21 September 2022

Your reaction to the Queen's passing says a lot about your politics

| Zoya Patel
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Queen's coffin lying in state

Queen’s coffin lying in state: is it possible to separate the women from her role? Photo: Royal.UK.

I was in Edinburgh the day the Queen died. I was walking through the rain, sharing an umbrella with my Scottish friend, when the news landed. We glanced down at our phones, read the notifications, and paused for a moment on the cobblestones of Rose St.

“Huh,” I said.

My friend, vocally anti-monarchist that she is, shrugged. We continued to dinner. At one point, though, we both sighed and shared a moment of anticipatory frustration at what we could expect over the coming weeks regarding news coverage, social media posts and general conversation. It would be Queen Elizabeth, 24/7, non-stop.

I’m writing this on the day of her funeral, from Heathrow Airport, as I wait to board a flight home. The past week since the Queen’s death has indeed delivered countless posts of commemoration, flashbacks to her youth, odes to her grace and commitment to the public good, etc etc. There have been a few critiques of her position, what it symbolises for the British people, and the colonial history and continued power of the UK.

But in general, I’ve been surprised at how many people in my own circles have harboured a special soft spot for HRM.

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Many of my politically progressive British and Australian friends say they don’t really support the monarchy. That they find it infuriating that the effects of economic inequality are worse than ever in the current global climate and that the royal family is compensated with public money that could be put to better use.

But at the same time, they express a sort of nostalgic reverence for the Queen herself.

“She was a good person,” they say. “She loved horses and dogs! She was so elegant and refined when young and so sweet and kind when old. I don’t like the Royal family, but Queen Elizabeth was different.”

I have to question – how so?

I have always been a believer in playing the politics, not the person, but in the case of the Royal family, it’s tricky. In my mind, there is a clear difference between the person, Elizabeth, and the position of Queen. People close to her will, of course mourn the individual that they knew and loved. But for the rest of us, her position has coloured everything we know about her as an individual, and that’s inevitable.

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If you have progressive politics, and believe that the monarchy is an outdated system of hierarchy that entrenches poverty and inequality and capitalises on the historical wrongs of Britain as a colonial power, then can you really mourn the Queen as an individual? Does it not feel contradictory to post tributes to her on social media? Isn’t it inherently paradoxical to claim you know anything about her as a ‘person’ while also knowing that the position of Queen is ultimately the product of dozens of individuals who all contribute to constructing the image and personality that is eventually provided for public consumption?

Suppose you believe that the Queen deserves our respect in her passing and should be commemorated and celebrated. In that case, it means you ultimately support the monarchy and the system that supports them. If that’s the case, you’re entitled to your beliefs, but there’s no point trying to find a middle ground because there really isn’t a grey area here. What you know and love about the Queen would not be possible without her life of wealth and privilege.

Death is sad, and I won’t begrudge anyone the right to grieve as they wish. I know many people feel deeply connected to Queen Elizabeth because her presence has been a constant throughout the seminal decades of their lives. She symbolises something to them that has little to do with her actual actions or personhood but has more to do with their emotions about ageing, the passage of time and change.

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I don’t understand it, and I can’t feign interest in the death of someone I didn’t know and who symbolised and benefited from a system that caused violence, upheaval and colonial atrocities in all three countries I am linked to.

I know that some will think it’s in poor taste to critique the death of an old lady. It may be seen as disrespectful, opportunistic. But when an individual benefits so much from the oppression, labour and disadvantage of so many, based on nothing other than their bloodline, I feel they forego the usual sensitivities afforded to normal people.

Her life was supposedly lived in service to the public. It is reasonable, then, for her death to facilitate important public conversations on the role and impact of the monarchy – and whether the latter justifies its continued existence.

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“Suppose you believe that the Queen deserves our respect in her passing and should be commemorated and celebrated. In that case, it means you ultimately support the monarchy and the system that supports them.”
No, it really doesn’t.
The monarchy is an anachronism, especially when applied to foreign countries, but it had a place and a time. The queen played a huge role in bolstering the morale of the British through war and recession. She symbolised what the British thought made them British. She epitomised grace under fire and she devoted herself to the role. She inherited a role that was borne of privilege and colonisation, but she wasn’t the coloniser and if anything, she enabled the demise of the colonies and the rise of the Commonwealth.
I don’t think the monarchy will ever recover from her passing (and neither should it – especially here), but her passing should focus on the individual and the good she did – I firmly believe it outweighed the bad her position represented.
Now… can we please start talking again about becoming a republic?

All good points in a way but I start from the premise that Australia is way overpoliticised. The monarchy is too silly to take seriously and I’m fine with that. It puts our vain and largely unproductive politicians in their place … subordinate to a costume party on stilts (while the private sector does the heavy lifting in society as it should). If we had a president then, OMG, it would be like being trapped in an episode of The Drum and we’d never stop hearing about his or her opinions on every issue. We didn’t hear too much of that stuff from the Queen. Hopefully we won’t hear it from Charles.

Not long now2:02 pm 23 Sep 22

It certainly seems that way in this country. 9/10 a monarchist is conservative voter.

The blanket media coverage since her death, and the many who have crawled out from under their rocks, banging on about howw much better we will be if stay as a commonwealth country under the royal families ultimate rule

Being in the Commonwealth is not the same as being under the royal family. Most Commonwealth nations do not have the King (now) as head of state.

HiddenDragon8:44 pm 22 Sep 22

“…….I can’t feign interest in the death of someone I didn’t know and who symbolised and benefited from a system that caused violence, upheaval and colonial atrocities in all three countries I am linked to.”

The British royals, with their gilded palaces full of treasures and precious trinkets, have benefited materially much more than most from all that nasty stuff, but the great majority of us in this federation of former colonies are also doing nicely from the system which has the royals as its figureheads.

It is a system which – just to take one example – provides a wordsmith living in a small city (which consumes far more from the international economy than it contributes to it) at the bottom of the world with sufficient international spending power to flit off to the other side of the world via an expensive (financially and environmentally) means of travel and keep track of things on an electronic device made by much lower paid workers in other countries.

It’s probably just as well that if/when we replace the monarchy with something more home-grown the change will essentially be cosmetic – otherwise, some us might have to start practising what we preach, and have a good, hard look in the mirror.

” I can’t feign interest in the death of someone I didn’t know”- really – I was very sad when Olivia Newton-John died and when the Queen died. Two women who gave much of their lives to service yet I knew neither of them. I am a rusted on republican but am more than happy to give the Queen her due.

Ms Patel needs to get a decent editor to look over her musings before she hits the enter button. Her gross generalisations need something more than “I think” in front of them. Some evidence would be nice for a change.

Zoya Patel annoys me, this is the last time I read her poor ‘opinions’, and I’m on the verge of blocking RiotAct. In this case, Zoya Patel is naive in her opinions. The Queen/King is a religious leader from the Anglican faith (Church of England and Scotland). The role also acts as a Chairman to the UK’s CEO (Prime Minister). This is so the Prime Minister of the UK is challenged in private on matters. The PM also has a council away from political interference. It’s not a perfect system, but one that many agree with. Time to replace Zoya Patel, as these opinion pieces, plus many others, are just trash.

Most of the comments on this article indicate that I am in the minority or amongst those who have lived or understand a different version of history as told to them. Thank you Zoya for articulating and providing a voice to my thought process ? ? Finally an article that captures we all have different points of view, experiences and reflections on the significance of the monarchy.

Another muddled opinion piece from Zoya Patel!! I don’t tend to read anything by Zoya Patel but happened to click into this piece. She is surprised that many people, including her own circle of friends, hold a special spot for HRM. Zoya makes some inane and condescending comments that their nostalgic reverence to the the Queen is only because she loved dogs and horses and was sweet and kind. But most annoyingly, if you believe that the Queen deserves respect, commemoration and celebration you can only be a Monarchist!! Well, I’m a rusted on Republican and respected the Queen despite all of the history that comes with that. Like many Australians, the monarchy was foisted on to me at birth. It doesn’t mean I can be a Republican and not respect the Queen. But I suggest Zoya have a look at Paul Keating’s press release after HRM’s passing. An avowed Republican, Paul Keating’s words summed up better than anyone her dedication and the respect many Australians continue to hold for the her.

I think it’s fair to say that younger Australians don’t see the relevance of the Royal family and Monarchy as much as more mature Australians. Part of that is that it’s not taught in our school system. Our kids are no longer taught to respect, only to question and our society has shifted towards being more individualist. AKA “What is in it for me”?

“Colonialisation” is a fact. It’s happened on every continent around the globe. Whether it was the British or Romans, it happened. People have been moving and conquering, since humans started walking this planet.

Indigenous Australians, themselves, came to this continent via what was a land bridge between Papua and Cape York. While they had no form of formalised Government or land tenure system, they occupied.

If it wasn’t the British, we’d be speaking Dutch or another lingo, because more advanced nations were charting known waters, seeking trade routes etc.

History wasn’t always kind to those who experienced it.
Many of us are descendant from Convicts, transported across the globe in chains. Removed from family and friends, for life, for what today are petty crimes that would be dealt with by a caution or at worst, a good behaviour bond. Should we hold a grudge against the British for what was the barbaric treatment of our ancestors?

Does it mean that today we should rewrite history? Remove statues, change street names, deny our cultural heritage, disassociate ourselves from the Monarchy?

I say we own our history. Every bit of it. We acknowledge that the colonisation of Australia brought with it loss. We praise it for its development and growth. It brought with it a stable form of Government, that is better than most.

As for those who feel left out, downtrodden or that their ancestor’s land was taken away, well, modern society owes you equality in education, health and opportunity, but I’m sorry, nothing more.

As for whether we retain the Monarchy or become a Republic, I believe the real questions are ”
“Do we need to change”?
“What will be achieved”?
“Will any change result in a tangible improvement to our way of life”?

One of the positives of the Monarchy is that mostly their function is now purely administrative and ceremonial. They don’t write legislation nor interfere with the running of Government.

History can also be something that we can look to for inspiration. The funeral of the Queen has shown the deep admiration and respect in which she was held.

In our world, having someone to look up to who maintains dignity is not that common. The Monarchy and it’s role in Australia is something that should be valued and preserved.

There is no guarantee that King Charles III will live up to the Queen’s standards, however, if he is half as good, he will be outstanding.

SigmaOctantis1:16 pm 22 Sep 22

Excellent comment, all true and agree with all of it.

Not long now2:10 pm 23 Sep 22

Gough Whitlam might disagree with your 4th last sentence there, sunshine!

swaggieswaggie10:43 am 22 Sep 22

Bring it on I say, I can imagine it now Malcolm Turnip, sorry, Turnbull as our President…. he’d be such an improvement on the current model. Petulant, Insincere, Reviled….Then again lets not fix what’s not broken for yet more posturing, so we have a Head of State in another part of the world? Embrace it, We still elect our PM, we still decide our own future. and lets look to the future instead of whingeing about the past

Turnbull had a chance as PM to push a republic referendum. He squibbed it.

We don’t elect our PM. Four times in the past fifteen years a PM has been decided by their party, not the people.

Do we have a foreign head of state? Neither the Queen nor the new King claim that title but the Governor-General does: check their websites. It is a diplomatic title and when some years back diplomatic credentials ceased to be addressed to the monarch and instead to the Governor-General it might be said that the mantle had passed. Certainly a foreigner cannot be said to represent Australia to the world, and our Governors-General have performed that role for some time.

The monarchy is all but irrelevant here. I think it is a bit rich to claim they are somehow responsible for inequality in Australia. Surely we have the responsibility there?

The “current model” of president you mention being the Governor-General? Or were you referring to our former PM Turnbull? Neither could be considered an Australian president, and I don’t see either as being petulant, insincere, or reviled (although perhaps the GG should be reviled for his unannounced support of all of Morrison’s recently-discovered ministry grabs).

As an aside, we do NOT elect our Prime Minster. We never have. All we elect is the governing party. The party nominates its leader, who then becomes the PM if the party wins office. And the party can (and most certainly has) changed its leader while it’s been in office — and therefore changed our PM without reference to us — whenever it feels like it. That’s been the root cause of half the problems with the Australian government over the last decade…. (Thank god for the ‘Voices Of’ movement and the Teals.)

A far as the monarchy goes, if the Brits want one (and are prepared to pay for it) that’s their business, and good luck to them. But apart from its mention in our Constitution, the British monarchy has absolutely no relevance to modern Australia — apart also of course from the feelings of nostalgia it clearly brings to those of us who like living in the past.

Queen Elizabeth was a good woman and a good queen. Why shouldn’t the Brits mourn her passing?

But most monarchies, like the British one, are indeed quite arbitrary. Why should Australians of the 21st Century mourn a British queen’s death any more than we’d mourn the death of the monarch of Denmark or the Netherlands or Tonga or any other monarchy you’d care to name?

SigmaOctantis10:22 am 22 Sep 22

Oh the hand wringing! Do these opinion puff pieces get reviewed by anyone before being uploaded here or is it open slather?

Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. You don’t have to agree with it. That’s the basis for Crikey telling Murdoch to bring on his defamation suit….

SigmaOctantis – nothing stopping you from publishing an opinion piece. Whether people read it is a different matter

Capital Retro7:59 am 22 Sep 22

“………..caused violence, upheaval and colonial atrocities in all three countries I am linked to.”

How about some details, Zoya?

And how did the Queen personally benefit from your allegations?

Capital Retro6:34 pm 23 Sep 22

Still waiting, Zoya. If you can’t provide proof of what you claim then say so.

Not a viewpoint I disagree with in general, (noting I am also from the UK, but definitely not in agreement with having a monarchy), except this statement –

‘Suppose you believe that the Queen deserves our respect in her passing and should be commemorated and celebrated. In that case, it means you ultimately support the monarchy and the system that supports them. ‘

I think about it like this – she was unlucky enough to be born into it, she did the job as she saw fit, but yes, could have actively started dialogue about where they came from, their role in colonialism, making reparations and moving forward. She deserves some credit for her commitment. I don’t think that view means I support the monarchy. Far from it. At the least it’s just a weird outdated concept.

I do however see the failings of successive governments to acknowledge the colonial past, and the utter failings and atrocities, and to put it firmly on the agenda to take Australia forward. In this whole recent episode there has been little scrutiny of governments present and past over how they have helped perpetuate the myth of Australia’s foundations.

Let’s hope Australia is brave enough to finally go there.

How surprising, a Zoya Patel article where she can only see extreme positions on an issue being possible.

I’m truly shocked.

Today is a day for mourning, reflection and appreciation. Not habitual nastiness and spite. Those comments reflect more upon your own character. What republicans fail to understand or acknowledge is the genuine public feelings of affection for the Queen, built up over decades, wherever and whenever she appeared. The more vitriol directed at the Queen, the more people realise her attributes and the more unattractive the republican cause becomes. Reflect on that.

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