Another Royal Fairy Tale Begins – William & Kate, 2002-2011:
The sun was coming up over Westminster Abbey on Friday 29th April 2011, and on the Mall, some of the visitors were sleeping on chairs near the road, and others were standing and talking. They came from all over the capital city, as well as from other towns and cities all over Britain, and from other countries too. Later in the morning, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton was getting ready for her very special day. Her parents, sister and brother, were staying in the same hotel – the Goring Hotel in Belgravia. She would soon have to put on her specially designed dress.
At the same time, not far away, Prince William was getting ready too. He and his brother, Prince Harry, were putting on their uniforms – red for him, black for his brother.
Prince William was then second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom, after his father, Prince Charles. William and Kate came from two very different families, the Windsor-Mountbatten royal family, and the Middletons, an upper-middle-class family. Kate’s parents were Michael and Carole Middleton. They met when they worked for British Airways. Kate is their eldest child and she has a sister, Pippa, and a brother, James. When Kate was six, Carole Middleton began a business called Party Pieces and later Michael Middleton worked with her. It made a lot of money for the family.
But although she was from a perfectly respectable, wealthy family, Kate was a ‘commoner’, had no title and was not therefore a member of the aristocracy. Before William’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the then Duke of York, the future George VI, marriages like this, between princes and ‘commoners’ could not happen. When his grandmother, as heir to the throne, married Philip Mountbatten in 1947, she was marrying into the Greek royal family. His father had originally married Lady Diana Spencer, who was from a ‘stately home’. But modern princes and princesses from countries around the world do not always, or even usually, marry people from other royal families, or even the aristocracy.
Kate was born in January 1982, six months before William, in Reading. The Middletons had lived in the (Home County) Berkshire village of Bradfield Southend since 1986 when they returned from two years in Amman, Jordan. Kate went to primary school in the village before the family moved to a large detached house in Bucklebury in 1995. She then went to Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where she played hockey and tennis for the school teams, and succeeded academically. When she left Marlborough in 2000, she took a gap year during which she went to Florence, Italy and to Chile in the New Year of 2000, arriving there, by coincidence, a few weeks after William had returned from there on his gap year, so they didn’t meet. She worked as a teaching assistant before returning to England to get ready to go to the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland as a student of art history. The University is the oldest in Scotland, first opened in 1413, and the third oldest in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge. It has a student population of over eight thousand. William and Kate lived in the same building, were both students of art history and had some of the same friends.
In March 2002, Kate was in a fashion show at the university, and William and some of his friends went to watch. First, Kate modelled a colourful jumper, and then she walked out in an exciting black dress, catching William’s attention. William and Kate soon became good friends and remained so for over a year before, in the summer of 2003, Kate turned twenty-one (she was six months older than William), and he went to a party at her parents’ house in Berkshire, together with other friends from St. Andrew’s. Later that year, Prince Charles had an ‘African’ party for William’s twenty-first, and Kate was one of the guests. In September 2003, they began their third year and William moved to a house in the country called Balgrove House, not far from the town and the university, but a quiet place, away from photographers and reporters. Then in March 2004, William and Kate were in the news together. They went on a skiing holiday to Klosters in Switzerland with some friends and William’s father. Soon, newspapers from all over the world had a photo of William and Kate. Now everybody wanted to know, Who is Kate Middleton? The newspapers started to write about Will and Kate as a couple.
September 2004 was the beginning of their last year at St. Andrew’s. There were often photos of William at parties and weddings, but without Kate. As she was not part of the royal family and its official entourage, she couldn’t go with him, but they were still a courting couple. In 2005, they graduated and Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Prince Charles all came up for the ceremony. Kate’s mother and father were there too, but the two families did not meet.
Soon after graduation, William went to New Zealand for a second time, his first official visit overseas, which lasted eleven days. Then he went on a month’s holiday to Lewa Downs in Kenya, where he was later joined, for a short time, by Kate and some of their mutual friends. William then began to have a very busy time, working in the City of London and learning about banking. He also worked for the Football Association at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. In December, he spent two weeks with a mountain rescue team and after another skiing holiday together at Klosters in January 2006, William and Kate agreed to ‘separate’ while they both established themselves in work. William went to Sandhurst to train as an army officer, where he stayed for almost the rest of the year, not seeing Kate very often. She was trying to find work, but as the girlfriend of the future monarch, she was plagued by photographers who waited near her house and ran after her in the street. For a lot of the time, she worked in her parents’ business; there she could get away from the newspapers. In November 2006, she began work with a women’s clothes business called Jigsaw, which had a chain of high-street shops throughout the UK. The next month, William graduated from Sandhurst, and Kate and her parents were invited to the ‘passing out’ ceremony.
But the media’s invasion of Kate’s privacy got worse in 2007 and at twenty-four, William was not ready to get married. He was still very busy in the army in Dorset, and Kate was working in London, a hundred miles away. Sometimes photos appeared in the papers of William with other girls. Couples in the public eye often stop being together in these circumstances, and of the Queen’s four children, three had divorced. Only Edward, her youngest, was still in his first marriage. In April 2007, they decided to announce that they were no longer a couple. Kate probably needed time to decide whether she wanted to be a future queen consort, and went back to her parents’ house, away from London and the cameras. But she did not stay at home for very long, and she was often seen out shopping with her sister, Pippa. Nor did she stay away from William for long, since on 1st July she accepted his invitation to be among his guests at a special concert organised by Harry and himself to honour their mother, Diana, on her birthday. She did not sit next to William but was not far away and seemed happy again. After two months, they were back together again and flew to The Seychelles for a week together.
William next spent twelve weeks with the RAF, learning to fly, and he then had two months with the Royal Navy, before returning to the RAF to learn how to fly a helicopter, like his father and uncle, in the autumn of 2008. Meanwhile, Kate continued to work for her parents’ business, taking photographs for them, and people took an interest in her clothes. In January 2010, William finished his helicopter training and went to the island of Anglesey in North Wales to train with the RAF in search and rescue work. He lived in a little house on a farm, and Kate visited him there frequently. William’s training ended in September 2010, and soon after that he and Kate went to Kenya for a three-week holiday.
For some of the time they were in Kenya, William and Kate were with friends. But near the end of the holiday, they had some time alone as a couple again. William had taken his mother’s engagement ring with him, gold with a big blue sapphire surrounded with little diamonds. He carried it carefully with him all through the holiday, and on 19th October, he proposed to Kate with it. She agreed to marry him, and the couple returned to the UK, but could not tell the exciting news to their friends, and Kate could not wear the ring. Finally, on 16th November, the couple appeared on TV at St. James’ Palace and announced their engagement to the public. Kate wore a stunning blue dress to match the sapphire in her ring. William had already asked the Queen and Kate’s father for their consent to the marriage. Both of them gave it.
Prudence takes a Back Seat – New Labour Spending:
In January 2000, Tony Blair announced directly to it that he would bring Britain’s health spending up to the European average within five years. That was a huge promise because it meant spending a third as much again in real terms, and his ‘prudent’ Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, was unhappy that Blair had not spoken enough on television about the need for health service reform to accompany the money, and had also ‘stolen’ his budget announcements. On Budget day itself, Brown announced that until 2004 health spending would rise at above six per cent beyond inflation every year, …
… by far the largest sustained increase in NHS funding in any period in its fifty-year history … half as much again for health care for every family in this country.
The tilt away from Brown’s sharp spending controls during the first three years of the New Labour government had begun by the first spring of the new millennium, and there was more to come. With a general election looming in 2001, Brown also announced a review of the NHS and its future by a former banker. As soon as the election was over, broad hints about necessary tax rises were dropped. When the Wanless Report was finally published, it confirmed much that the winter crisis of 1999-2000 had exposed. The NHS was not, whatever Britons fondly believed, better than health systems in other developed countries, and it needed a lot more money. ‘Wanless’ also rejected a radical change in funding, such as a switch to insurance-based or semi-private health care. Brown immediately used this as objective proof that taxes had to rise in order to save the NHS. In his next budget of 2002, Brown broke with a political convention that had reigned since the mid-eighties, that direct taxes would not be raised again. He raised a special one per cent national insurance levy, equivalent to a penny on income tax, to fund the huge reinvestment in Britain’s health.
Public spending shot up with this commitment and, in some ways, it paid off, since by 2006 there were around 300,000 extra NHS staff compared to 1997. Hardly anyone was left waiting for an inpatient appointment for more than six months. Death rates from cancer for people under the age of seventy-five fell by 15.7 per cent between 1996 and 2006 and death rates from heart disease fell by just under thirty-six per cent. Meanwhile, the public finance initiative meant that new hospitals were being built around the country. But, unfortunately for New Labour, that was not the whole story of the Health Service under their stewardship. As Andrew Marr (2007-9) has attested,
…’Czars’, quangos, agencies, commissions, access teams and planners hunched over the NHS as Whitehall, having promised to devolve power, now imposed a new round of mind-dazing control.
By the autumn of 2004 hospitals were subject to more than a hundred inspections. War broke out between Brown and the Treasury and the ‘Blairite’ Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, about the basic principles of running the hospitals. Milburn wanted more competition between them, but Brown didn’t see how this was possible when most people had only one major local hospital. Polling suggested that he was making a popular point. Most people simply wanted better hospitals, not more choices. A truce was eventually declared with the establishment of a small number of independent, ‘foundation’ hospitals. By the 2005 general election, Michael Howard’s Conservatives were attacking Labour for wasting money and allowing people’s lives to be put at risk in dirty, badly run hospitals. Many newly and expensively qualified doctors and even specialist consultants could not find work. It seemed that wage costs, expensive new drugs, poor management and the money poured into endless bureaucratic reforms had resulted in a still inadequate service.
As public spending had begun to flow during the second Blair administration, vast amounts of money had gone into pay rises, new bureaucracies and on bills for outside consultants. Ministries had been unused to spending again, after the initial period of ‘prudence’, and did not always do it well. Brown and his Treasury team resorted to double and triple counting of early spending increases in order to give the impression they were doing more for hospitals, schools and transport than they actually could. As Marr has pointed out, …
… In trying to achieve better policing, more effective planning, healthier school food, prettier town centres and a hundred other hopes, the centre of government ordered and cajoled, hassled and harangued, always high-minded, always speaking for ‘the people’.
The railways, after yet another disaster, were shaken up again. In very controversial circumstances Railtrack, the once-profitable monopoly company operating the lines, was driven to bankruptcy and a new system of Whitehall control was imposed. At one point, Tony Blair boasted of having five hundred targets for the public sector. Parish councils, small businesses and charities found that they were loaded with directives. Schools and hospitals had many more. Marr has commented, …
The interference was always well-meant but it clogged up the arteries of free decision-taking and frustrated responsible public life.
Throughout the New Labour years, with steady growth and low inflation, most of the country grew richer. Growth since 1997, at 2.8 per cent per year, was above the post-war average, GDP per head was above that of France and Germany and the country had the second lowest jobless figures in the EU. The number of people at work increased by 2.4 million. Incomes grew, in real terms, by about a fifth. Pensions were in trouble, but house price inflation soured, so the owners found their properties more than doubling in value and came to think of themselves as prosperous. By 2006 analysts were assessing the disposable wealth of the British at forty thousand pounds per household. However, the wealth was not spread geographically, averaging sixty-eight thousand in the southeast of England, but a little over thirty thousand in Wales and northeast England.
The Click & Collect Economy – Buying & Selling Britain by the Acre:
The internet, also known as the ‘World-Wide Web’, which was ‘invented’ by the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee at the end of 1989 (pictured right in 2014), was advancing from colleges and institutions into everyday life by the mid- ‘noughties’. It first began to attract popular interest in the mid-nineties: Britain’s first internet café and magazine, reviewing a few hundred early websites, were both launched in 1994.
The introduction of new forms of mail-order and ‘click and collect’ shopping in the mid-nineties quickly attracted significant adherents from different ‘demographics’. But the ‘dot-com’ bubble burst due to its own rapid and excessive expansion, and following a pause and a lot of ruined dreams, the ‘new economy’ roared on again. By 2000, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), around forty per cent of Britons had accessed the internet at some time. Three years later, nearly half of British homes were ‘online’. By 2004, the spread of ‘broadband’ connections had brought a new mass market in ‘downloading’ music and video. By 2006, three-quarters of British children had internet access at home.
Above: The Albert Dock in Liverpool was an example of a redundant industrial relic that took on a multitude of other uses. By the new millennium, its nineteenth-century buildings housed a maritime museum, an art gallery, a shopping centre and a television studio, becoming a major tourist attraction.
Simultaneously, the rich of America, Europe and Russia began buying up parts of London and other ‘attractive’ parts of the country, including Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, Yorkshire and Cornwall. ‘Executive houses’ with pebbled driveways, brick facing and dormer windows were growing across farmland and by rivers with no thought of flood-plain constraints. Parts of the country far from London, such as the English southwest and Yorkshire, enjoyed a ripple of wealth that pushed their house prices to unheard-of levels. From Liverpool to Gateshead, Belfast to Cardiff Bay, once-derelict shorefront areas were transformed. For all the problems and disappointments, and the longer-term problems with their financing, new schools and public buildings sprang up – new museums, galleries, vast shopping complexes, corporate headquarters in a biomorphic architecture of glass and steel, more imaginative and better-looking than their predecessors from the dreary age of concrete.
Supermarket chains exercised huge market power, offering cheap meat and dairy products to almost everyone’s budgets. Factory-made ready meals were transported and imported by the new global air freight market and refrigerated trucks and lorries moved freely across a Europe shorn of internal barriers. Out-of-season fruit and vegetables, fish from the Pacific, exotic foods of all kinds and freshly cut flowers appeared in superstores everywhere. Hardly anyone was out of reach of a ‘Tesco’, a ‘Morrison’s’, a ‘Sainsbury’s’ or an ‘Asda’. By the mid-noughties, the four supermarket giants owned more than fifteen hundred superstores throughout the UK. They spread the consumption of goods that in the eighties and nineties had seemed like luxuries. Students had to take out loans in order to go to university but were far more likely to do so than previous generations, as well as to travel more widely on a ‘gap’ year, not just to study or work abroad.
Those ‘Left Behind’ – Poverty, Pensions & Public Order:
Materially, for the majority of people, this was, to use Marr’s term, a ‘golden age’, which perhaps helps to explain both why earlier real anger about earlier pension decisions and stealth taxes did not translate into anti-Labour voting in successive general elections. The irony is that in pleasing ‘Middle Englanders’, the Blair-Brown government lost contact with traditional Labour voters, especially in the North of Britain, who did not benefit from these ‘golden years’ to the same extent. Gordon Brown, from the first, made much of New Labour’s anti-poverty agenda, especially child poverty. Since the launch of the Child Poverty Action Group, this latter problem had become particularly emotive. Labour policies took a million children out of relative poverty between 1997 and 2004, though the numbers rose again later. Brown’s emphasis was on the working poor and the virtue of work. So his major innovations were the national minimum wage, the ‘New Deal’ for the young unemployed, the working families tax credit, and tax credits aimed at children. There was also a minimum income guarantee and a later pension credit, for poorer pensioners.
The Tories, now under new management in the shape of a media-marketing executive and old Etonian, David Cameron, also declared that they believed in this concept of relative poverty. After all, it was on their watch, during the Thatcher and Major governments, that it had tripled. A world of ‘black economy’ work also remained below the minimum wage, in private care homes, where migrant servants were exploited, and in other nooks and crannies. Some 336,000 jobs remained on ‘poverty pay’ rates. Yet ‘redistribution of wealth’, a socialist phrase which had become unfashionable under New Labour lest it should scare away Middle Englanders, was stronger in Brown’s Britain than in other major industrialised nations. Despite the growth of the super-rich, many of whom were also immigrants anyway, overall equality increased in these years. One factor in this was the return to the means-testing of benefits, particularly for pensioners and through the working families tax credit, subsequently divided into a child tax credit and a working tax credit. Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, concluded that if he was to direct scarce resources at those in real poverty, he had little choice but to reintroduce means-testing.
Apart from the demoralising effect it had on pensioners, the other drawback to means-testing was that a huge bureaucracy was needed to track people’s earnings and to try to establish exactly what they should be getting in benefits. Billions were overpaid and as people did better and earned more from more stable employment, they then found themselves facing huge demands to hand back the money they had already spent. Compared with Mrs Thatcher’s Victorian Values and Mr Major’s Back to Basics campaigns, Labour was supposed to be non-judgemental about individual behaviour. But a form of moralism did begin to reassert itself. For the minority who made life hell for their neighbours on housing estates, Labour introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (‘Asbo’). These were first given out in 1998, and granted by magistrates to either the police or the local council. It became a criminal offence to break the curfew or other sanctions, which could be highly specific. Asbos could be given out for swearing at others in the street, harassing passers-by, vandalism, making too much noise, graffiti, organising ‘raves’, flyposting, taking drugs, sniffing glue, joyriding, prostitution, hitting people and drinking in public.
By the ‘mid-noughties’, more than four million closed-circuit television cameras were watching the British in what was fast becoming a surveillance society.
Although Asbos served a useful purpose in many cases, there were fears that for the really rough elements in society and their tough children they became a badge of honour. Since breaking an Asbo could result in an automatic prison sentence, people were sent to jail for crimes that had not warranted this before. But as they were refined in use and strengthened, they became more effective and routine. By 2007, seven and a half thousand had been given out in England and Wales alone and Scotland had introduced its own version in 2004. Some civil liberties campaigners saw this development as part of a wider authoritarian and surveillance agenda. In addition, the number of mobile phones was already equivalent to the number of people in Britain. With global satellite positioning chips (GPS) these could show exactly where their users were and the use of such systems in cars and even out on the moors meant that Britons were losing their age-old prowess for map-reading.
The ‘Seven Seven’ Bombings – War on Terror & Home-grown ‘Jihadis’:
Despite these increasing means of mass surveillance, Britain’s cities have remained vulnerable to terrorist attacks, more recently by so-called ‘Islamic terrorists’ rather than by the Provisional IRA, who abandoned their bombing campaign in 1998. On 7 July 2005, at rush-hour, four young Muslim men from West Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire, murdered fifty-two people and injured 770 others by blowing themselves up on London Underground trains and on a London bus. The report into this worst such attack in Britain later concluded that they were not part of an al Qaeda cell, though two of them had visited camps in Pakistan, and that the rucksack bombs had been constructed at the cost of a few hundred pounds. Despite the government’s insistence that the war in Iraq had not made Britain more of a target for terrorism, the Home Office investigation asserted that the four had been motivated, in part at least, by ‘British foreign policy’.
They had picked up the information they needed for the attack from the internet. It was a particularly grotesque attack, because of the terrifying and bloody conditions in the underground tunnels and it vividly reminded the country that it was as much a target as the United States or Spain. Indeed, the long-standing and intimate relationship between Great Britain and Pakistan, with constant and heavy air traffic between them, provoked fears that the British would prove uniquely vulnerable. Tony Blair heard of the attack at the most poignant time, just following London’s great success in winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. The ‘Seven Seven’ bombings are unlikely to have been stopped by CCTV surveillance, of which there was plenty at the tube stations, nor by ID cards (which had recently been under discussion), since the killers were British subjects, nor by financial surveillance, since little money was involved and the materials were paid for in cash. Even better intelligence might have helped, but the Security Services, both ‘MI5’ and ‘MI6’ as they are known, were already in receipt of huge increases in their budgets, as they were in the process of tracking down other murderous cells.
In 2005, police arrested suspects in Birmingham, High Wycombe and Walthamstow, in east London, believing there was a plot to blow up as many as ten passenger aircraft over the Atlantic. After many years of allowing dissident clerics and activists from the Middle East asylum in London, Britain had more than its share of inflammatory and dangerous extremists, who admired al Qaeda and preached violent jihad. Once 11 September 2001 had changed the climate, new laws were introduced to allow the detention without trial of foreigners suspected of being involved in supporting or fomenting terrorism. They could not be deported because human rights legislation forbade sending back anyone to countries where they might face torture. Seventeen were picked up and held at the Belmarsh high-security prison. But in December 2004, the House of Lords ruled that these detentions were discriminatory and disproportionate, and therefore illegal.
Five weeks later, Home Secretary Charles Clarke hit back with ‘control orders’ to limit the movement of men he could not prosecute or deport. These orders would also be used against home-grown terror suspects. A month later, in February 2005, sixty Labour MPs rebelled against these powers too, and the government only narrowly survived the vote. In April 2006 a judge ruled that the control orders were an affront to justice because they gave the Home Secretary, a politician, too much power. Two months later, the same judge ruled that curfew orders of eighteen hours per day on six Iraqis were a deprivation of liberty and also illegal. The new Home Secretary, John Reid, lost his appeal and had to loosen the orders.
Britain found itself in a struggle between its ancient laws and liberties and a new, borderless world in which the hallowed principles of ‘habeas corpus’, free speech, a presumption of innocence, asylum, the right of British subjects to travel freely in their own country without identifying papers, and the sanctity of homes in which the law-abiding lived were all coming under increasing jeopardy. The new political powers seemed to government ministers the least that they needed to deal with a threat that might last for another thirty years in order, paradoxically, to secure Britain’s liberties for the long term beyond that. They were sure that most British people agreed, and that the judiciary, media, civil rights campaigners and elected politicians who protested were an ultra-liberal minority. Tony Blair, John Reid and Jack Straw were emphatic about this, and it was left to liberal Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to mount the barricades in defence of civil liberties.
As Gordon Brown eyed the premiership, his rhetoric was similarly tough, but as Blair was forced to turn to the ‘war on terror’ and Iraq, he failed to concentrate enough on domestic policy. By 2005, neither of them could be bothered to disguise their mutual enmity, as pictured above. A gap seemed to open up between Blair’s enthusiasm for market ideas in the reform of health and schools, and Brown’s determination to deliver better lives for the working poor. Brown was also keen on bringing private capital into public services, but there was a difference in emphasis which both men played up. Blair claimed that the New Labour government was best when we are at our boldest. But Brown retorted that it was best when we are Labour.
Tony Blair’s legacy continued to be paraded on the streets of Britain, here blaming him and George Bush for the rise of ‘The Islamic State’ in Iraq.
Immigration & Identity at the Beginning of the New Millennium:
Immigration had always been a constant factor in British life, now it was also a fact of life that Europe and the whole world had to come to terms with. Earlier post-war migrations to Britain had provoked a ‘racialist’ backlash, riots, the rise of extreme right-wing organisations and a series of new laws aimed at controlling it. New laws had been passed to control both immigration from the Commonwealth and the backlash to it. The later migrations were controversial in different ways. The ‘Windrush’ arrivals from the Caribbean (see the photo below) and those from the Indian subcontinent were people who looked different but who spoke the same language and in many ways had had a similar education to that of the ‘native’ British. Many of the later migrants from Eastern Europe looked similar to the white British but shared little by way of a common linguistic, educational and cultural background.
As Simon Schama pointed out in 2002, it was a fact that even though half of the British-Caribbean population and a third of the British-Asian population were born in Britain, they continued to constitute only a small proportion of the total population. It was also true that any honest reckoning of the post-imperial account needed to take account of the appeal of separatist fundamentalism in majority Muslim communities. At the end of the last century, an opinion poll found that fifty per cent of British-born Caribbean men and twenty per cent of British-born Asian men had, or once had, white partners. In 2000, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown found that, when polled, eighty-eight per cent of white Britons between the ages of eighteen and thirty had no objection to ‘inter-racial’ marriage; eighty-four per cent of West Indians and East Asians and fifty per cent of those from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds felt the same way. Schama commented:
The colouring of Britain exposes the disintegrationalist argument for the pallid, defensive thing that it is. British history has not just been some sort of brutal mistake or conspiracy that has meant the steamrollering of Englishness over subject nations. It has been the shaking loose of peoples from their roots.
A Jewish intellectual expressing impatience with the harping on ‘roots’ once told me that “trees have roots; Jews have legs”. The same could be said of Britons who have shared the fate of empire, whether in Bombay or Bolton, who have encountered each other in streets, front rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.
Until the Summer of 2001, this ‘integrationist’ view of British history and contemporary society was the broadly accepted orthodoxy among intellectuals and politicians, if not more broadly in the population. At that point, however, partly as a result of riots in the north of England involving ethnic minorities, including young Muslim men, and partly because of events in New York and Washington, the existence of parallel communities began to be discussed more widely and the concept of ‘multiculturalism’ began to become subject to fundamental criticism on both the right and left of the political spectrum. In the ‘noughties’, the dissenters from the multicultural consensus began to be found everywhere along the continuum.
The Breaking of the Multicultural Consensus:
One result of the long Iraqi conflict, which President Bush finally declared to be over on 1 May 2003, as part of his war on terror, was the arrival of many Iraqi asylum-seekers in Britain; Kurds, as well as Shiites and Sunnis. This attracted little comment at the time because there had been both Iraqi and Iranian refugees in Britain since the late 1970s, especially as students. But soon there was a much larger migration into the country which changed it fundamentally during the Blair years. This was a multi-lingual migration, including many Poles, some Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans whose countries had joined the EU and its single market in 2004. There were also sizeable inflows of western Europeans, though these were mostly academics and students, who (somewhat controversially) were also counted in the immigration statistics, and young professionals with multi-national companies.
At the same time, there was continued immigration from Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan, as well as from Russia, Australia, South Africa and North America. In 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics, ‘immigrants’ were arriving to live in Britain at the rate of fifteen hundred a day. Since Tony Blair had been in power, more than 1.3 million had arrived. By the 2010s, English was no longer the first language of half the primary school children in London, and the capital had more than 350 different first languages. Five years later, the same could be said of many towns in Kent and other Eastern counties of England.
Polish tradesmen, fruit-pickers and factory workers were soon followed by shops owned by Poles or stocking Polish and East European delicacies and selling Polish newspapers and magazines. Even road signs appeared in Polish, though in Kent these were mainly put in place along trucking routes used by Polish drivers, where for many years signs had been in French and German, a recognition of the employment changes in the long-distance haulage industry. Even as far north as Cheshire (see below), these were put in place to help monolingual truckers using trunk roads, rather than local Polish residents, most of whom had enough English to understand road signs either upon arrival or shortly afterwards. Although specialist classes in English had to be provided in schools and community centres, there was little evidence that multi-lingual migrants had any long-term impact on local children and wider communities. In fact, schools were soon reporting a positive impact in terms of the migrant children’s attitudes toward learning and in improving general educational standards.
More serious problems were beginning to be posed, however, by the operations of people smugglers and criminal gangs. Chinese migrants were involved in a particular tragedy when nineteen of them were caught while cockle-picking in Morecambe Bay by the notorious tides and drowned. Many more were working for ‘gang-masters’ as virtual and in some cases actual ‘slaves’. Russian voices became common on the London Underground, and among prostitutes on the streets. The British Isles found themselves to be ‘islands in the stream’ of international migration, the chosen ‘sceptred isle’ destinations of millions of newcomers. Unlike Germany, Britain was no longer a dominant manufacturing country but had rather become, by the late twentieth century, a popular place to develop digital and financial products and services.
When the EU expanded Britain decided that, unlike France or Germany, it would not try to delay opening the country to migrant workers. The accession treaties gave nationals from these countries the right to freedom of movement and settlement. With average earnings three times higher in the UK, this was a benefit that the Eastern Europeans were keen to take advantage of. Some member states, however, exercised their right to ‘derogation’ from the treaties, whereby they would only permit migrant workers to be employed if employers were unable to find a local candidate. In terms of European Union legislation, a derogation involved a delay to the full implementation of the treaty for five years. Unlike other member states, including France, the UK decided not to exercise this option.
Within the EU, however, British politicians maintained Thatcher’s earlier determination to resist the Franco-German federalist model, with its ‘social chapter’ involving ever tighter controls over international corporations and ever closer political union. Britain, it was argued, had always gone out into the world. Now, increasingly, the world came to Britain, whether poor migrants, rich corporations or Chinese manufacturers. The poorer of the new migrant groups were almost entirely unrepresented in politics, but radically changed the sights, sounds and scents of urban Britain, and even some of its market towns. The veiled women of the Muslim world or its more traditionalist Arab, Afghan and Pakistani quarters became common sights on the streets, from Kent to Scotland and across to South Wales.
An unspoken consensus existed whereby immigration, while always gradually increasing, was controlled. However, with the advent of hundreds of thousands of migrant EU workers, politicians and commentators began to break with this multicultural consensus, and their views began to have an impact because while those on the right were suspected of having ‘nativist’ if not ‘racist’ tendencies in the ‘Powellite’ tradition, those from the left could generally be seen as having less easily assailable motives. What happened after the accession treaties of 2004 was therefore a breaking of the multicultural consensus.
The journalist Douglas Murray, author of the recent (2017) book, The Strange Death of Europe has claimed that once in power in 1997, Tony Blair’s government oversaw an opening of the borders on a scale unparalleled even in the post-war decades. His government abolished the ‘primary purpose rule’, which had been used to filter out bogus marriage applications. The borders were opened to anyone deemed essential to the British economy, a definition so broad that it included restaurant workers as ‘skilled labourers’. And as well as opening the door to the rest of the world, they opened the door to the new EU member states after 2004. It was the effects of all of this that created the changed picture of the country which was eventually revealed in the 2011 Census, published towards the end of 2012.
Trevor Phillips (pictured right), the first black President of the National Union of Students in 1978-79 (of Ghanaian parentage), became the Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003, opening up territory in discussion and debate that others had not dared to ‘trespass’ into.
His realisation that the race-relations ‘industry’ was part of the problem, and that partly as a result of talking up diversity the country was ‘sleepwalking to segregation’ was an insight that others began to share. Simon Schama had argued, in his influential BBC TV (2002) series on the History of Britain looking back from the beginning of the new millennium, that Britain should not have to choose between its own multi-cultural, global identity and its place in Europe. Interestingly, he put the blame for the pressure to do so primarily on continental leaders and, latterly, on the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, suggesting that…
… the increasing compulsion to make the choice that General de Gaulle imposed on us between our European and our extra-European identity seems to order an impoverishment of our culture. It is precisely the the roving, unstable, complicated, migratory character of our history that ought to be seen as a gift for Europe.
It is a past, after all, that uniquely in European history combines a passion for social justice with a tenacious attachment to bloody-minded liberty, a past designed to subvert, not reinforce, the streamlined authority of global bureaucracies and corporations.
Our place at the European table ought to make room for that peculiarity or we should not bother showing up for dinner. What, after all, is the alternative? To surrender that ungainly, eccentric thing, British history, with all its warts and disfigurements, to the economic beauty parlour that is Brussels will mean a loss. But properly smartened up, we will of course be fully entitled to the gold-card benefits of the inward-looking club…
Nor should Britain rush towards a re-branded future that presupposes the shame-faced repudiation of the past. For our history is not the captivity of our future; it is, in fact, the condition of our maturity.
The Royal Wedding of 2011- A Gallery:
At the time of the royal wedding, Britain was not just becoming increasingly divided over immigration and EU membership, but it was also in recession, following the international financial crash of 2010. Some businesses were forced to close and people were losing their jobs, and it was difficult for young people to borrow enough money to buy or rent their first home. The royal wedding cheered everyone up, but the royal family were concerned that it should not be too lavish. The wedding was meant to be very traditional, but simple.
William and Catherine’s wedding day was set for 29th April 2011, in Westminster Abbey. The Queen asked about nineteen hundred people to attend the wedding. Many of these guests were family and friends, but she also invited kings and queens from around the world. A wedding ring was made of Welsh gold, a tradition within the royal family going back to his great-grandmother. William’s brother Harry was to be his best man, and Kate’s sister, Pippa, her chief bridesmaid. Then there were to be four little bridesmaids and two page boys. On the eve of the big day, thousands of people began to arrive in London, determined to camp near Westminster Abbey and on the Mall. The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William himself came out to meet them. The day of the Wedding was warm and dry. Hundreds of thousands waited on the streets, and five thousand police officers were deployed around the route. Spread over different parts of the capital, there were more than eight thousand radio and television reporters, ready to tell people around the world about the wedding.
At eight o’clock the news came from Buckingham Palace that William and Kate would be known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. At mid-morning, William and Harry came into the abbey, William wearing an Irish Guards uniform and Harry the uniform of a captain in the Blues and Royals. Minutes later, Kate’s mother arrived and soon after that, the Queen and Prince Philip. Then, just before eleven, people saw Kate leaving the hotel to get into a Rolls-Royce with her father. Unlike previous royal brides, brides, Kate did not arrive at the wedding in a horse-drawn coach. Ten minutes later, she arrived at the Abbey and everyone could see her dress, by British designer Sarah Burton, for the first time. It was made from ivory and white satin, with a V-neck bodice with lace detailing. It had a big skirt and long lace sleeves. The train measured 270cm, 110ins. Kate wore a white veil over her face, held in place by a diamond tiara, lent to her by the Queen. It was originally given by King George V to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1936. They had given it to the then Princess Elizabeth on her eighteenth birthday. According to reports, a blue ribbon was stitched inside the dress. In her hands, Kate carried small white flowers.
As she walked in with her father, there were hundreds of white and green flowers lining the abbey nave, and eight tall trees. Her sister Pippa walked behind, carefully carrying the long train of the dress. Pippa almost stole the show, wearing a simple white shift dress with buttons down the back. The ceremony took a little more than an hour. Then the new Duke and Duchess walked out of the abbey with the four children, bridesmaids and pages, Prince Harry, Pippa, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and Kate’s parents. The bells of Westminster Abbey were rung for three hours after the wedding.
The bride and groom got into an open-top gold and black coach, the 1902 State Landau, to go to Buckingham Palace, with the other important royal guests and Carole and Michael Middleton in the following carriages. After they arrived at the Palace, thousands of people began to walk up the Mall behind a cordon of police officers. Then everyone in the crowd watched the balcony and waited for the royal couple to appear. A royal bride and groom first did this in 1858, and William’s parents, Charles and Diana famously kissed there in 1981. So when Kate and William came out onto the balcony, the crowd expected them to do the same. The noise created by the crowd’s approval made one of the little bridesmaids put her hands over her ears!
Then there were the formal photographs inside the palace, with the bride and groom together, with their pages and bridesmaids, and with their families. After that, there was a party for 650 guests in nineteen rooms, and Prince Charles made a speech. There were further speeches at the dinner for three hundred guests, from Prince Harry, Michael Middleton and from Prince William. Two of the couple’s friends also spoke. In the ballroom, the guests talked and danced until 3 a.m., when the bride and groom left and the party ended. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, gave the couple a tandem bike as a wedding present.
Of course, the party at the palace was not the only one in the Kingdom. The day of the wedding was a bank holiday, and there were more than five thousand street parties across the different countries. In Scotland, at St Andrew’s, more than two thousand people came together to watch the ceremony on a giant TV. David Cameron, the Coalition Government‘s PM, also had a party in Downing Street, inviting elderly people and children to join him. His wife, Samantha, made the cakes. In cities and towns throughout the Kingdom, people closed their streets to traffic and came together for the day, watching the wedding together.
There were parties in many other places around the world, from Afghanistan to India to Canada. In a hundred and eighty countries, many millions of people watched the pictures from London with fellow members of the British armed forces, families and friends. In the early morning in Times Square in New York City, three couples got married just after William and Kate. However, there was no immediate honeymoon, and after three days away, they went back to Anglesey as, on the following Tuesday, William had to return to work with the search and rescue team. Ten days after the wedding, they flew to The Seychelles for ten days, away from the prying eyes of press photographers.
After the Wedding – The Working Duke & Duchess:
After their honeymoon, the couple returned to Anglesey, and a new life for Kate in the royal family. Before long they had their first visit as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to Canada, from 30th June to 8th July. Again, thousands of people came out to see them as they attended official ceremonies. William gave speeches in both English and French. On leaving Canada, they went to California for three days, where they attended a big dinner in Los Angeles, meeting Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman and other rich Hollywood celebrities. At these overseas functions, Kate wore dresses specially designed for her, but she usually wore things from British shops. So, when young women saw her wearing a new dress made in Britain of this kind, they went to their nearest high-street fashion store to see if they could get the same dress. Often, the shops sold out of these ‘Kate’ dresses within hours of her appearing on TV in it, so she was good news for the British clothes shops and fashion ‘houses’. But while in California they also spent time at the charitable foundation, Inner-City Arts, where children from poorer families went to have lessons in dance and the arts. The Duke and Duchess watched the dances and made pictures with the children.
Back home, too, many charities asked for ‘patronage’ from them as members of the royal family. The charity Centrepoint was sponsored by his mother, and William gave his time to it as well, including sleeping out on the cold streets of London for a night to learn something, firsthand, about the experience of homeless people. The Duchess also began helping four charitable organisations. One of them is the East Anglia Children’s Hospice, which helps seriously and terminally ill children and their families. Another, building on her background in art history, is the National Portrait Gallery.
When they got engaged, Kate said, “Family is very important to me,” and William said, “We want a family.” By 2022 they had two new royal princes, George (b. 2013) and Louis, and a princess, Charlotte. Had she been born first, Charlotte would have become third in line to the throne following a change in the law of succession to permit the eldest child of the Monarch to become heir to the throne, whether they are male or female. So it seems that British subjects will have two more kings after Charles III, William and George before they have another queen. In the meantime, after overcoming the difficult obstacles placed in their way in their courtship, the new royal couple has been in the news for all the right reasons over the past dozen years, balancing their private family life together with their public work for the Monarchy.
Prince William was a patron of a mountain rescue organisation and often did work for the Football Association, including joint bids for the British nations to stage the European Championships and World Cup. He also helped with the organisation of the summer 2012 London Olympic Games. It was a very busy time for the whole royal family, who greeted and talked with many famous visitors from around the world and went to the big opening and closing ceremonies (see the section below on the Olympics).
The Diamond Jubilee:
By 2012, Queen Elizabeth had reigned for almost as long as her great-grandmother Queen Victoria, the longest-reigning monarch to date. In 2012, Elizabeth celebrated sixty years on the throne. By 2022, of course, she had also surpassed Victoria, reaching her Platinum Jubilee before her death later in the year. There had already been a big celebration in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and another one in 2002 for her Golden Jubilee. For 2012, a celebration was planned that would be even bigger than the earlier ones. Celebrations went on throughout the year, with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh making special visits around the country, but the focal point was London and the Jubilee Weekend in June. A special bank holiday was declared on Tuesday 5th June, so that everyone in the UK had a four-day weekend. Celebrations were held in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth:
The Jubilee Concert was held outside Buckingham Palace. It was a joint venture between the BBC and Gary Barlow, who, together with Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a special anthem, Sing, which was performed by a choir from many Commonwealth countries. Other artists who appeared at the concert included Robbie Williams, the pianist Lang Lang, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Elton John. Two thousand and twelve beacons were lit by communities and individuals throughout the Kingdom, as well as in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Commonwealth. Her Majesty herself lit the National Beacon in central London.
The River Thames Flotilla on Sunday was made up of nearly a thousand boats from around the UK, the Commonwealth and other parts of the world. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled in the Royal Barge, which formed the centrepiece of the flotilla.
The 2012 London Olympics Games:
The spectacular opening ceremony was an unforgettable start to the Olympic Games. The whole spectacular event was orchestrated by composer Danny Boyle and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, providing a unique journey through British history. The visual effects team created a thrilling animated journey down the river from its source to the Olympic stadium itself, passing sights real and imaginary. The sound of the shipping forecast and billowing blue sheets transformed the ‘meadow’ of ‘the Green and Pleasant Land’ into an Isle of Wonder, to the stirring sounds of Elgar’s Nimrod, played by the London Symphony Orchestra’s On Track Project. Frank Turner’s acoustic songs performed in the stadium perfectly captured the atmosphere of a long summer evening.
The intense sporting action from the first ten days of the Games began with Team GB’s first medal from Lizzie Armistead, the silver she won in the Road Race. Although she was beaten to the gold in a sprint finish with Marianne Voss, this was the focus of national attention. Their first gold came from rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. In cycling, Bradley Wiggins (“Wiggo”), who had just won the Tour de France, won gold in imperious style in the time trial. This brought his total of Olympic medals to seven, a record shared with Chris Hoy, who later won gold in the indoor team sprint. Both men were subsequently knighted, and Wiggins was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2012. Many more thrilling moments followed with US swimmer Michael Phelps’ record nineteenth Olympic medal in the pool and rower Katherine Grainger’s long-awaited gold for GB. In athletics, millions watched as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt successfully defended his hundred-metre title.
In the middle, ‘Super Saturday’, with an electric atmosphere in the stadium, Jessica Ennis won gold in the heptathlon, a combination of seven field and track events, and Mo Farah won gold in the ten thousand metres, followed by a third gold from Greg Rutherford in the Long Jump. In tennis, Andy Murray beat Roger Federer in an emotional final, making up for his loss to Federer at Wimbledon just a few weeks before. In the final six days, the Brownlee brothers found triathlon glory, Usain Bolt completed a historic sprint treble, and Nicola Adams punched her way to the first women’s boxing gold. There was incredible tension in Greenwich Park for Team GB’s Equestrian dressage victory, the world record-breaking US sprint relay and Samantha Murray (no relation to Andy), securing the 65th and final medal for Team GB.
The London Olympics ended in style with a celebration of British musical and sporting achievements, created by Kim Gavin. It marked the end of an amazing chapter in London’s life and featured an array of British artists from the previous sixty years, including Eric Idle, The Kinks, The Spice Girls and Jessie J. As the whole event drew to a close, Britain seemed, despite the recession, to be once more at ease with itself.
(to be continued…)