Article @ Red Pepper, published 29 November 2017
It’s hard to write about the British royal family and its affairs without feeling a sense of despair. I mean, we’re told that this is the motherland of liberal democracy, of parliamentarianism as we know it. So how can it be, that in 2017, when this country is under the grip of a shambolic government, and on the verge of a constitutional crisis following Brexit, the front pages of every single mainstream newspaper today were taken over by pictures of two wealthy individuals announcing their upcoming nuptials? Indeed, how can it be that the British taxpayer is footing the bill for this sort of nonsense? Her income has just been raised to £82 million to cover the cost of refurbishing the palace – all whilst the NHS is starved of cash. Not only that, but their right to cream cash off their subjects includes ownership of some of the most expensive real estate in Europe. The Crown Estate owns most of Regent Street and large tracts of St James’s, not to mention thousands of acres of countryside. Last year up to march, they made £328.8 million profit. All because their ancestors’ were squeezed out of the right womb. All because they could curry feudal favours and kick peasants off the land.
Britain is not the only in Western European nation with a monarchy, that’s true. But it is possibly the only country where the royals are considered a sort of godly national mascot. Everywhere else royal families are either held in contempt or respected as the ruling authority of the country. For the average Brit the royal family is a family heirloom, nobody can say a bad word about it. And don’t you even dare asking why we are celebrating these people performing basic human functions like breeding. It’s the royal family! Philip might be notorious for spewing the most reactionary bigotry – but he’s the Duke of Edinburgh, so his ‘gaffes’ are heartwarming, a foil to national nostalgia of halcyon days before ‘political correctness’ took hold. Prince William can worry about ‘overpopulation in Africa’ with no apparent sense of colonial irony. He’s a royal.Groom-to-be Harry might have thought it funny to dress up as a Nazi – but that didn’t tarnish his place in the succession. His right to wield money and power is unimpeachable.
When cornered, monarchists will sometimes tell us that the royals contribute to the economy, as a justification for an institution that is, as writer James Butler put it, ‘the distillation of the idea that not all human beings are created equal’. All we need to accept an anti-democractic institution at the heart of government is a very slight increase our GDP. You might think that argument would lose a little water, the Paradise Papers having recently revealed royal tax-dodging which deprived the public purse of many millions of pounds. But even aside from that, many things in our pull much more weight than the Windsors – and they aren’t bound up with a legacy of Britain’s imperial ambitions. Things that don’t oversee a class system enshrining massive wealth inequality. For instance, bees contribute more to the British economy than the royal family. Lizzie and her brood are estimated to bring £500 million in through tourism. The humble British bee? A staggering £651 million! Yet which of the two is at risk of extinction? You know the answer.
And while everyone has the right to wish Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle a lifetime of happiness, we should ask ourselves why the private lives of these individuals are being sponsored, and indeed exploited, by the state. Even if we put aside conspiracy theories about the particularly convenient timing of this engagement – it’s clash with Brexit deals and how it will no doubt obfuscate the any further mishaps of Theresa May’s cabinet in the coming six months – the particularities of the relationship between a member of the royal family and a foreign, mixed race commoner will in no uncertain way be used by the right-wing media for that effect. Every time Boris Johnson causes another diplomatic fracas, the Sun is sure to cover half its front page with possible wedding gowns. When the NHS hits its annual crisis point this winter be sure to see the Daily Mail speculating about the Queen’s vetting of wedding guests. Whilst the noose tightens around welfare claimants, expect to see speculation about what kind of wedding dress we’ll be able to see parading down the aisle – and how many tens of thousands it might cost.
Republicans everywhere must steel themselves for an outpouring of every variety monarchist nonsense, from the bootlicking to the outright racist. Prepare yourself to argue with people who love royalty but who consider the event immoral because of the nationality, skin tone, and even name of the bride. Prepare yourself to defend a brown woman whose politics and social role you abhor. Prepare yourself too to argue with people who think Prince Harry is ‘woke’ and that a non-white member of the royal family will blow off the cobwebs of the perfidious institution. , and that you cannot, for the life of you, support such a system.
Prepare yourself to avert your eyes from most front pages because they will feature bridal themes and Union Jack bunting. Prepare yourself to have your screen inundated with royalty-inspired films and series – even more than we’re already seeing. Prepare yourself for no bank holiday on the day of this royal wedding. But perhaps above all, prepare yourself to keep that republican despair alive. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Don’t let them convince you with their street fêtes and community parties. Prepare yourself to argue again and again for a country without masters, without kings and queens and princesses, for a country where all human beings are created equal indeed.