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Opinion: Kissing Hands? What's rotten in the UK

Liz Truss receives power as every other prime minister by Kissing Hands with the Queen
The "eyes" have it: UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is big on what's British
Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle   |   Published 06.09.22, 07:38 PM

There is but one thing worse than an expat throwing stones at their country of birth and that is an expat having to watch that nation cling to antiquated traditions, such as the Kissing Hands ceremony, by which a monarch essentially abrogates power to their prime minister.

During my conscious life — that is from about the age of five, when Margaret Thatcher became the UK's prime minister in 1979,— I have seen seven British PMs. 

Incoming PM, Liz Truss, is my eighth. A politician who started as a Liberal Democrat, advocating for a republic, then switched to the Conservatives, and now paraphrases New Labour when she says: "I campaigned as a Conservative and I shall govern as a Conservative." OM*G.

But at no time in my 48 years have I known the UK to have made so much of so little for so many, as it has with Truss' turn to kiss the Queen's hand. (Tony Blair said it was more like an air kiss, but we'll park that.)

Symbols of splits in a four-nation union  

As I peer over my shoulder at the tiny island that had the temerity to leave the European Union and hear all the hullaballoo about Truss and the outgoing PM, Boris Johnson, flying up to Balmoral in Scotland, where our immobile monarch currently resides, in separate planes no less, during a fuel, food and cost-of-living crisis, when they could take a train (didn't we invent the railways?), that ceremony strikes me as the most glaring reflection of the parlous future facing UK communities.

And yet no one mentions it, not even on my beloved BBC Radio 4. They just lap it up. They love a good ceremony, do the English. Although that should read everyone from "Kiev to Carlisle," if I'm to defer to Truss' geographical bearings.

Let me put it plainly: This Kissing Hands ceremony is a cover up for all of the UK's economic, social, environmental, and political troubles. Not to mention those very real, reemerging Troubles of Northern Ireland.

That Schopenhauer quote

While — and it's worth repeating: two PMs fly in and fly out of Balmoral to see the Queen for an hour's stop and chat — you've got people unable to feed or heat themselves. Perhaps the people can eat their Three Lions football kits when they get peckish, or set them alight to ward off frost bite. But no, that would be unpatriotic.    

And what was it the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously wrote: 

"Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs. He is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority." 

And so it is that when the UK has nothing of which it can be proud, it falls back on its traditions, like an opium of the masses.

That brings me, finally, to the issue of inferiority and superiority. The Queen is no stranger to subtle gestures. They are, indeed, a veritable master of the art.

Dragging both Johnson and Truss to Balmoral in Scotland — a country upon which the Conservatives have all but turned their backs — is not without significance.

On the politics of Scotland, both Johnson and Truss have refused to even entertain the idea of Scotland getting a second pop at voting on self-determination. And on a personal note, Truss has virtually scrubbed her early years in Paisley — a town near Glasgow that is a regular feature on lists of the most depressing and unhappy places on Earth — from her biography. Truss now lives in the rather more affluent Greenwich of London. But that stands to reason: The Tories don't work for the poor. 

The Queen is also making it very clear that they come to her, she does not go to them. And the British media fails, I find, to raise this as significant, especially now when this prime ministerial power is being passed to another woman. Kissing Hands is not, as a rule, at least in my anecdotal view, worth weeks of discussion when that power passes to a man. And all I have left is the question why?

Perhaps it's not an issue of sexism or inequality, but rather that the British are acutely aware of the fact that this may be the last time the Queen kisses hands with any PM, even with the rate at which the doors at Tory HQ revolve, and that when the Queen is gone, the UK will be gone as well. 

There will be nothing, less than zero, for us to hold onto then.

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