Will Government’s £12 Million Jubilee Book Be Another Exercise in Airbrushing British History?
A commemorative children’s book marking the Queen’s platinum jubilee year is likely to be an exercise in selective remembering, says Sam Bright
The Queen’s platinum jubilee was celebrated this weekend, marking 70 years since she took the throne.
A range of events have been planned to honour the occasion, culminating in June when a four-day bank holiday weekend will take place.
These celebrations have been planned with the backing and at the behest of the Government.
“While it will be a moment of national celebration, it will be a day of mixed emotions for Her Majesty as the day also marks 70 years since the death of her beloved father George VI,” Boris Johnson said during his opening remarks at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. “I know the whole House will want to thank Her Majesty for her tireless service.”
One way in which the Government has put this gratitude into practice is by commissioning a commemorative book to mark the occasion. It will cost £12 million to produce and be supplied free to every primary school pupil in the UK – constituting roughly 4.5 million copies.
The central purpose of the book is “to celebrate the Queen’s reign in an engaging and informative way through celebrating key events and achievements of the UK and Commonwealth realms during that time,” according to the contract, that has recently been awarded to DK Books.
However, other motives for the book are also revealed in the document.
The jubilee will “help communicate a narrative about modern Britain and its connections with the rest of the world,” it states, adding that “the book will be a key part of this strategic aim, by ensuring that pupils, families, and teachers develop a collective understanding of the Queen’s reign”.
In other words, the jubilee celebrations and the commemorative book can at least partly be taken as a public relations campaign – designed to project a positive, stylised, selective version of Britain to the world, and in this case to our own schoolchildren.
The book contract adds that it must be “patriotic”.
The past 70 years of British history have included the gaining of independence by colonies, spells of mass unemployment, industrial strife, war and inequality. It seems likely that the commemorative book will pave over these imperfections – depicting an idealised nation and fuelling the perception that Britain has done no wrong.
Moreover, it appears that Boris Johnson – and his predecessors – will ride on this tide of public relations patriotism. The specification says that the narrative of the book will encompass “the work of the main charities and organisations of which the Queen is patron” and “the 14 UK Prime Ministers” who have served during her reign.
In normal circumstances, taking a balanced view of history, this may be a problem for the current Prime Minister.
Johnson’s relationship with the Queen has been turbulent – beginning at the outset of his premiership when he asked the monarch to prorogue Parliament in August 2019, as a means of curtailing scrutiny of his Brexit plans.
On 24 September, the Supreme Court ruled that this prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, leading to suggestions that Johnson may have lied to the Queen if he advised her that proroguing Parliament was within the law. Further reports indicated that Johnson apologised to the Queen after this affair, and that she sought legal advice on how to remove a Prime Minister who was refusing to leave office.
Johnson has also been condemned recently for a series of lockdown parties held in Downing Street – including two gatherings that reportedly took place on 16 April 2021 – the night before the Queen was forced to sit alone, due to COVID restrictions, at the funeral of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip. Once again, the Prime Minister was forced to apologise to the Queen over these indiscretions.
Byline Times did not receive a response from the Department for Education or DK Books when asked whether Boris Johnson’s rocky relationship with the Queen would be mentioned in her commemorative book.
Therefore, the very real possibility remains, that the Prime Minister’s misdemeanours may well be airbrushed out of this account of history – all in the name of ‘patriotism’.
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