Queen’s Death Media Coverage Is a Distraction From UK Cost-of-Living Crisis

This op-ed argues that the media hysteria over the Queen’s death is an attempt to build support for a broken society.
coverage of the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II
Rob Pinney/Getty Images

Anyone looking at public discourse in the United Kingdom right now could be forgiven for thinking that the country was suffering from an acute case of collective hysteria. Our media is completely monopolized by coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s death. On Monday, it was all but impossible to watch anything else as channel after channel was broadcasting rolling coverage of the funeral.

The coverage itself was painful. One reporter devoted airtime to questioning why David Beckham chose to mourn while wearing a hat.The BBC is supposed to be a public service broadcaster that provides intelligent and balanced commentary of current affairs. Yet BBC reporters were reduced to reflecting sincerely on the loveliness of the Queen’s skin.

Before the funeral itself, coverage focused on the queue to see the Queen’s coffin, which reached five miles long. People have waited more than 24 hours in the cold and rain to shuffle past a box. Hundreds of people became ill or exhausted while waiting. Yet several apparently went around more than once, as though they were in line at some sort of macabre theme park.

You might think that the reason for this mass hysteria is that everyone universally adores the Queen and favours the continuation of the monarchy. But this is simply not true. Almost a quarter of UK residents believe that the UK should get rid of the monarchy, including nearly a third of 18-24 year olds, according to a YouGov poll that took place before the Queen’s death. Yet it’s been difficult to find anti-monarchist voices on mainstream programs.

This Orwellian spectacle is, in part, the result of the advent of mass media. A British monarch has never died in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, in which networks compete for views, or social media, in which tech companies compete for clicks.

But the astonishing hysteria projected by the British establishment over the death of the Queen is about much more than this: it’s a transparent attempt to build support for a failing economy and a broken society.

In the decade following the 2008 global financial crisis, British workers’ real wages declined for the longest period in 200 years. Now, with inflation eroding peoples’ pay once again, real wages in the UK have fallen more than nearly any other advanced economy. Pay fell by almost 3% between 2021 and 2022.

The public spending cuts of the past decade have also contributed to a sharp increase in poverty. By 2020, more than one in five people in the UK was living in poverty, including 4.2 million children, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a local anti-poverty organization. What’s more, the number of people experiencing destitution, meaning they are barely able to survive, rose by around half between 2017 and 2019.

Today, the conservatives like to boast that employment rates are near record highs. But recent research shows that thousands of those who have jobs also live in abject poverty: a 2018 report from Shelter found that 55% of families living in temporary accommodation were working despite being homeless.

Not everyone has been feeling the pinch. For the highest-paid in our society, the last several years have been a bonanza. The pay of FTSE100 CEOs shot up by nearly 40% between 2020 and 2021.

The cost-of-living crisis, which escalated this summer and threatens to push millions more people into poverty, has brought this dramatic inequality to the center of public debate.

Workers are refusing to stand by and watch CEOs grow rich while they are barely able to survive. Trade unions across the country have been striking, demanding higher wages and better conditions. Workers have even organised themselves into a campaign — Enough is Enough — demanding coordinated action in response to the cost-of-living-crisis.

The government is aware of how dangerous this coordinated action can be to the status quo. As I show in my book Stolen, successive Conservative governments have attempted to destroy the unions because — in the absence of a truly progressive Labour Party — workers are some of the only people who are organized enough to pose a threat to their power. Newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss has said that she will introduce a raft of new measures that will make it harder to strike.

Truss has claimed to be taking measures to alleviate cost-of-living concerns herself, introducing a cap that will keep average household energy bills at around £2,500 ($2,830) per year — much higher than they were a year ago.

Except Truss’s price “cap” is not really a cap at all. Rather than forcing energy companies to keep prices low, reducing their profits, Truss is simply offering to pay consumers’ extremely high bills for them. Her plan amounts to a massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to some of the largest and most powerful fossil fuel companies on the planet.

And Truss’s plans for our broken economy do not stop there. Her new chancellor has pledged to remove a cap on bankers’ bonuses introduced after the financial crisis. She also wants to cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations and undertake yet more deregulation of the finance sector.

In recent years, it has become very clear that the British economy is extremely hierarchical. Those at the top — powerful financiers, executives and politicians — take all the wealth and make all the decisions. Meanwhile, those at the bottom are forced to pay for the excesses of the rich.

The British monarchy is a powerful symbol of this inequality. The Queen was provided with a state funeral that shut down our entire country and cost more than £5 million ($5,665,400) to organize, This is an elderly woman known for wearing crown jewels containing a ludicrously expensive diamond known as “the Great Star of Africa”, and who contributed to the £12 ($13,597,000) million her son paid to settle a case regarding his alleged involvement with a minor whom he met through disgraced sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein. (Prince Andrew has denied the allegations). Meanwhile, other elderly women in the UK find themselves struggling to pay their energy bills. These kinds of circumstances introduce a real danger that the legitimacy of the entire British state might be called into question.

But the monarchy is not just a symbol of inequality; it aids and abets this inequality. The monarchy owns $20 billion worth of land across the UK, including a good deal of urban property, reducing the availability of land for housing and inevitably driving up rents and house prices.

And with much of the economy shut down for the Queen’s funeral, thousands of workers were unable to do their jobs, missing out on much needed income during the cost of living crisis. One reporter for Business Insider spoke to three workers who were unable to work because of the funeral. Two of them said they lost their budget for a week’s worth of food and another lost the cost of their electricity for a month.

With support for the system weaker than ever, it is no wonder that the British establishment has worked so hard to shove royal propaganda down peoples’ throats.

Where propaganda doesn’t work, the state will resort to outright force. Several people have now been arrested for protesting against the monarchy. This draconian attitude towards protest is the result of the policing bill pushed through by disgraced former prime minister Boris Johnson, which allows protestors to be arrested for making too much noise or really anything that they deem threatens public order.

But far from being an assertion of strength, the combination of propaganda and authoritarianism is a clear indication of the weakness of the legitimacy of the status quo. When the ruling class can no longer rely on people to obey, they will force them to comply.

In an economy characterized by deep poverty, inequality and hardship, working people can no longer be expected to obey the orders of the powerful. If you really want to see a historic moment in British history, don’t watch the Queen’s funeral, watch the hundreds of thousands of workers up and down the country striking not just for higher wages, but for a better future for themselves and their families.

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