Royal wedding analysis: Even the cynics will be cheered up

News of a royal wedding excites everyone – even the grumpy, who have months of cynicism to look forward to.

By Alex Stevenson

It’s been nearly three decades since the last big-budget, no-expense-spared outpouring of national delight. The circumstances are strikingly similar: tricky economic times, serious levels of unrest brewing at home. The nation needed cheering up then. It does now, too.

You, or perhaps your parents, probably have some awful Charles and Diana commemorative mug, or plate, or tea towel, stuffed away in the loft somewhere. When these are uncovered they trigger feelings of mild regret, perhaps, but they serve their purpose – reminding us of the atmosphere of 1981, when the nation united together in a frenzy of media coverage. It was all everyone talked about then; next year will be the same.

Britain is not a universally pro-monarchist nation, of course. It has its fair share of passionate republicans who would like to see the monarchy dumped in the Thames. But most ordinary people are generally rather indifferent – or at least somewhere in the middle. Their emotions are easily manipulated by the tabloid process. A royal wedding sells newspapers; it will boost ratings of 24-hour news channels, too, and give talk-show hosts and DJs something to talk about. The wedding will dominate news coverage in 2011.

Fortunately for the royalists, there isn’t such a thing as overkill when it comes to Prince William and Kate Middleton. Why? Because even the cynics will have a field day. The more lavish the ceremony, the more Brits will be able to complain about the expense. The more people who wear Union Jack hats, the more who will sneer and moan.

Most people will do both. According to popular anthropologist Kate Fox, whose book Watching The English remains one of the best recent analyses of our national character, we can all be relied on to engage in a bit of ‘mock-moaning’ whenever the opportunity arises. “In all English moaning rituals,” she writes,” there is a tacit understanding that nothing can or will be done about the problems we are moaning about… our ritual moaning is purely therapeutic, not strategic or purposeful: the moan is an end in itself.”

A royal wedding fits the bill perfectly. There will be a lot of mock-moaning about the over-attention, the media obsession with it, even as by talking about it we contribute to the hype. Behind the bluster, many will be secretly proud of the excitement being caused by the happy couple. Turn on an American news channel, where hysteria over the news matches or even over-reaches the reactions seen on this side of the Atlantic, and I defy you not to feel even a hint of national pride at the attention.

An event this big is bound to have a big political impact. As you might have guessed, this is not bad news for the government.

“There was a great cheer, a great banging of the table,” prime minister David Cameron said, describing the moment when the coalition Cabinet was informed of the news from Clarence House. Ministers have good reason to be cheerful.

Whether intentional or not, today’s negative headlines have been wiped off the map. This was a day when the lead stories would have been the huge compensation payments made to Guantanamo Bay inmates, and – in the political world – Cameron’s quiet dropping of his official photographer from the civil service. How convenient, journalists have said. Left-wingers have been less reticent in suggesting today is a good day to bury bad news. It makes Cameron’s smile to the cameras all the more sweet.

The benefits to our elected representatives extend far beyond today, though. The PM expects “a great moment of national celebration” next year. He will benefit from this.

Next spring or summer, when the happy event takes place, the spending cuts announced last month will have begun to well and truly bite. We may be recovering from recession, but the threat of a double-dip disaster will hang over the economy. Cracks within the government could be widening still further. Any kind of non-political distraction is just what the doctor ordered for the coalition.

A royal wedding more than fits the bill. It’s manna from heaven for the politicians. Best of all, it gives the rest of us something to really celebrate – or moan – about.