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10 September 2022

Is a nationwide blackout on fun really what Her Majesty would have wanted?

Events like football matches and Prom concerts are surely the perfect place for communal grief and celebration.

By Jonn Elledge

Here is a brief and incomplete guide to everything that has been delayed or suspended because of the ten-day period of official mourning for Queen Elizabeth II.

Firstly, of course, there is Parliament, which is sitting on the afternoon of Saturday 10 September to hear senior members take the oath of loyalty to His Majesty the King, but where previously planned business has been postponed. This is clearly concerning, given that, if you can recall a time before lunchtime on Thursday, we are at a moment of national crisis, and the last debate before the sad news broke concerned plans to address this. But as the monarch sits at the centre of our constitution, such as it is, some delay seems inevitable.

Less inevitable perhaps was the cancellation of extra-parliamentary political action, such as next week’s Trades Union Congress conference and assorted strikes. Trade unions, unlike parliament, do not need royal approval to go about their business, but they do benefit from a certain amount of public support and the fear must be that action right now wouldn’t get it. So even though workers are facing swingeing cuts to their real incomes, and delegates have spent money to attend the TUC event, these, for the moment, are off too.

Football matches have been cancelled. Rugby and cricket fixtures, however, have not, which surely raises questions over whether the thing motivating decision-making is “respect for the queen” or “likelihood of getting monstered by the tabloids”. Even where people are still chucking a ball about in a competitive manner, however, the British public is restricted in its ability to bet on it, because William Hill and Betfred have temporarily ceased trading.

Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London has cancelled its “car free day”, on which King Street would have been closed to motorists. (The queen famously loved congestion, nitrogen oxides and particulates.) Sunday was to have been the Hackney Carnival: it may be rescheduled, but then again it may not. Richmond has cancelled its mega skip day (where residents can get rid of their rubbish), Southwark its recycling centre open day (where they can learn what happens to it next).

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And the list goes on. Radio 1 has cancelled its Official Chart show, which has been broadcast almost every week 1967. NHS England has told staff it would be reducing both external and internal communications (because nothing is less respectful than allowing different bits of the health service to talk to one another). September’s meeting of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee has been delayed by a week (let us hope inflation takes ten days off to mourn, too). And the Met Office announced that “as a mark of respect during this time of national mourning we will only be posting daily forecasts and warnings”, and then had to clarify that this did not in fact mean it would stop doing the weather.

[See also: Will Charles be the last King of Scotland?]

Last but not least, the BBC cancelled both Friday’s Prom and the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday. This is in many ways the strangest decision of all, because if there were ever an event more perfectly suited to respectfully commemorating the Queen than the Proms, then I pray to God no one ever finds it, films it and puts it on my television because I don’t want to know it exists.

Given all this, one has to ask – is this really what the Queen would have wanted? She was, after all, meant to have been the living embodiment of the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Did she ever actually say she wanted her death marked by a fortnight long cessation of all forms of both government and fun?

Is it what the British public wants either, come to that? When George VI died in 1952, that 2017 Guardian feature we’ve all re-read since Thursday noted, people objected to the “forelock-tugging” nature of the mourning period, and that was “in a society much more Christian and deferential than this one”. When George’s wife, the Queen Mother, died half a century later more than ten times as many people complained that the BBC had rescheduled Casualty than that the broadcaster’s coverage was insufficiently respectful.

There must of course be space for marking this national milestone, for public displays of mourning and grief. But surely there should be room, too, for those who aren’t feeling those things, who just wish to go about their week. Closing everything down and projecting the late queen’s face onto everything, up to and including the self-service kiosks in McDonald’s, removes the element of choice: it makes a particular emotion compulsory, and subjects those who don’t share it to an unearned shame.

If the monarchy is to play its role as a nationally unifying institution then it shouldn’t allow itself to become associated with worsening economic crisis or preventing people from doing anything they might actually enjoy. More than that, events like football matches and Prom concerts are surely the perfect place for the communal grief and communal celebration we’re all being told we should be experiencing. Why would you even think of cancelling events where you could hold a minute’s silence then let them resume?

Because, in many cases, it isn’t the monarchy or its government that’s cancelled these things. The BBC, Premier League, and other businesses and organisations have taken the decision not because of any official guidance (such guidance does not exist) but of their own accord. Possibly this is because they think it is right; sometimes, though, it’s surely because they are afraid of the consequences of not cancelling.

Again: I can’t help but think there is a reason why football matches have been canned, while rugby and cricket continues. Not for the first time, the Daily Mail is doing more to undermine the monarchy than the republican movement ever could.

[See also: Why unionism needs the monarchy]

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