My daughter’s primary school held a picnic on Friday to celebrate the coronation, but, while her classmates were waving flags and eating sandwiches, my child was at home. She’s four years old – at an impressionable age where teachers are viewed with uncritical trust.
It might seem cruel for me to have kept her away from a party with her friends, but I cannot go along with the promotion of political propaganda to children.
Ingrained though it might be in our national psyche, royalism is a political belief, and one held by only around half of the population of the UK (and only a third of the population of Scotland). It is a political choice, just like which party to vote for.
Except not one we can actually vote on. Local elections were also taking place this week, and presumably we can all agree that it would be inappropriate for the teachers to ask the children to make “Vote Conservative” banners as a topical arts and crafts activity.
So why is a party for a different kind of leader acceptable? The two are closely related. As many as 84 per cent of Conservative voters think we should have an unelected monarch, compared to just 48 per cent of Labour voters. It isn’t a school’s place to push either view onto young children.
No, I’m not pushing my beliefs onto my children, either. I’ve had a long talk with my daughter about the monarchy: what it is, why we have one, why some people support it and why I and her father do not. I have done my best to give my daughter an age-appropriate balanced view so that she can make up her own mind. That is what I expected from her school, too, and they have let her down.
Call me radical, but I think the role of a school is to facilitate learning. Not to tell children what to think, not to encourage mindless acceptance of the status quo, but to provide them with information.
If teachers are going to talk to their pupils about the coronation, they should raise the fact that more than half of British people don’t believe the government should be paying for it during a cost of living crisis.
They should talk about the crown involved and how some of the jewels in it were taken from other nations. They should talk about colonialism and systemic inequity. Then they can talk about the value of tradition, the British art of pomp and ceremony and potential benefits to tourism to their hearts’ content.
The school say that the coronation is an event of historic importance, and, as such, it is their duty to mark it. But it is only an event of importance if one is a royalist – otherwise it is simply an incredibly wealthy man spending an estimated £250m of public money to celebrate his new hat.
Royal pageantry has long been used to distract the public during times of hardship. Holding parades and grand events to dazzle the masses dates back at least to Roman times, and kings and queens throughout history have known that, when the public are hungry and at risk of turning on you, throwing a good party will give them something else to think about.
The idea of a royal jubilee was invented in 1810 when George III reached his 50th year on the throne at a time when Britain had “lost” America and there were severe questions over the stability of the country.
The last time we had a coronation, for Elizabeth II, it took people’s minds off post-war austerity. Charles himself, with his wedding to Diana, provided an opportunity to shift focus from the riots and cuts of the Thatcher era.
Now, when support for the monarchy is at an all-time low and food bank use is at an all-time high, it’s not really a surprise that Charles refused the idea of a “cut-price” coronation and is going all out; he’s following the playbook.
I just don’t think it’s the role of a school to play along.
There may be children at my daughter’s school, even in her class, whose families are having to rely on food banks. I wonder how they feel about the coronation as a use of public money. I wonder how they feel about the construction of a life-sized bust of King Charles made from 17 litres of chocolate. I wonder how they feel about a celebratory picnic. They certainly haven’t been consulted.
So maybe I’m a mean mum, but my child didn’t go to the party. We’ll donate the food she would have eaten to a food bank, instead.