Aeons (well perhaps not quite) an ancient Greek (not Ptolemy although he wrote it down on his map) rocked up on these misty islands and after overcoming the initial language barrier asked “Well, who are you”. “We’re the Prydain” replied his hosts.
And thus British Islands, overlooking the fact that Ireland was inhabited by a different branch of the Celts. Of course Ptolemy later used the names Hibernia and Albion, and an awful lot of wasted bits would be saved if those had stuck.
But for better or worse, it didn’t stick. But also it wasn’t the English who invented the term; it was widely used amongst geographers a thousand years before the Saxons invented England (to appease the Angles otherwise we’d be called Sexland).
But to those who like to gloss over 1,500 years of history, it can easily seem like a conspiracy to claim ownership by the English. Which tends to overlook that everyone has been trying to seize power over all the islands; and it was the Scottish who succeeded in the end.
But if we were to translate “British Islands” into modern English it would be “Celtic Islands”.
So the queen is dead, and Twitter went berserk with all sorts of tweets. Some of the anti-colonialism ones were a little tasteless …
“Chief monarch”? Have we got additional monarchs scurrying around? Not that I’ve ever heard of.
Even if the queen was responsible for the crimes of the British Empire, wishing she would die in excruciating pain is tasteless in the extreme. After all, we didn’t torture Hitler’s henchpersons to death – they got a quick hanging.
And blaming the queen for all the evils of the British Empire shows a remarkable lack of knowledge about how power in Britain works. After all real power has been delegated to parliament, and has been since Charles II (in 1660 so it’s been a while).
Sure some earlier monarchs were involved in the slave trade and were directly responsible for the establishment of certain colonies. But the last monarch with that kind of power was Charles I who was demoted with an ax.
Blame the governments of the time, or the relevant person in charge of the atrocities.
Now I’m no die-hard monarchist – I certainly lean in the direction of republicanism, although I’m of the opinion that there are bigger political problems to solve first. And I don’t have a problem with republicans campaigning honestly and with legitimate issues.
Although expecting change on a monarch change is a bit unrealistic – the next in line becomes the new monarch immediately upon the death of the old one. Whilst parliament determines the rules of succession; once in place as law, the succession takes place automatically. All the ceremonies that take place are merely confirmation.
No the ones I’m irritated with are those who exaggerate the power of the monarchy to make their point. Almost all of the power of a monarch is wielded by parliament itself (with the exception of the King’s Consent which needs to go). These are either ignorant or are being dishonest.
The fact is that the undemocratic nature of our current electoral system is a far bigger problem that which puppet we stick a crown on.
The supposed resignation of Boris Johnson comes as a bit of a surprise to many observers – they felt that he wasn’t going to go voluntarily. But with an all time record of ministers resigning from his government, to the point where government business had to be suspended, there wasn’t much in the way of choice.
The funny thing is the number of misconceptions floating around about his resignation. I’m no constitutional lawyer (although I do at least know that the UK does in fact have a written constitution), but here’s some corrections :-
He hasn’t resigned as the UK’s Prime Minister, or we would have a new one by now – the House of Commons would nominate and the Queen would appoint. This is distinct from his place as the leader of the Tory party.
He may have resigned as leader of the Tory party, or potentially indicated his intention to resign once a new leader has been nominated and elected. In theory, he could simply refuse to stand down as Prime Minister – his position as PM is not directly contingent on his being the leader of the Tory party.
The House of Commons could have a confidence motion to force the resignation of the PM or the dissolution of parliament forcing a general election. That hasn’t happened so far but may happen next week. In normal circumstances there is no chance of a government with a majority of MPs would lose such a motion, but these aren’t ordinary circumstances. And Tory MPs may feel that removing a rogue PM is more important than the risk to their seats in an early general election; certainly you could expect them to vote in the interests of their country. Although if Tories really are self-centred sociopaths who are more interested in covering their arses than the good of the country then such a motion of no confidence will fail.
All the noise about the 1922 Committee is about the Tory party and selecting its leader – it has nothing to do with the government.
In all likelihood, Johnson will remain the PM whilst the Tories select a new leader – quite possibly sooner than the autumn even though Johnson is hoping for autumn. And the new leader will be worse than Johnson – Johnson is a lazy fool and his replacement will want to make their mark.
In the wake of the tearing down of many US statues of Confederate generals and in the UK, the removal of a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, there is an ongoing debate about the status of statues in the public space.
And some pretty daft things have been said about it.
One of the daftest is the notion that they represent our history and destroying them is destroying our history; no they don’t and no it isn’t. History is a lot bigger and more diverse than the handful of historical (in some cases) so-called heroes.
The best a statue (almost always of an old white dude) can achieve in that direction is to spark an interest in history. And replacing the Bristol statue of Edward Colston with a statue of Paul Stephenson would have very little effect on this “sparking effect”. From a purely ancient history perspective, I might prefer one to Robert Fitzharding, but given that there is no shortage of statues to old white dudes, someone else can take centre stage.
In the US, it is rather peculiar to say the least that many US cities have statues to traitorous (not to mention racist) Confederate generals. Even ignoring the political question of why they are there, a fair few of them have little to no aesthetic value – if I were one of those dead Confederate generals, I’d be saying “Look, I may have been pretty ugly but at least I looked human!”.
But it gets on to an interesting point – we don’t so much worship the real people depicted in statues as our idealised version of them. In the case of Confederate generals (and ignoring the conscious and blatant racists), some view these as heroes of states’ rights which is more than a little invented – those making up the Confederacy were quite happy trampling on states’ rights when it came to achieving things they wanted (such as the return of run-away slaves).
In some cases the myth of the man (and woman in some rare cases) is enough to justify their statue despite what they were like in life – for instance Churchill was a racist and an imperialist but he also represents anti-fascism, Britain’s war leadership, and the initiation of the European state project.
There are those who would point to the Bengal famine of 1943 as a reason why he should not be venerated in statue form. He certainly deserves criticism for his handling of that famine and bears some responsibility for it, but he hardly caused the famine and there was plenty of other things going on at the time.
Back to the Confederate generals … I don’t think their myth is sufficient to justify the continued existence of their statues in the light of their very real crimes.
In the case of at least some statues, their origin story can be more interesting than expected – for instance there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the British parliament that was put up in the late 19th century. At the time, it was felt that putting up such a statue was rather provocative given the situation with Ireland at the time.
So no public money went to funding the statue; a ‘benefactor’ paid for the statue, but it was put up in the public space anyway – kind of missing the point!
But is the violent removal of such statues justified?
Normally, no. But in some instances, yes.
In the case of the Bristol slave trader, people have been trying to have the statue removed through official channels for over twenty-years! If you do not have a sensible way of handling reasonable objections to questionable statues in a reasonable time frame you can’t get too upset when people resort to direct action.
There must be a sensible, timely, and semi-democratic mechanism by which statues in the public space can be removed – perhaps if 25% of the local electorate vote to remove it, it should go. Whilst this is not properly democratic, if a statue is offensive to a quarter of the local population it seems not unreasonable to remove it.