Prince William and Kate Middleton; why I’ll be in the pub

I’ve made plans to be in the pub tomorrow. Like a lot of guys I’ve about had it with the wedding, royals, dresses, silly radio fillers, pointless TV features, who’s invited, who’s not going, how many police will be on duty and which personalities will lead me through the occasion so as to ensure that I don’t miss a single nuance of this, their special day. I wish them well and on face value they appear a very pleasant couple worthy of all our best wishes and I don’t envy them moving into a world where a royal heritage is increasingly irrelevant and where their life will be lived, not through the pages of Burke’s Peerage, but in the colour specials and superlatives of Hello and OK! magazines.

But in the build-up to the day our public consciousness has lost its sense of priority; at a time when innocent and peaceful protestors are being killed in the Middle East the plethora of coverage across the media – there are estimated to be 12000 journalists in London tonight – troubles me as demonstrating a further lurch towards the trite and the superficial. After all, the wedding tomorrow is not really about the royal family or a public celebration of the monarchy. It’s not even about a couple of young people who want to share a life together, is it? It’s about celebrity. Crowds are literally camping along the route to Westminster Abbey and teenagers and mothers alike are screaming at every glimpse of William, Kate or Harry, as they would a sighting of George Clooney. Rather than an upwelling of public support for the royal family the occasion is a fan-fest that has the feeling of Oscar night. I can’t wait for one of those journalists to ask the flag-wavers for their views on constitutional monarchy or the debate about succession. As I write this the BBC is whining on – in suitably reverent tones – about the people’s love for this wonderful young man and his bride as well as the event that ‘the world has been waiting for’. I’m not certain that’s the case at all and wonder how many are waiting for it in the coffee shops of Syria or Bahrain.

I’m still fairly ambivalent about keeping a royal family, mostly because I don’t hold strong views on why it should be abolished rather than being against it on principle. But I know others feel more strongly and, by the time Prince William takes the throne, we might watch his accession courtesy of Visa and have to suffer Ryan Seacrest as host. The wedding tomorrow further dilutes the royal line; Kate Middleton is truly a people’s princess as, regrettably, she has no royal genes. Perception, however, is being addressed; already a massive publicity machine has worked to have her known as Catherine and tomorrow she will lose that moniker altogether to become Princess William of Wales*, would you believe. In addition the College of Arms has outlined approval of a Middleton coat of arms. She has been able to use it until tomorrow, after which it will be combined with that of Prince William. It comprises three acorn sprigs, a gold chevron, tied ribbon and white chevronels. And very nice too, you might think. This nonsense was justified by the Garter Principal King of Arms, who has explained that the oak tree was a traditional symbol of England and a feature of west Berkshire, where the family has lived for 30 years. I guess it’s a relief that they hadn’t lived in agricultural Bedfordshire or we’d have expected to see sprigs of cabbage or three Brussels Sprouts. Reasonably, the gold chevron in the centre signifies Miss Middleton’s mother, whose maiden name was Goldsmith, while the tied ribbon shows she is an unmarried woman. The white chevronels are a little more worrying as they symbolise mountains, representing the family’s love of the Lake District and skiing. Well, my family loved Southend-on-Sea and jellied eels so it’s probably a good thing that I never married into royalty. Give thanks, then, that the Middletons didn’t love train journeys and children’s books or Prince William would be struggling to maintain his credibility whilst sporting the smiling face of Ivor the Engine on his stationery.

Well, to me it all seems like a bit of a do rather than the solemn preparation of the future king of England for the serious business of knocking out an heir. And, in line with the celebrity status of the event, George Michael will sing You and I to the happy couple, demonstrating that it’s OK these days to have a pop star with a criminal conviction for using drugs taking centre stage at a royal wedding party that around two billion viewers watched from across the globe. I smell the faint perfume of republic in the air.

So tomorrow I’ll be finding the reflections in a pint of Adnam’s excellent bitter far more enjoyable and, in these troubled times, far more relevant than wall-to-wall nuptials. But I will raise my glass to them at one point.

Here’s to William and Kate – may they have health and happiness.

*After writing this piece it was announced that the official titles bestowed upon them are ‘Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’.



Vote with Clegg – what’s the alternative?

When the general election was imminent last year I had a nose around the alternative attractions on offer to see if there was a party on the edge of mainline politics that appeared to have merit and which might seduce me into parting company with my important vote. It turned out that there was little choice unless one felt inspired or obliged on principle to support a marginal idea from a marginal group. And marginal they were, with policies that ranged from pensioner’s rights or the legalisation of marijuana to the eradication of socialism. If you’re interested, you can read it here. My reasons for exploring political new ground had a lot to do with my disgust at the collective behaviour of many of our elected public servants who believed that, once in Westminster, they were above the law and had to do little more than be photographed opening fetes or awarding Women’s Institute prizes. Despite my imploring [and boring] everyone I met in the pub, the market or on the street on a Sunday morning that they vote for an alternative my incumbent Member was returned. Amazingly, he managed it with a slightly increased majority, which I couldn’t understand at all given that he had used a huge amount of his parliamentary expenses to landscape his garden. That should have been enough to have him dragged out of town behind a buckboard but all I could do was try to vote the bugger out. Regrettably, there was no viable alternative and a significant number of my fellow constituents clearly felt the same way; so I guess he’ll have seen that as a mandate to carry on landscaping. The point is, my vote was wasted and I knew it was when I cast it. My constituency, like many in the country, is a ‘safe seat’ and our voting system only requires the candidate to get the highest number of votes, not a majority, to win. Had that not been the case perhaps more people would have voted against the expected victor and he may now be on unemployment benefit. Actually, somewhere around 71% of all votes cast in the 2010 election disappeared down the same plughole according to the Institute for Public Policy Research [ippr]. That’s 21 million or so across the country. Now we’re nearly a year down the road, the coalition is deeply into its juggling act of fulfilling election promises that can’t be fulfilled, public institutions say they are about to collapse and the proletariat is on the streets. Frustrating, eh?

None of this should come as a surprise in a system that meant me and 20,999,999 other people might as well have been line dancing as queuing at the local polling station last May. We trust politicians less and less and they grow more complacent. They are rarely as open, earnest or honest as they tell us they are and, after all, the quality of their political footwork is measured by the success of the inevitable compromise.

I have a lot of time for Nick Clegg and I share his pain. He clearly understands the need for compromise and, as an honest bloke with a fair measure of political integrity, he seems to strive to acknowledge other points of view. That was why he was so successful in the televised debates prior to the election last year. Unfortunately, he probably didn’t foresee any real possibility of being in government – let alone being deputy Prime Minister – or he might have been more circumspect about what he promised. He now finds himself in the most unenviable of positions by being a government minister on the one hand and a Liberal Democrat on the other; pragmatism versus idealism. A perpetual and, for the foreseeable future, hopeless state of compromise. This means that his every move is seized upon as either demonstrating a lack of credibility through supplicating to the Conservative majority or a betrayal of Liberal Democratic principles. Well, life in government is tough and sometimes you just can’t win. So you have to compromise.

But Nick Clegg’s best compromise yet might just be the start of something that improves on the nonsense we had last year. The Liberal Democrats declared in their manifesto that they would fight for proportional representation [PR]. They haven’t got that but, on 5 May, we are invited to vote in a referendum on changing the current voting system to alternative vote [AV]. No, it’s not what the Liberal Democrats really want [nor the ‘safe seat’ guys, either, for that matter] and not what Clegg is charged to deliver but, in pragmatic terms, it’s an acceptable compromise and it may just be the first step on the way to PR. So now I find myself with the opportunity – at last – of avoiding my vote being wasted while helping to impose a degree of accountability on the Member we send to Westminster.

So I’ll vote for a ‘yes’ and – to the other 20 million plus voters out there whose votes had less effect than those cast for American Idol – I advocate support for this first, small change to the current ‘first past the post’ voting system, which disenfranchises the majority of us and allows complacent, self-serving and frequently pompous individuals to cruise the gravy train to Westminster. AV is certainly not perfect and perhaps it will be uncomfortable for politicians who worry more about their careers than the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. A move to AV will be a first step towards changing that.