Earlier this week, I had an email from a UK friend encouraging me to “keep smiling”. The invitation was in relation to the demise of Donald Trump, the former President of the USA. Trump was no longer the President of the USA – that must be a cause for rejoicing. With this I have no disagreement. In my view, Donald Trump had been a disaster for the USA, and it is likely that his influence will be felt for years to come – and not only in the USA.
On a more practical level, it may be considered strange that, on the day of Prince Philip’s funeral, the start times of major football matches are being altered to suit the time of his funeral service. Under present lockdown conditions in England, this decision seems quite unnecessary and over-reactive. The passing of the Duke of Edinburgh was the signal for around the clock extended discussion on the immediate circumstances of his passing, the effect of his death on the major members of the royal family, the future shape of the monarchy, and related subjects – even an elaborate inspection of expensive displays of flowers laid at suitable locations by members of an entranced public. What was not heard was any serious discussion on whether the monarchy had a future!
Coincidentally, around the same time as I received the above-mentioned email, I had another email from an Australian friend. The tone of this email was a little different. The friend was conveying condolences to me on the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Knowing that I was a convinced republican, I can only conclude that my Aussie friend was being just a little facetious.
Whilst the death of the Duke of Edinburgh was nothing to smile about, and duly deserved its moment of pause and recollect, nevertheless, I was amazed at the reaction to this event from the English media. For days on end the tabloid newspapers confronted the public with headlines favourable to both Prince Philip and the royalty he represented. Wall-to-wall television coverage newly informed or reminded the British public of the Prince Philip’s military achievements, esteemed civic service, paternal family relationships, and his personal appeal to the public.
In the event, my response to the correspondence from both friends was similar. I was grateful for the invitation to smile. The removal of Donald Trump from the equation was swift, though his lingering presence on the edge of USA politics is a cause of some concern. However, I gave extended time to thinking around my response at the attempt to join the general consolation over the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
His military record was over-stated; he was, in fact, in charge of a searchlight on a Royal Navy frigate. Like other members of his family, the medals that glaringly decorated his military uniforms were mainly honorary awards. His discriminatory remarks towards people of colour have been well documented. He was the paternal figure in a seriously dysfunctional family that involved controversy with both his children and grandchildren. He might engender some sympathy for the fact that he spent a substantial proportion of his public life gazing at the back of his wife!
As a republican, I found it to be rather strange that there was little comment about Prince Philip’s death emanating from the office of the British Republican Movement (BRM). In this regard, and in pointing out the fact that the news of Prince Philip’s death has been met with the expected response from the media, there was a strangely muted response from Graham Smith, the CEO of BRM, when he said of Prince Philip that, “His death is a personal and private matter for his family, and we won’t be saying too much about it over the coming weeks.”
However, Graham Smith did wish to point out that BRM, “Had been on the right side of the argument about how the media have responded, with a huge public reaction against the excessive wall-to-wall TV and radio coverage.” This comment was in relation to over 100,000 complaints about the BBC’s coverage of Prince Philip’s death during the past week – one of which was mine!
The nature of my complaint included the fact that the coverage was quite excessive in relation to the place occupied by the Duke of Edinburgh in the national life of the United Kingdom. The programming and its content lacked balance – it tended to be a paeon of praise to Prince Philip, largely ignoring aspects of his character and role that many, including myself, would consider detrimental to the views and practices of British people. At times, the coverage was obsequious, biased, and pandered to a highly favourable view of the monarchy – a view not shared by all British citizens.
In such circumstances as the death of a “royal”, the BBC, unfortunately, reverts to type as the major media outlet for monarchy. This is unacceptable for a public broadcasting network paid for by the taxpayer. Where were the legitimate alternative views in the BBC’s programming – views for which there is legislation in the BBC’s charter?”
In his letter to members of the BRM, Graham Smith further states that, “The death of a public figure is always something the news media will and should cover. Yet it is hard to imagine a similar response had it been a sitting prime minister or US president dying in office at an old age. This is something broadcasters will need to think very carefully about, as the monarchy is fast heading for a collision with modern British values and democratic instincts.”
Interestingly, no less a journalist than Polly Toynbee picked-up on the rather quiet response from Republic. In an article in The Guardian (15.04.20), she stated that, “No joy even from the anti-monarchy group Republic, which politely sent its condolences.” Toynbee was perhaps nearer the mark when she stated that “The Elizabethan age is slowly drawing to a close. The end of Prince Philip’s long life is a dress rehearsal for its final curtain, when the country will find itself reviewing what it has become, the choices it has made.”
Afua Hirsch is a Norwegian-born British writer, broadcaster, and former barrister, who has worked as a journalist for The Guardian, and was the Social Affairs and Education Editor for Sky News from 2014 until 2017. She is also a woman of colour who, in response to the death of Prince Philip, wrote an article entitled We can mourn Prince Philip, but not the monarchy.
In this article, Afua Hirsch says, “Above all, the unspoken requirement for us to publicly celebrate the monarchy’s gains – or mourn any of its losses – demands that I internalise a history of violence and racism against my own ancestors. The instinct I still feel to apologise for not doing so is evidence of how strongly those forces still exist.”
Hirsch concludes her article with, “So, if there is a fitting tribute to the passing of Prince Philip, I believe it would be to learn – with honesty – the lessons from both his life and the reactions to his death.” The parade is passing, with the hope that it will soon end.