Britain’s two crises
Last weekend marked Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, celebrating 70 years since her ascension to the throne, following the death of her father, King George V, on February 6th, 1952. In rare company, the Queen is one of four monarchs who are documented to have reigned for over 70 years.
Over this period, as crises have come and gone and prime ministers have changed, over the course of 70 years, the Queen has remained a symbol of stability and unwavering duty and devotion to her nation. It is a fitting, yet contrasting image, given that Britain seems to be immersed in scandals on all sides.
And, not even the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is enough cause of a celebration to dissuade the public from the scandals that are drowning British society nowadays.
The two pillars of British society, the monarchy and the British government, have been able to support and balance one other, in case one of them experienced rocky moments. Now, with both plunged into scandal, there is little chance for a resolution.
On the one hand, there is the never-ending, monumental string of accusations that are being brought against Downing Street and, in particular, against the leadership of prime minister Boris Johnson. Last month, each day seemed to bring with it a new revelation regarding the government’s breaches of Covid-19 restrictions during Britain’s two lockdowns, some of the toughest and most stringent regulations imposed by a European government.
As people obeyed the rules, staying at home, being apart from friends and loved ones, not being able to bury family members or say a last goodbye, grieving in isolation, Britain’s political elite partied away.
Christmas parties, quizzes, drinks and nibbles, going away gatherings, garden parties – the relentlessness with which the British government disobeyed its own rules was shocking to the British public. While the country sat quietly and patiently for the restrictions to die down, the rules didn’t seem to apply for those who were actually making the rules.
Ever since the various revelations had been brought to light, Boris Johnson’s support has crashed, so did that of the Conservative party. The first draft of the much-anticipated report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the Downing Street parties, released last week, though it doesn’t point the finger directly at Boris Johnson, relays a damning account of a culture, in which rules can be dismissed with ease and lying to the press, the House of Commons and the British public has become common currency.
While several parties are under police investigation, the report cannot be published entirely, but a final draft is due, and the expectations are sombre. Several senior Downing Street officials have already started to hand in their resignations, and with Boris Johnson’s political future hanging by a thread, only the intervention of a higher power could intervene and leave him unscathed, and in power.
On the either side of the British aisle, there is the reputable, pristine and spotless reputation of the British monarchy, which, in the last few decades, has seen a string of tensions, scandals and disagreements pollute its stature. With the death of Princess Diana, and the outpouring of grief that followed, this led to a crisis of trust in the British monarchy, and, in particular, in how Queen Elizabeth had handled the situation.
Back then, in 1997, Tony Blair, the incoming prime-minister, a popular Labour leader coming off a landslide election victory, persuaded the queen to strike a more empathetic tone in reacting to the death of Princess Diana in a car crash. That defused a growing tide of resentment against the monarch. However, there is no popular leader to come to the monarchy’s rescue as it enters into its most difficult crisis yet, says The New York Times’ Marc Landler.
With the departure of Prince Harry and Megan last year, leaving behind Britain and their royal status, the string of revelations that followed painted a damning picture from the inside. Behind all the glamour, traditions and history lay an empty, demanding and critical life, as Megan relayed in a now emblematic and revelatory interview with Oprah.
However, the revelations of the former royal couple would prove not to be the biggest hit to the monarchy’s standing as of yet. This year, Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s favourite son, is caught in the middle of a sexual abuse lawsuit in the United States. In January, a federal judge in Manhattan rejected Prince Andrew’s claim to throw out the lawsuit and, unless a settlement is not reached, the civil case will play out, – a remarkable fall from grace for a Prince and what he stands for.
Prince Andrew, who was friends with Jeffrey Epstein, a serial sex offender and convicted felon, who was found to be involved in sex trafficking, child sex abuse and prostitution, and who later died by suicide in prison in 2019, denies all allegations. However, as Ghislaine Maxwell, the confidante of Jeffrey Epstein and another close friend of Prince Andrew, has also been convicted in December 2021 of sex trafficking, Prince Andrew seems to be caught in the crosshairs.
“By failing to win the dismissal of a suit brought by Virginia Giuffre, Prince Andrew faces the prospect of damning disclosures in depositions of him and Ms. Giuffre, who claimed he raped her when she was a teenager. She says she was trafficked to Andrew by his friend, the convicted sex predator Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew flatly denies the charge and has said he has no recollection of meeting Ms. Giuffre”, according to a New York Times report.
Last month, Buckingham Palace announced that it would force Prince Andrew to relinquish all his military titles, as well as the honorific “His Royal Highness”. The statement also mentioned that Prince Andrew will be representing himself and defending this case “as a private citizen”, signalling the finality of his exile from royal life.
What the experience of both Boris Johnson and Prince Andrew says about British society at large is just another problematic depiction of the British system coming to terms with how it treats its elite. The lack of accountability in the case of both men is paramount, and frustration for a system that protects them, just because they are the high pillars of society, is beginning to weigh in on ordinary people.
Two middle-aged, privileged, white men and their respective status of power, influence and wealth have saved them so far, but facing the outrage of the public is not an easy task.
As Prince Andrew has been shunned, Boris Johnson, who is said to have hosted a gathering at his Downing Street apartment the night before Queen Elizabeth buried her husband, Prince Philip, alone, in an empty chapel, in order to keep in line with Covid-19 restrictions at the time, is likely to stay silent on this array of scandals that has surrounded the prime-minister. An unfortunate line of events that is entirely of his own doing.
For more True Story Project analyses on Great Britain and Boris Johnson, click here.
Photo source: Getty Images