Anyone looking at public discourse in the United Kingdom right now could be forgiven for thinking that the country was suffering from an acute case of collective hysteria. Our media is completely monopolized by coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s death. On Monday, it was all but impossible to watch anything else as channel after channel was broadcasting rolling coverage of the funeral.
The coverage itself was painful. One reporter devoted airtime to questioning why David Beckham chose to mourn while wearing a hat.The BBC is supposed to be a public service broadcaster that provides intelligent and balanced commentary of current affairs. Yet BBC reporters were reduced to reflecting sincerely on the loveliness of the Queen’s skin.
Before the funeral itself, coverage focused on the queue to see the Queen’s coffin, which reached five miles long. People have waited more than 24 hours in the cold and rain to shuffle past a box. Hundreds of people became ill or exhausted while waiting. Yet several apparently went around more than once, as though they were in line at some sort of macabre theme park.
You might think that the reason for this mass hysteria is that everyone universally adores the Queen and favours the continuation of the monarchy. But this is simply not true. Almost a quarter of UK residents believe that the UK should get rid of the monarchy, including nearly a third of 18-24 year olds, according to a YouGov poll that took place before the Queen’s death. Yet it’s been difficult to find anti-monarchist voices on mainstream programs.
This Orwellian spectacle is, in part, the result of the advent of mass media. A British monarch has never died in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, in which networks compete for views, or social media, in which tech companies compete for clicks.
But the astonishing hysteria projected by the British establishment over the death of the Queen is about much more than this: it’s a transparent attempt to build support for a failing economy and a broken society.
In the decade following the 2008 global financial crisis, British workers’ real wages declined for the longest period in 200 years. Now, with inflation eroding peoples’ pay once again, real wages in the UK have fallen more than nearly any other advanced economy. Pay fell by almost 3% between 2021 and 2022.
The public spending cuts of the past decade have also contributed to a sharp increase in poverty. By 2020, more than one in five people in the UK was living in poverty, including 4.2 million children, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a local anti-poverty organization. What’s more, the number of people experiencing destitution, meaning they are barely able to survive, rose by around half between 2017 and 2019.
Today, the conservatives like to boast that employment rates are near record highs. But recent research shows that thousands of those who have jobs also live in abject poverty: a 2018 report from Shelter found that 55% of families living in temporary accommodation were working despite being homeless.