Current affairs editor Ronan Keohane discusses the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II in light of the turbulent economic situation and remarks on the polarised nature of online discourses which muffle the complex nature of what she symbolises.
The recent death of Queen Elizabeth II occurred on September 8th 2022 at 18:30 BST in Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She reigned for a total of 70 years and 214 days which is the second longest of any reigning monarch in the history of the world, second only to the reign of Louis XIV. The passing of Queen Elizabeth remains largely impactful since she held such a high position of power in the United Kingdom as well as the current British commonwealth which consists of 14 different countries, all of which are directly implemented and affected by this death.
This is a historically significant event which has sparked a wide variety of discourses both within the United Kingdom and throughout the 14 countries which constitute the British commonwealth. These discourses are all significantly polarised and include discussion surrounding the future economic implications of the hefty expenditure of the funeral and upholding the monarchy along with contemplation of the necessity of monarchy as a continuing system of governance. Furthermore, the complex nature of what the Queen and the monarchy represent to many nations has also become a source of contestation.
Looming effects on the British economy and British colonies.
The time in which Queen Elizabeth II passed away is, within the United Kingdom, in a context of rising inflation, a looming recession and a gradual fall in the value of the national currency which has brought into question the future course of the British economy. Further, her death entails a public holiday dedicated to the Queen’s funeral which is estimated to constitute the spending of 0.2% of the United Kingdom’s GDP for the month of September. Her death has further sparked massive online discourse regarding the necessity of the entire British monarchy itself.
What is remarkable is that both within the United Kingdom and throughout various British commonwealth countries, there has been a growing resistance against the monarchy as a system of governance. A wide variety of arguments supporting this cite finances as being a central issue, notably that it costs the British taxpayer 102 million British pounds (2021-2022 statistics) to maintain the monarchy. While some feel that this is a good investment since it upholds old British tradition and that expenditure is refunded through tourism and brand revenue, others believe that the system is archaic, outdated and propagates systems fostering large economic inequalities. Britain’s average GDP is 32,555 pounds and a large number of British commonwealth countries face significant issues with poverty which many cite as being a direct result of British colonisation.
Further, many point to the death of Queen Elizabeth II as entailing a decrease in the ‘brand value’ of the British monarchy. This could greatly hinder the extent to which British taxpayer money is allocated to the monarchy that can then be reimbursed back into British society. The British monarchy as a brand reaps globally significant profit margins placing it second only to some of the most powerful brands in the world. The death of Queen Elizabeth poses a direct threat to this brand revenue potential. This has sparked further discourses regarding how the monarchy can continue to legitimise itself as a form of government and formulate such an economically important institution if this iconic branding is so threatened. Equally, many people have discussed the uncertainty surrounding what would serve to replace the monarchy if it were to be abolished since it constituted such a central part of British society for such a long period of time.
The Queen as an ambiguous and complex symbol
The aftermath of this passing has seen a large division in reaction on a global level as a result of the very mixed global perception of her and, as a result, it has sparked some very emotional responses. While some reacted with great sadness at the loss of an influential female leader who, many opine, had served her country well and represented strong female leadership, this is not the case for others. Other people responded with anger as her death brought back memories deeply rooted in the collective traumas of their nations which was the direct result of British colonialism and everything that came with that. This is what the Queen and the royal family represented and symbolised to many people in the context of former and current British colonies.
In a situation where reactions are so polarised, a more objective understanding of the complexity of Queen Elizabeth II is necessary. What is remarkable about the reactions to her death is the consistent reduction of Queen Elizabeth II to essentialist symbolisms based on various components of her identity and lineage; this symbolization reduces her humanity and the complexity of her character. Although she may represent a ’strong female leadership’ to certain people, this takes away from the fact that she still grew up in extreme privilege within a family that existed on the remnants of accumulated wealth inherited from the brutal colonial expansion of the British Empire. The British Empire which at its height was the most powerful in the history of the world. This arguably put her in a position of massive privilege and power above virtually all other world leaders during this period of time despite the notable gender inequality which was significant in the 1950’s.
Similarly, although she has been widely regarded as a symbol of colonialism and colonial institutions along with everything to which that entails, she is also a symbol of decolonization to many other people. When Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1952 the British Empire had expanded in influence and the power of it encompassed an entire quarter of the world. This ultimately changed and during her reign there 20 different countries gained independence from the British Empire. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a significant upholding of unjust systems of power following her reign or that British colonial forces didn’t brutally suppress a number of uprisings, however it does cite the extent to which Queen Elizabeth as a symbol is much more complex than many people fully realise.
The passing of the Queen has put the future of the monarchy and the British economy into a position of substantial uncertainty. The discourses which followed this significant death have also served to highlight a distinct lack of understanding regarding the complexity of the Queen as a human being beyond the essentialist identity components that she is reduced to and cannot change which has rendered a rather rigid and one-dimensional view of her, this is prevalent in both the anti-monarchy and pro-monarchy sides of the debate.