With the Queen’s death, Britain’s grand delusions must give way to reality – The Guardian

Jean Hewitt, Natalie Maguire, David Learmount and Bruce Hugman respond to an article by Nesrine Malik on the country’s image of itself
How well Nesrine Malik captured my perception of the delusional state of so many in the UK today (Along with the Queen, Britain is laying to rest a sacred national image that never was, 11 September). I was born in London during the blitz, got my education and emigrated to Canada in 1961, contemptuous of the class system even at that young age. The history lessons of my schooldays were soon challenged as I travelled to the Caribbean, Africa and India. I had been taught that British rule was a gift rather than a cover for plundering resources. I actually thought that Britain was the force that ended the slave trade, not an active participant in it.
Over the years, I have returned frequently to the UK to visit family and friends. I have seen the country, particularly the south, become more affluent and thrive peacefully inside the EU, yet all the while clinging to a perception of greatness and superiority over other nations.
As Brexit approached, I listened as the media interviewed “average” citizens about why they would vote to leave the EU. Time and again, often accompanied by remarks about too many immigrants, people talked nostalgically about returning to the way things were – a desire to make Britain great again.
Now, I am back once more for a visit. Amid the outpouring of grief for a dedicated monarch who gave a sense of stability, while keeping alive the myths, pomp and ceremony of the old empire, I see a country struggling economically and socially, and with a diminished place on the world stage.
As my country is trying to deal with the truth about the cultural genocide inflicted on our native people, it may be time for the UK to acknowledge its myths and face some truths: it did not win the second world war alone, it did not bring benevolent civilisation to the lands it conquered, and its education and healthcare systems perpetuate inequality and are far from being the examples to the world they are often touted to be.
Like many other countries, Britain is facing an uphill battle to heal divisions and navigate an uncertain future. Once the mourning is over, the reality may set in and the hard work begin. If this happens, I will be standing on the sidelines, cheering the new UK on.
Jean Hewitt
London, Ontario, Canada
I did not flinch on reading Nesrine Malik’s article – I cheered. The Queen lived a life of extraordinary privilege, her every need met by vast inherited wealth and the public purse. And what did she do in return? She existed and worked. We all exist and work just as hard as she did and for a far more modest return, some of us struggling to get by, as she never had to.
In the past, the monarch was considered semi-divine, placed on the throne by a Christian god. I find it depressing that she has become the object of similar magical thinking – a universal grandmother who has kept us safe.
We are a hierarchical society of grotesque inequalities in life expectancy, healthcare, housing and education. She symbolised and sanitised that, as the monarchy embodied in the person of King Charles III will continue to do. How useful all this must be to the current government, the spotlight moved from the very bad winter that we are going to face.
Natalie Maguire
Hitchin, Hertfordshire
Nesrine Malik spelled out accurately how the Queen – and all the ceremony that surrounded her – have been a kind of sedative for the nation. I am the son of a Royal Navy officer and a contemporary of her first two children. In 1954, aged seven, I waved flags for her in Malta on her visit there during her Commonwealth tour. I will miss all that and her high personal standards. But things have to change. An unintentional effect that the Queen’s presence had was to bolster British exceptionalism – a characteristic that is a drag on our nation’s progress and a component of our low productivity.
David Learmount
East Molesey, Surrey
Three cheers for Nesrine Malik’s blast of reviving oxygen amid the overwhelming, stifling coverage of recent events. It was a great show while it lasted, but offstage, out on the streets, a very different story has been unravelling for 70 years.
Props and costumes, smoke and mirrors cannot disguise it. Anchors may be useful at times, though they do stop you from moving at all; anchors made of papier-mache and cloth of gold set you adrift in stormy seas. The country has been wrecked by neglect and greed, and no amount of royal flummery will remedy that. I admire the devotion that the late monarch brought to the job, but the extravagant institution she embodied is an absurdity and an insult in a modern democracy where so many live oppressed, impoverished lives.
Bruce Hugman
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