IF you can’t identify with it, treat it as anthropologically interesting. Tom Nairn called Britain’s relationship with the House of Windsor the “enchanted glass”. When we look into “the old enchanted mirror”, he wrote, “a gilded image is reflected back, made up of sonorous past achievement, enviable stability, and the painted folklore of their Parliament and Monarchy”.

These symbols and cliches have already been much in evidence this weekend, as broadcasters, columnists and politicians try to explain what they believe the Queen’s death means for the future of the United Kingdom. Nairn’s core thesis is that the monarchy isn’t just a feudal hangover or a falderal to flag tat to American tourists. ­Instead, he sees the institution as intrinsic to modern British nationalism, representing a glamour of backwardness which is not just popular, but treasured and defended.

The death of Elizabeth represents a ­potentially perilous moment not only for the institution, but for the state too. If the Queen was the “rock” on which modern Britain was built, as the Prime Minister claimed last week, doesn’t that imply a foundation stone has fallen out of place?

Underneath the formalities, the sense of anxiety is palpable. When the Queen ­celebrated her platinum jubilee earlier this year, it was already clear that Britain would need to confront the personal and political morality of the head of state sooner rather than later.

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Sure, some folk put out the bunting. Flags were waved. Victoria sponges were ­portioned. The state broadcaster did its best to project the image of a nation ­united in ­jubilation. But the underlying mood was more ambivalent, less certain. What ­happens when a fixture comes ­unfixed? Will the public warm to the hitherto ­unloved King Charles III? We’re going to find out.

Like it or lump it, Charles comes to the throne with huge symbolic resources to draw on, and a public relations system from the BBC to the broader media which is working like a Swiss watch to manufacture public consent for the succession.

As Nairn wrote back in the 1980s, “in a far more extensive, emotionally powerful manner than any of the other surviving monarchies, Britain’s Windsors are like an interface between two worlds, the ­mundane one and some vaster national-spiritual sphere associated with mass adulation, the past, the State and familial reality, as well as with Fleet Street larks and comforting daydreams”.

So far, the daydreams are mostly in ­evidence. During the Jubilee, crowds ­gathered to wave at a hologram of the Queen cantering through London in a gilded state coach. It is a neat metaphor for our royalist hyperreality, currently on hyperdrive, which seamlessly blends together fact and fiction, image and ­emotion, into a sustaining fantasy whose sacred personalities don’t even need to be alive or present to call in crowds or stir the passions.

It’s catching. According to the Daily Mail, “people report seeing clouds in the shape of the Queen all over Britain”. Mrs Mufasa is materialising to Simba in every second cumulonimbus. ­Sometimes our ghostly head of state wears a ­condensed water vapour hat. Sometimes her ­phantom goes bare headed. The outbreak of a rainbow over Buckingham Palace was also not so subtly implied to be the work of divine intercession. The British media do not take kindly to anyone who attempts to unweave this rainbow.

But unweave it we should. Because the death of Elizabeth has been taken as an opportunity for our politicians to turn away from the realities of modern Britain, and to take consolation in ­sentimental stories about our history and our present.

According the historian Simon ­Schama, Queen Elizabeth represented “the ­idealised personification of the ­nation, immune to hysteria but open to social ­empathy”, drawing an ­unfavourable ­contrast with “the parade of ­authoritarians who, from one end of the world to the other, make militarised xenophobia the measure of national self-esteem to be grateful that the Queen ­supplied a more benign focus of national allegiance”.

Because the one thing British ­UK politics lacks are appeals to militarised ­xenophobia and a slide towards ­authoritarian ­policies. It is difficult to know where to begin with the deep sense of unreality characterising Schama’s analysis of British politics. I’m tempted to say that it is the very opposite of reality. Who knew that one side-effect of the death of a sovereign would be so much collective amnesia?

Because the truth is, public life in the UK is saturated in hysteria. “Crush the saboteurs” and “enemies of the people” aren’t exactly headlines for an ­unhyperbolic political culture. It’s also characterised by the profound lack of ­social empathy. Indeed, successive UK governments have realised that an ­appetite for social ­cruelty – the ­willingness to put the boot in – is a sure-fire way of earning a ­friendly write up from much of Britain’s feral media, which thrives on sentimental ­nastiness and ­piling on and piling in to the ­unpatriotic, the outsider, and people they decide are strange. Park the right-wing media’s ­recent obsession with “cancel culture”. Fleet Street have been enthusiastically cancelling their political opponents for decades. The smiling face of the sovereign doesn’t change any of that.

AND if we want to talk about ­xenophobe politics, just days ago, our new Prime Minister told the Bufton Tuftons in her party that “the jury is still out” on whether the French president Emmanuel Macron is “friend or foe” to the United Kingdom. Knowing she was a shoo-in for Number 10, knowing her remarks would be reported internationally, she decided it was worth pandering to the “remember Agincourt” contingent of her party, for the sake of a weak gag. And while we are reflecting on that, we might also remember that leading British politicians love a military photo-op – as do the royal family, who approach military costuming with the same sartorial vigour as the late Colonel Gadaffi.

Andrew Marr wrote last week, ­apparently in all earnestness, that having a female head of state somehow took the sharp edge off the policies pursued by Her Majesty’s governments from Thatcher to Truss.

“If the Queen was the apex of the state, then the state has sometimes seemed a ­little gentler, kinder and more empathetic than it might have done under a king.

“Imagine a bristling ­military-minded king of the Duke of Edinburgh’s ­generation as head of state during the Troubles or the miner’s strike. Things would have felt at least subtly different,” he said.

If you found yourself being bashed about the skull by a police officer in full battle plate at Orgreave, I doubt you were much consoled. This is dream-logic and fantasy, a way of avoiding the realities of modern Britain.

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Before the Queen’s demise, we were finally coming around to confronting some of the profound and inequities of life in this country. After months of dysfunctional government, of scandal and disgrace and failure and ­decline, we’re now being treated to ­homilies about the functionality and stability of the British state which are entirely fictional.

If you take your cameras to the ­secular shrines of Britain’s civil religion, you will find the stricken and the sad, the ­obsessed and the committed, the folk who are ­having a “stop all the clocks” moment. If you got your sense of reality from the telly, if you derived your understanding of public feeling from the press, you would think the nation is going about under a cloud, on heavy feet. Open your eyes, look out the window, walk down the street – and a more mundane reality ­confronts you. Life goes on.

It’s a strange moment to be a ­republican-minded person in Britain right now. It’s difficult to conceive of a worse occasion to open a conversation about the UK’s constitutional future and the place for a King in a self-respecting ­country. It’s difficult to find the right words to ­articulate your doubts, without ­suggesting a callous disregard for the death of an old lady after a long life.

The ­opportunities to find ­yourself brutally ­cancelled are ­manifold, as the ­self-appointed ­tone-police and grief ­inspectors scour social ­media feeds for the insufficiently moved, the inadequately deferential and the minimally concerned. But sometimes, it is necessary just to say, quietly, “I don’t think you speak for ­everyone here. No, I don’t find this unifying. I’m sorry, we don’t agree.”