Charles will be green in deeds before words, says adviser – The Times
Water company environmental performance hits new low – Environment Agency
England’s water industry now represents the unacceptable face of capitalism – Simon Jenkins
Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945
Right to protest in UK ‘under threat’ after coronation arrests, human rights group warns – iNews
Monday 22nd May: British and Irish Association of Holocaust Studies Online Conference
Monday 22nd May: Nailsworth Festival
Tuesday 27th June: Bradford Literary Festival