This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
Good morning. In a week’s time King Charles III and the Queen Consort will ride a £3.5 million, four tonne golden carriage down The Mall to Westminster Abbey where a £3.6 million crown will be placed on his head above a robe so heavy there are genuine fears he could trip over it walking up to his crimson silk embroidered Throne Chair. The day-long ceremony, pared back out of respect for people suffering from the cost-of-living crisis, is estimated to cost the nation between £50-100 million, while the extra Bank Holiday is likely to chip a further £2.3 billion out of the country’s already beleaguered economy. Worth it though, if only for the crochet bunting, right?
Over the Easter holidays, I watched the Russell Crowe film Gladiator as part of a time-honoured tradition that sees old classics dusted off the shelf and stuck on the TV to help fill hours lost to chocolate-induced slumbers. In it, Emperor Commodus – historically regarded as the man who turned Rome from a “kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust” – ordered 150 days of games to distract the people from issues such as poor sanitation and a scarcity of food. “You really think people are going to be seduced by that?”, one Roman senator asked, to which Gracchus famously replies: “Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. He’ll bring them death – and they will love him for it.”
The scene came to mind this week after the Daily Mail splashed on its front page two stories side by side, one warning Brits that they “need to accept they are poorer” and the other showcasing a bust of the King carved out of chocolate looking resplendent in his regalia. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will have noticed that the UK, like ancient Rome, also has one or two sanitation issues that appear to have got mysteriously worse of late. Last year, there were over 389,000 discharges of untreated sewage into UK rivers, totalling over 2.4 million hours of pollution. By the government’s own admission, only 14 per cent of rivers in England meet good ecological status, a figure that will drop to just 6 per cent by 2027 without fresh measures.
What’s more, people are hungry. This week the Trussell Trust released its annual report into food bank usage, finding the cost of living crisis has driven more than 750,000 people to food banks for the first time with nearly three million food parcels delivered to desperate families in one of the richest countries on the planet. Most worryingly of all, one in five of those using the facilities over the period were in work, the charity said, reflecting the difficulties many low-income households have in affording everyday essentials amid soaring energy bills and food prices.
Against that backdrop, you have to wonder how effective celebrations of pomp and pageantry will be when all the evidence points to the fact that Britain – as German magazine Der Spiegel recently pointed out – is a country on life support. There will be those that argue that the King’s Coronation will unite the country and those who decry my lack of patriotism. But to bastardise the Cree, only when the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat mon(archy).
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