God Save the Queen!

God Save the Queen us!

It was 1745, in the days of the Jacobite rebellion, that God Save the King was first sung in the playhouses of London. The uproar in the last 2 days, at new Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s   abstention from joining in this ode to the monarch, comes at a time when Scottish rebellion is again strong. Is this a coincidence?

In 1745, the Whigs were in control and had despatched the Tories. The Whigs championed the power of parliament over the monarch and expansion of the right to vote, in contrast to the rejected Tories, who had backed an abandoned return to power by the Scottish Stuart kings. There was trouble in Ireland and war with France. With the backing of France and Spain, Bonnie Prince Charlie urged the Scots and sympathetic members of the English establishment  ‘to follow him and … take on the military might of the British government, or … betray their principles and abandon him to possible capture and death’ (UK national archives).

The massive success of the Scottish National Party in the 2015 UK national election, the current crisis in Northern Ireland following the resignation of the First Minister, and calls for more devolved government in England, raise anxieties about the state of the ‘United’ Kingdom today. As in 1745, we are urged to sing the national anthem to confirm our belonging and commitment to … What is the UK national anthem about? Unlike most other anthems, it is about saving our Queen, not serving the country.

Jeremy Corbyn resisted singing the UK national anthem at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It made national headlines. Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, called him ‘very rude and very disrespectful’ to the Battle of Britain pilots and to the Queen.

Constitutionally, the British people are subjects, not citizens, hence patriotism and allegiance to the monarch are difficult to disentangle. The visceral reaction, by people from all walks of life, to Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to very publically dissociate himself from monarchy stems from this entanglement. Anyone who does not support the monarch is disrespectful, disloyal, unpatriotic. Politically, this has worked well for the monarchy and for those who are attached to and who wish to retain the constitutional status quo. It makes things simple. The royal family has always been there … .

Turbulent Times and Maladaptive Strategies

In uncertain and turbulent times, a desire to make things simple is a signal that members of a group, an organization, or a society feel uncontained or lost; that their identity is under threat. Simplification is one maladaptive strategy that can emerge when it’s difficult to make sense of the present and there is anxiety about the future. These strategies, or reactions, are regressive in that they avoid contact with and relating to the source of their anxiety, the current context.

Maladaptive strategies are basically of two types: (i) clinging to what you know or (ii) withdrawing. Both types lessen the group’s or organization’s capacity to adapt and survive; to remodel identity and redraw boundaries to fit a different context.

Here’s a brief description of the 2 types:

(i) Maladaptive strategies that manage anxiety by clinging to what you know, like the conductor who waves the baton ever more furiously when the orchestra is out of sync:

  • Fundamentalism – diagnosed by spotting the use of ideologies or orthodoxies (the EU, war, family, religion, happiness, humanity) to make sense of and handle complex situations.
  • Authoritarianism – indicated by appeals and adherence to long standing and traditional forms of control and coercion.
  • Evangelicism – when people join with like-minded others to express their dissatisfaction and dissociation without the expectation of change.

(ii) Maladaptive Strategies that manage anxiety by withdrawing, as when individual orchestra members stop playing or play their own tunes :

  • Superficiality – evidenced where low investment in or denial of connections to others justifies self-interest.
  • Segmentation – apparent where rational means-ends thinking is replaced by opportunistic and short term actions.
  • Dissociation – experienced as cynicism about the present, about those in power, about institutions, and a loss of common purpose.

Maladaptive Strategies emerge where:

  • what was known and predictable becomes unknown and unpredictable:
  • relationships are temporary and shifting;
  • boundaries are blurred;
  • no one person, group or state can control the agenda.

If we look around now, these are conditions that apply in many situations, and are inevitable in organization change and development. We need to be able to recognise regressive dynamics and work with them.

Susan Rosina Whittle


Fred Emery 1976 Futures We Are In. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff