The rich get richer, the poor get poorer fatalistic attitude towards greed and wealth inequality is well established. But that gap is becoming more and more like the Grand Canyon with the elite flying above in helicopters, gazing down into the bottom of the pit where the other 99% frantically try to find a foothold. The UK is currently in a cost-of-living crisis brought on by the perfect storm of inept regulation of fuel companies, a nationalistic bid for independence (otherwise known as Brexit), a global pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The financial crisis of 2008 (also a failure of regulation) was a storm in a piggy bank compared to this and it took over a decade of austerity and brutal cuts across the public sector to begin to recover from that.
There is no clearer indicator of just how out of touch the elite class has become than The Queen’s Speech. This is where our monarch sits in the House of Lords (not the Commons, obviously) and reads out the government’s plans for the coming year. Except this year, it wasn’t the actual monarch. Liz wasn’t feeling too well, perfectly understandable – she’s 96 after all and needs to save her energy for her star-studded Platinum Jubilee celebrations. She’s been easing off on quite a few ‘duties’ lately; I don’t expect she, or any of the royals for that matter, have to worry about getting by on statutory sick pay (which amounts to £13 a day).
So, it was her second favourite son, the heir to the throne, Charles, who stood in for her. It is worth noting that he is 76 himself, raising questions about his ability to fulfill the role. Many would rather see the baton passed to William, regarded by many Brits as ‘more relatable’. Last year the Queen was held up as this selfless and gracious figure just for basically following the Covid rules (just like the rest of us). But there is something rather egotistical, something Logan Roy-esque even, in the way she refuses to step down. I mean, she’s beaten her great-great-Granny’s record of 63 years by some distance, she’s seen in a new millennium and seen off her amiable-racist companion, not to mention that pesky American. There has been some speculation around Charles standing in for the Queen’s Speech (yes, we still called it that, even though she didn’t attend, but if you think that is strange wait until we get to the absurd rituals that surround the event) is this a sign that HRH is preparing to hand over the reins? Was this her way of testing his mettle?
For the royalists out there, I’m sure he did not disappoint. I mean, when it comes to sitting on a colossal gold chair, chest bedecked in medals, who could do it better? By the way, those medals were ‘earned’ for good conduct and long service, not for fighting wars. And here’s where those rituals start: in front of that obscene seat of power, is a pedestal upon which sits Liz’s crown. It is tradition for said crown to arrive in its very own chauffeur-driven limousine (well, it could hardly drive itself I suppose). While we, the common people, are encouraged to car share to cut carbon emissions.
How anyone can watch this display of pomp and ceremony and not question its relevance in modern Britain, is beyond me. Yeomans (men in red frocks, red stockings, and silly hats) actually check the cellars of Westminster for explosives! One unfortunate MP has to be ‘held hostage’ in Buckingham Palace for the duration, just in case there is an attempt on the Queen’s life (I say unfortunate, but at least he doesn’t have to listen to all those bills being read out in dreadful plummy tones). Then there’s Black Rod. A senior official to the Queen who has to knock-on for his mates in the Commons to come and join the fun. But they are briefed to slam the door in his face the first time. He must then knock a further two times: a bit like a secret knock, you know, like you may have used to gain entry to a kids’ den. Like when you were maybe six or seven years old. The entire entourage of politicians must then walk ‘in a boisterous fashion’ (think John Cleese in that famous Python sketch) to demonstrate their independence. Yes, to show that our parliament is free from state interference, members of parliament go along with this bizarre pantomime year after year. Soundtracking this whole spectacle are trumpet fanfares and a 41-gun salute. Is there a more arbitrary symbol of power than firing deadly weapons into the sky? Maybe a future monarch, in whose name this entire farce is performed, telling us that the government will ‘ease the cost of living for families’. This is the very definition of out of touch.
Margaret Thatcher famously privatised British Gas, British Telecom, British Airways, and even our water supply, but she would not entertain the idea of selling off British Mail, saying she would not cheapen “the Queen’s Head”. John Major continued selling off the public jewels, starting with British Rail. The NHS now contracts out to private companies and Schools are forced to academise, appointing CEOs and prioritising the number of students they allow to enroll (and therefore receive funding for) over the safety and education they are able to provide. I would argue that if any ‘public service’ is capable of surviving and even flourishing without needing public funding, it is The House Of Windsor. The justification for the taxes that finance this outdated institution is twofold. Firstly, supporters of the royal family will tell you that they bring in far more in tourism than they take in allowances. Secondly, they are an integral part of British heritage and identity. Heritage, maybe, Kings and Queens of old have a place in our historical DNA. But there are many UK citizens who feel no personal connection to the monarchy. Many of us identify more with Multi-Cultural Britain than ‘Great’ Britain with its legacy of colonialism and empire. A legacy we seem determined to cling on to in the New Year’s Honours.
Another outdated ritual that should be condemned to the history books. Liz chooses a few of her humble subjects who have served her well and gives them a medal (usually for winning a few BAFTAS or scoring some goals or strutting their stuff in some charity concert). They get to go to Buckingham Palace and receive this honour in person, kneeling before her while she taps their shoulders with a sword. Then they can call themselves Sir or Lord or Dame, or put OBE, MBE, or CBE after their name. That E stands for Empire. I’m not sure who is more obtuse, the Queen for continuing to dish out these jumped-up prefect badges, or the celebrities so desperate to claim their place within an oppressive power that subjugated entire nations on the premise that they needed us to ‘save their sinful souls’.
The Royals would continue to benefit the economy whether they receive money from the public purse or not. Prince Charles already has his own brand, Duchy Organics (overpriced groceries well beyond the budget of the average British family), the Cambridges are every bit as media savvy as their estranged abdicating counterparts. Kate has published a photo book and William has appeared in BBC and ITV documentaries, exploiting the mental health/climate change zeitgeist. Memorabilia will continue to be manufactured and sold for special occasions from weddings to births to jubilees. Flag-waving tourists would continue to visit the UK whoever ‘owns’ the pageantry.
Last week The Sunday Times published this year’s Rich List. Rishi Sunak’s place on that list has been met with much derision and even outrage and rightly so. How can he represent the interests of minimum wage earners or disabled persons trying to get by on their meagre benefits, with a net worth of over £700M? The Queen also appears on the list. Her wealth has increased by £20M in the last two years (just as many small businesses were folding due to Covid). Now I’m no fan of Sunak, but at least he has a legitimate job with plenty of pressure and responsibility (whether he is up to that job is a different matter, I know). The idea of royal ‘duties’ is absurd. They go out and about and wave at people. They get driven about and put on display for others to cheer and applaud, and for what? Just for being ‘lucky’ enough to have been born a Windsor. Their wealth, power, and any ‘benefit’ they bring to the country is built on a fundamental lie. The idea that some people deserve more respect than others, just because of who their descendants were. There has been a debate this week over some Liverpool fans booing over the national anthem at a football match. I’m sure some jingoists would like to see these heathens executed for treason, but we are a democracy; that means we observe the right to freedom of speech and of expression. Why anyone would want to sing about being ‘reigned over’ is beyond me, but let’s take a look at the less sung / chanted lyrics from the final verse for a moment:
Not in this land alone,
But be God’s mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world o’er.
If you can’t see the disturbing imperialist undertones here, allow me to point them out: the excuse Britain made for its part in the slave trade was that we were bringing the gospel (God’s mercies) into the ‘Heart Of Darkness’ (the nations that needed to see). And ‘one family the world over’? Surely a veiled reference to the 25% of the world’s surface that was claimed as ‘British’ during our ‘great’ empire-building phase. I had assumed the rousing ditty was commissioned by Queen Victoria since she was such a great proponent of expansion, but it was composed in 1745. Yet, it is still wheeled out on any occasion where national pride is deemed the order of the day. I am not convinced that those Liverpool fans have studied the song in this much detail or that their objection runs along such humanist lines. More likely, they regard it as a deference to the establishment and if any British city has reason to mistrust the establishment it is Liverpool.
Last year a statue of Edward Colston (Bristolian philanthropist and slave trader, if it is possible to be both those things) was toppled from its plinth and cast into the harbour. Much debate as to the fate of similar bronzes ensued. Traditionalists claim that such acts of insurrection seek to cancel our history, while others suggest that these monuments should be redeployed as museum exhibits, where future generations may learn from them.
I’m not calling for a return to the days of Cromwell’s puritanism. The French and the Russians abolished their monarchies and neither of these nations is exactly living the libertarian dream. But perhaps it is time the Windsors took their true place along with other artifacts of a bygone age where class-ridden notions of rank took precedence over basic human compassion. Royalty has no place in our political system, nor in day-to-day life. It is an antiquated concept that belongs in a museum. The evidence for this can be found in the very institution itself: Harry and Meghan’s exit was met with scathing headlines by the majority of the British press who spun it as two ungrateful, spoilt babies throwing their inherited toys out of the pram. But when the rats start to jump ship, it is surely an indication that the ship is no longer seaworthy.