The British Government has certainly been putting in the overtime over the last few years to eke every last drop of nation-building elixir out of big events like the Olympics, the Jubilee, the Royal Wedding, royal births, WWI anniversaries, WWII anniversaries, the Falklands anniversaries, the Richard III commemorations, etc. You name it, it will have been blanket-covered by the state broadcasters and their stooges in Fleet Street, festooned with Union flags and lashings of Dunkirk spirit, images of smiling people and One Show vox pop platitudes, all carefully choreographed from some Whitehall office with a brass sign on the door saying ‘Project (re)Britain(ize)’.
This is only to be expected of a state apparatus which has known for some time that it is in real danger of imploding under the weight of its own contradictions and historically hard-coded iniquities, in danger of perhaps being reduced to some sort of leviathan London city-state no more significant on the world stage than Singapore or Dubai; just colder and rainier. Seriously, we shouldn’t be surprised and we can’t really blame them for trying to convince us that there really was a ‘great’ Britain once. State apparatuses only exist for one purpose, to protect and perpetuate the state and its apparatus, and since time immemorial they’ve been doing this by fair means or foul.
Now, you can be the judge of whether ‘proactive management’ (state co-opting) of ‘British’ historical anniversaries falls into the ‘fair’ category or ‘foul’. As far as I am concerned, they are an aggressive, cynical and manipulative insult to the intelligence and political maturity of the people they are designed to dupe. They are also, as it happens, effective only in polarising opinion, sending neatly corralled hordes of already convinced loyal Britishers into a frenzy of tearful patriotism whilst sending otherwise moderate Brito-sceptics like myself (and 50% of Scotland) scrambling even faster for the ejector-seat button. None of this would matter were it not for the fact that occasionally a really interesting and important anniversary does come around such as the Battle of Waterloo (well, the Congress of Vienna really); historical events which really should be reviewed more frequently but which are largely neglected in the annual round of remembrances of more recent British ‘successes’.
To that extent, I’d love to think that Breakfast News, the One Show and the Daily Mail will have a probing discussion of Britain’s role in the restoration of despotic, monarchical rule across Europe in 1815, its collusion in the suppression of the powerful new forces of radicalism and democracy which the French Revolution had unleashed across the continent (and to which even England would succumb 15 years later), and the unprecedented stampede for British overseas colonies which came about as a direct result of the defeat of her only serious naval rival and the acquisition of key French territories overseas; a stampede that would result in the hundred-year moral obscenity that was the British Empire of course. Somehow, carefully guided by that pin-stripe-suited Sir Humphrey in Whitehall, I suspect our beloved media will probably lead with that hero of liberty John Bull giving the nasty big-nosed French dictator a good spanking, saving Europe at the same time and showing the world once more how things should be done, how ‘great’ Britain really is. The Union is safe in your hands Sir Humphrey, rest assured.