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These bloody people!

Republican socialists and that wedding

Steve Freeman

Ahhh, what a lovely coupleThe recent marriage of Charles Windsor and Camilla Parker-Bowles was no ordinary wedding. Like all royal marriages, including Charles’s first wedding, it is a major political event to demonstrate the unity of the ruling class and the loyalty of a happy and grateful nation. Yet the circumstances in which this one took place indicate that all is not well with the Windsor dynasty nor is its position totally secure.  


The sub-text is about the crisis of the royal succession. Is Charles is fit to be king? Will making Camilla into the future queen undermine the whole royal mumbo jumbo? This is so sensitive that she is now only duchess of Cornwall and not princess of Wales. She has promised not to annoy the country by being no more than the future king’s consort.


This is nonsense. A queen is of course the wife of the king. But it shows how sensitive and vulnerable they feel to public opinion and how they try to manipulate us. They think we are stupid and won’t see through their little games. We can see the controversy in letters pages of the popular press. N. Burgess from Stoke, in the Mirror, speaks for many of her majesty’s subjects when he writes “they have made a mockery of the monarchy and no amount of spin will convince me otherwise”


"And I care what you think this much"A recent YouGov survey found that 58% thought the Prince of Wales should relinquish his right to the throne and a Mori poll found only 40% supported Charles to be the next king. Not surprisingly the foreign press go to the heart of the matter more quickly than many of our own sycophantic editors. Spain’s El Pais described it as “the most threatening event which the British crown has had to bear in the last hundred years” The Los Angeles’ Times was more optimistic seeing the wedding as “an important act of tidying up for the oft troubled monarchy”. 


The words “oft troubled” and “threatening event” confirm what a few socialists have been pointing out. The British monarchy is stuck in a period of crisis. Try as they might they cannot clamber out of it. This wedding is only the latest of many debacles since the truth about Charles’ fairy tale marriage to Diane Spencer emerged. Then Windsor Castle burned down, the queen had her “annus horribulis” and something mysterious happened to the other Mrs Windsor in that tunnel in Paris.


The contradiction in a 21st century capitalist democracy is that we are not allowed to elect our head of state but it is expected that we “approve” them and “support” them. What happens if we don’t? Charles will automatically become king, but he still has to conduct the longest ever ‘election’ campaign where his every move and utterance is scrutinised by the press.


How many presidents do you know with servants that squeeze out their tooth paste? What has gone wrong with official secrecy? It was designed to prevent us hearing about this stuff. A constitutional monarchy cannot survive on the basis of freedom of information and full public scrutiny. The notorious British disease of state secrecy has its roots in the fact that our state is built around the maintaining and disguising the secrets of monarchy. The more we know about monarchy the less we like it. But we still have very little idea of where they have got their money stashed.  


Charles Windsor divided the nation. Not the best recommendation for the top job. He already displays the fatal characteristics of every last king. No wonder his mother is worried. No wonder sections of the ruling class are thinking out loud about whether they can jump a generation. Yet as Charles has been thwarted at every turn he has become more determined to have his way and meddle in matters of state. There is hardly a government minister who has not had some advice or some lobbying from the prince.


Behind the scenes Camilla, the only women who really understands him, has been encouraging her man. Sue Carroll (Mirror 11 April 2005) says that together Charles and Camilla are a formidable force fused by steely determination to have the own way regardless”. This is why some people like C. Cunningham have come to see “Camilla and Charles are the most selfish, spoilt, self seeking, self centred arrogant pair.” C. A. Lee describes them as “a crowd of greedy selfish misfits” (Letters Mirror)


We can see the concerns of the royalists. James Whittaker writing in the Mirror describes himself as an ardent but critical royalist. Like the queen he has reservations about the newly married couple. His worry is “how will they be accepted by the people over whom Charles is destined to reign; whether they have a positive place in our affections, our dynasty and our constitution. The path forward will not be easy for them or us”.


Paul Burrell, an ardent royalist and former butler to the queen and later Diana Spencer, now comments on royal affairs. He thinks the “the queen is like the nation. She is happy for Charles yet struggling to accept Camilla. The prospect of Queen Camilla will spread republicanism like cancer”. He explains that “we (royalists) want a people who revere our monarchy, who believe positively in it.” Difficult times then!


The monarchy is more than just the symbol of the state. It is our official national religion. Its ceremonies and rituals confirm our subservience to this secular divinity. It is has to be something we believe in. It is a matter of faith not science. Yet clearly it is a religion in decline. We are moving step by step to towards a crisis which will either revive monarchy or bring it to the end of the road. But political crises are resolved by human agency. In class society that means political action by a definite class, which comes to consider the constitutional monarchy a barrier to its rule.       


The “constitutional monarchy” is not a reference to the queen but the system of government. This is the means by which the capitalist class governs the country through institutions that unite the “constitution” and “monarchy”. The monarch clearly has an important but limited constitutional role. Its value is ideological and helps to distract attention from the constitution itself. Nevertheless the crown has a pivot position is tying the system together - the knot that ties the robbers bundle.


The British constitution is a set of laws, customs and traditions, which place real power in the hands of the Prime Minister and the state bureaucracy (crown powers). It renders parliament an impotent bystander. This has been called an “elected dictatorship”. The relationship of bureaucracy to parliament was satirised so effectively in the 1980s in the TV programme “Yes Minister”. The Blair government has concentrated and centralised even more power into its own hands. Now we face a growing crisis of democracy. 


Clare Short MP, a Cabinet Minister at the start of the Iraq war, draws out some important political lessons. She says “the mistakes on Iraq and support for the US war on terror” are the most spectacular and serious manifestations of a deep malfunction in the British political system and in British constitutional arrangements. Under the Thatcher government but much more seriously under the Blair government, the checks and balances of the British government system have broken down”. (Clare Short – “An honourable deception?” p277 Free Press 2004)


Short goes on to claim that “the errors we are making over Iraq and other recent initiatives flow…from the style and organisation of our government”. In her resignation speech she explains that “the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisors who make decisions in private without proper discussion” (see cover)


“The consequence of this is that parliamentary majorities are taken for granted. Parliament is downgraded and ignored, the power of the Prime Minister is enhanced and the Cabinet sidelined”.(p278) She concludes that the system of government is seriously flawed, “leading to increasingly poor policy initiatives being rammed through Parliament, which is straining and abusing party loyalty and undermining the people’s respect for our political system.” (see cover)


The Iraq war raised the question of the failure of democracy to new heights. The war did not cause the failure or bankruptcy of the political-constitutional system. But the question of war put the system of government under closer public scrutiny. When two million march in protest, the failure of democracy and manipulation of public opinion is brought under the spotlight. The government was caught out lying and manipulating the people. The long term consequences of this are yet to fully unfold. 


About a hundred and fifty years ago Walter Bagehot wrote a classic account of the British constitution. He divided it into the “efficient” and “dignified” parts. The latter included the monarchy and House of Lords whose role was to divert popular attention from the way the system really worked. All this dressing up and parading around in funny clothes and silly hats was to keep the masses distracted and in awe, before the power of the state.


The same is played out today. The left think the monarchy is for fooling the masses and do not see it is fooling them. The left is convinced that it is such a lot of feudal tosh that it can be safely ignored. But this distracts us from really examining how political power is used. It has distracted us from making a positive case for a democratic secular republic. It has reduced the politics of the left to childish puerile anti-monarchism which has much in common with anarchism.    


Serious republicans are not be distracted by the monarchy. Its irrelevance is not a reason to ignore it. On the contrary it is the reason to get rid of it more quickly. If your house is full of rotten old rubbish, the best way to ignore it is to chuck it all out. Then the problem is dispensed with. The more quickly we do that the more quickly society can move on and take the next steps forward.


Republicanism is not about Charlie, his mum, or his wife. It is about fighting for a genuinely democratic system of government. It is wrong therefore to think of a democratic secular republic as if it were a constitutional monarchy without an hereditary monarch. There is much more fundamental change required than simply getting rid of the crown. Democratic republicanism is fundamentally about the transfer of power to the people. This is not handed down from “above”. It must be taken “from below”. The people become the republic through struggle, mobilisation and self organisation. It means in effect a popular democratic revolution. This is what the left has forgotten in seeing the constitutional monarchy as no more than feudal remnants.




June 2005


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