Sack the lot

She did not actually say that much. That is one of the most interesting things about the so-called 'Sophiegate' affair. And yet some petty, albeit tactless, remarks by the stuck-up high Tory, Sophie Rhys-Jones, have apparently led to "the biggest crisis for the monarchy" since Diana Spencer died in 1997 (The Sun April 7).

She did not actually say that much. That is one of the most interesting things about the so-called 'Sophiegate' affair. And yet some petty, albeit tactless, remarks by the stuck-up high Tory, Sophie Rhys-Jones, have apparently led to "the biggest crisis for the monarchy" since Diana Spencer died in 1997 (The Sun April 7).

Unlike 1997 however, there is no mass sentiment propelling events forward. It is the liberal bourgeoisie that is at the forefront of challenging the monarchy. The Guardian has called for a republic-after Elizabeth Windsor peacefully passes away. That causes few problems for Tony Blair. He wants to keep a reformed monarchy as the supposed embodiment a of timeless national history of England, Scotland and Wales. Put another way, his project is to use the royal myth to underpin a devolved United Kingdom. Meanwhile the organised British left again chooses to keep its mouth shut on 'distractions' like republicanism.

Sophie Rhys-Jones's main blunder was to boast to an undercover News of the World reporter that her royal connections give her clients "an unspoken benefit". Shame on her, shout the liberals. She is abusing her royal connections to make money. Of course she is. As do the rest of the bunch. Sophie's husband Edward is running a TV company which prospers to the extent it does only by shamelessly using his royal relatives to the limit. When his brother Andrew leaves the navy he wants to earn a living as 'ambassador for British business interests' - a job for which his royal status is about his only qualification. His ex-wife Sarah Ferguson is earning millions advertising slimming products - and not because of her fabulous figure.

And then there is the millions the royals get from the taxpayer. 'Security' alone (to protect Her Majesty from her subjects, presumably) costs more than £1 million a year. The Civil List Act from 1697 guarantees them a 'wage' and they receive money via grants-in-aid, rent from their various properties and land, the Privy purse, revenue from visitor admissions to palaces, etc, etc, etc.

So the fact that Ms Rhys-Jones is making money from being a royal cannot be the main reason for this constitutional crisis. How did it happen then that this non-scandal has sparked such a wide-ranging debate about the monarchy? Virtually every national newspaper has come out in the last few days calling for more or less radical reforms of the monarchy. Even The Daily Telegraph wants to 'slim down' the royals, and wants to "sweep away the HRHs for everyone in the royal family apart from the direct line of succession. Get rid of your Yorks and Wessexes!" (Daily Telegraph April 9).

 

The Times hopes that "this represents the welcome chance to implement further modest but valuable reform in the manner by which the monarchy is organised" (April 10). The Sun - like The Times owned by the bourgeoisie republican media mogul Rupert Murdoch - went furthest: "This is our country. Why do they have a right to be heads of it?" it asked in its editorial on April 9 and predicted that "the monarchy will not last another generation in its present form". This comment only just stopped short of calling openly for a republic and pregnantly enquired: "Is it not an institution which can only exist in a nation of people who believe in 'us and them'?"

 

The Sun's claim to be the champion of democracy is of course far from convincing. But the debate on the monarchy reveals a continuing trend in ruling class thinking: the monarchy in its present form is seen as a bit of an embarrassment (not to mention some of its members: eg, Philip Windsor), expensive, old-fashioned and conservative. The 'common sense' view is, it needs reforming if it is to survive.

This trend has not sprung up by accident or been artificially created by the bourgeois media. It has arisen as a result of widespread - but passive - discontent below. Besides the disorientated and disillusioned royalists there exists a growing body of determined republicans - polls show 20% of the population want to sack the lot . The confidence of this leaderless mass, as we predicted, has been increased by Blair's constitutional revolution from above - itself a response to discontent from below. That is why he came up with the Scottish parliament, Welsh assembly and Northern Ireland assembly. That is why he reformed the House of Lords. And that is why he may well eventually reform the monarchy - in order to save it and the United Kingdom itself (behind which stand the interests of capital).

When millions took to the streets in 1997 to mourn the death of Diana Spencer, the queen - along with the monarchy as an institution - appeared cold, uncaring and totally out of touch with the British people, Tony Blair came to the rescue. He sent in his personal adviser, Alistair Campbell, to save the monarchy - from the threat of outright rejection. The last thing he wanted was a mass movement from below finding its own - radical - agenda.

Now the situation is rather different. There is no volatile mass movement forcing his hand. It is the bourgeois media that are demanding change. And they talk his kind of language. This time Blair did not send in Campbell. He did not reprimand his junior minister Kim Howells for saying that "the royal family's a bit bonkers". He will utilise this crisis to decide with his ally, prince Charles, how to streamline the monarchy.

And it looks as if the left in Britain will - again - give him an easy ride. Not only have our forces by and large chosen to downplay the question of how we are ruled, instead concentrating on trade union-type demands. Not only have many comrades pushed the monarchy so far to the back of their economistic agenda that they did not even attempt to take a lead on republicanism. Not only that. But even when we see a comprehensive debate on monarchy unfold in the run up to the general election the left seems determined to make nil impact.

Although at our Birmingham policy conference on March 10 the Socialist Alliance adopted the abolition of the monarchy as part of our programme, there has to my knowledge been no SA sponsored trade union resolutions, no press release, no circular, no protests, no demonstrations on this question.

It seems some sections of our Socialist Alliance would again prefer it if Tony Blair and his media chums sorted out this distraction from real politics. Yet under these very circumstances a fight for a federal republic, led by the left and the working class, would surely rock the bourgeois order to its very foundations.

That is why the CPGB will fight hard for the Socialist Alliance to make the call for abolition of the monarchy and a fully democratic republic - with self-determination for Scotland and Wales - a key part of its programme in the election campaign and after.

Tina Becker