WELL-BRED AND CROCUSES: It’s a royal holiday. No, it’s two royal holidays. With the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton — which was to be a discreet affair, ha ha — announced for April 29 in Westminster Abbey, PM Dave Cameron has announced there will be not one, but two days of holiday to mark the happy occasion. Together with Easter, that will make two four-day weekends back to back, effectively shutting the country down for the best part of a fortnight. Funny how we all have to work hard, increase productivity, etc, except when an ancient monarchical ritual is involved, at which point everything dissolves like a mad May fair.

The government and the “firm” — the royals — are saying that the timing and event has nothing to do with politics, which is just inbred. The wedding will come a week before a triple election, when the Scottish and Welsh assemblies go to the polls, at the same time as a referendum is held on the voting system, with the UK public being offered preferential voting (which they call AV), as an alternative to first past the post.

The idea that the wedding and the attendant holiday do not constitute a monumental festival of Britishness is laughable. The whole ceremony is geared towards arguing that Scots and Welsh should think of themselves as part of a larger enterprise, and identify with it. The son of the Prince of Wales, having attended a Scots university and marrying an English rose? It’s Britain in miniature. The Scottish election, and the share of vote gained by the SNP will determined whether there’s a referendum on independence or not, and whether it will succeed, and the “firm” is obviously scared sh-tless of independence north of the wall, and the break up of Britain. This would throw the whole monarchy into confusion. Is Elizabeth Guelph-Battenberg (nee Saxe-Coburg-Gotha), aka Windsor actually Queen of Scotland at all? Scotland would most likely follow independence with the creation of a republic, but the confusion would show the constructed nature of the monarchy — which ultimately derive their occult power from some notion that they are ordained by nature rather than a cultural-political arrangement.

They need not worry, at least down south if the past few days are anything to go by. The papers continue to devote six to eight pages a day to the nuptials, the romance, the whether Kate had a picture of William on her wall, the why they took a break for a few months, the guest list the ceremony and so on. Furthermore we are told, the public won’t be paying for it (except for the £5 million security bill). Instead, the Queen will be footing the bill — from, um, the income from her vast land ownership. I can’t wait for the bourgeois-democratic revolution to hit Britain — the 18th century should be with us at any moment.

REVOLTING STUDENTS: One group that’s revolting are the students, largely due to the inadequate British plumbing system, fnarr fnarr. Central London was in uproar again today, as a student protest attempted to march on Lib-Dem headquarters in Whitehall. Prevented from gaining access, the black bloc wrecked a deserted police van, after which the whole demo was “kettled” — penned in — for several hours. There were protests and occupations across the country, including a takeover of the Sheffield Uni admin block in Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg’s constituency. A goodly proportion of the protesters were high school students, who walked out of school to attend.

The continuing protests — against moves to raise tuition fees towards nine grand ($18,000, no $17,000 no … that Aussie dollar really is going gangbusters) — come at the same time as education secretary Michael Gove announces further sweeping changes to secondary education, which include greater school autonomy in curriculum choice, etc, a greater ease at defining a school as failing, a return to single exams rather than modules, and an emphasis on traditional subjects. Gove argues that he’s borrowing from countries with top-flight educational systems and achievements, Finland being the example most cited. It’s bollocks, of course — Finland has no private school system to speak of, 90% union coverage of teachers, and no school “league tables” or internal competition. Its high degree of school autonomy is set within a strong socialist and collective ethos, which sees education as dedicated to the creation of a social citizen, and that conception of life drives its stonking success. Some of Gove’s reforms are to the good, but overall they’re part of a culture war in which education plays a proxy role for contesting versions of selfhood and culture. In five years, UK education will be the same or worse.

IF IT’S THURSDAY, IT MUST BE BELGIUM: The country no one loves, not even Belgians, became the latest target of the European money markets, with the supplementary cost of credit swaps based on its national debt soaring to a 1.5% premium. The markets are allegedly responding to a continued failure by the country to rein in a 100% debate, and to actually form a government — the country has been without one since April. Responses to debt are split along ethnic lines — the Francophone Walloons are resisting cuts, the Flems are willing to choke them back down.

Belgium’s position hasn’t been helped by the tepid response to Ireland’s proposed austerity packages, even though it includes a 13% reduction in the minimum wage, 15,000 job losses in the civil service, and VAT increase — cuts of 10% in government spending overall. The country’s ultra-low 12.5% company tax rate will remain. Fears remain that the Irish situation will knock on to Spain or Portugal, and then back to the UK given the high exposure of banks to Irish debt. In other words, the collapse of legitimacy continues across Europe, and the political class are far from certain how to respond to it — though another 26 royal weddings, one for each member state would help.

Peter Fray

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