With the flags draped across Regent Street and the railings and lampposts of the Mall getting a fresh lick of paint, London has suddenly reverted to the photos long consigned to school history books as the jubilant crowds celebrated the end of World War II. The Union Jack waves with optimism, torn from the grasp of the far-right groups such as the British National Party, who hid behind it in their quest to be taken seriously.
If the Royal Wedding hasn't quite pulled us away from the gloom of the economy it has at least released a sense of pride in the British flag that has been sorely missed. Right now you cannot walk round central London without tripping over foreign TV crews; while also a severe epidemic of news-anchoritis seems to be dwarfing the capital.
If only the British public were as enthused as the news channels. Alongside the endless features in newspapers about how to inject a little bit of Royalty into your life, opinion polls stating that barely half care about the wedding, with only a third of the country certain to watch the event, have shown that not everyone is in love with the happy couple. While the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate, sorry Catherine, Middleton have brought the flag back to British streets it has also opened up a divide that has long preoccupied the British Isles; the class divide.
"I think Americans get confused about why we have so many accents on such a small island," Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop recently remarked in an interview, "but it gives us a reason to hate each other far more easily." What Bishop says about accents could easily apply to class in Britain. Take a recent The Times of London commentator on Kate Middleton, a tale of "new money systematically raising a girl so perfectly to a Prince's eye level that she is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing." Council figures on the number of applications for street parties to celebrate the day have shown a north/south divide in the country. The predominantly middle-class south seek to emulate the landed gentry of the Royal family; while the working class north is too busy concerning itself with job cuts, benefit cuts and a cost of living increase.
Prince William often walks a tightrope of popularity in Britain that is knotted with the public's perception of his social standing. The son of "the people's Princess", the marriage to Kate Middleton has been a lurch away from protocol and the stuffiness of the land-owning upper classes full of shooting holidays, boarding schools and the right nightclubs for one to stumble from. The future princess must also learn to walk the tightrope or risk the wrath of the proles. Depending on your perception she is either the normal girl living every girl's dream by bagging a prince or the deplorable "new money" using the Jane Austen-inspired way to social mobility.
This breakout in class warfare hasn't all been the Royal Wedding's fault; the past year has brought Tony Blair's view of Britain as an upwardly-mobile society crashing down faster than the banks clasped within the jaws of the financial crisis. Last May saw the introduction of the Coalition Government, the most vulgarly-privileged British Government seen in years. With Eton educated David Cameron as Prime Minister, the complaints about a political sphere not understanding the public, especially as the Government imposes austerity, have never been louder. The Government are so aware of it that the Prime Minister considered not attending the Royal wedding in morning suit, in case he came across as posh as he actually is, out of step with the common man. He will be wearing his morning suit, it has since been declared, with all chance of pretense thrown out the window.
Britain's biggest contribution to culture this year has also had the class system close to its heart. The King's Speech on the surface could be seen as almost subversive; the odious characters believe in rank and grandeur, whether it be their sneer at Australian Lionel Logue's audition for a Shakespeare play, or the contemptible bully-boy tactics (which Cameron recently showed in Parliament) of Prince Edward toward his brother. However, the film reflects truthfully Britain's attitude to class. While on the surface we appear beyond the pomp and posture, lurking below is the sense of formality Britons all foster. Not much is known of King George VI's personal life but to believe that he really shuffled across the floor like a penguin in tails like he does in the film is to suspend your life in reality, while Logue's impertinence in the film does not reflect the real Lionel Logue's diaries, which showed a far more formal relationship.
The denouement of the film is the perfect showcasing the British relationship with class. As the King refers to Logue as "my friend", Logue finally calls him "Your Majesty" and the orchestra swells in heart-warming melody. The notion that deference is quite proper, as long as deserved, has been delivered and God don't us Brits love it? Britain, through its Empire, has become one of the most tolerant places in the world; a fact that will be staring at the world through the myriad of cameras trained upon the cheering crowds this weekend, but scratch the surface of this great country and you realize that it is only tolerant for those that respect the protocols and know their place.