Bedrock of the British state
Instead of Platonic republicanism, Jeremy Corbyn should prioritise the fight to abolish the monarchy, says Eddie Ford
Over the last week the media have been exhorting us to celebrate the fact that Elizabeth Windsor is now Britain’s longest ever reigning monarch. She has ruled over us for 63 years and seven months, overtaking her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria - who we remember with equal affection, it goes without saying.
Naturally, given her great modesty and dedication to duty - as we are constantly told - little fuss was made on September 9, the day on which she broke the record. Well, apart from a flotilla of historic vessels, leisure cruisers and passenger boats on the Thames taking part in a procession between Tower Bridge and parliament, with the bridge lifting as a “sign of respect” and the HMS Belfast sounding a four-gun salute. Nor should we forget that the BT Tower repeatedly scrolled the message, “Long may she reign”, and official business in the Commons being postponed for half an hour so that monarchist MPs and others could “pay tribute” to the queen. Handily, the Totally Thames website gave us tips on how to create a “wave of applause” in honour of the queen, as the flotilla passes by - also reminding us that for the standard adult price of only £39 you can get a “close-up” view of the procession, not to mention a glass of sparkling wine, canapés and a two-course lunch.\1
As for the queen herself, now aged 89, she spent the day on official duties in Scotland. Joined by her Greek-born husband and professional bigot, Prince Phillip (aka the Duke of Edinburgh), she opened the £294 million Scottish Borders Railway and made a steam train journey with first Scottish National Party minister Nicola Sturgeon - the latter flaunting her radical, anti-establishment politics yet again. Of course, at this time of year the queen takes her traditional summer break at her modest Scottish residence, Balmoral. Magnanimously, she gave permission for TV crews from around the world to broadcast live from the garden of Buckingham Palace for the very first time. Meanwhile, her appalling son and theoretical future monarch, Charles Windsor (Prince of Wales), spent the day at Dumfries House, the stately home in Ayrshire he “saved for the nation” - where he was interviewed by Ant and Dec, renowned for their merciless interrogation of establishment figures.
Perhaps disappointingly for some, Elizabeth Windsor is not actually the world’s longest living monarch. That position goes to Thailand’s King BhumibolAdulyadej, who has reigned for six years longer, while Sobhuza II of Swaziland reigned for 82 years until he died in 1982. However, her image does appear on more coins and notes that any other individual on the planet. Hardly surprising, given that she is the official head of state for several countries - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, The Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, St Lucia, St Vincent ...
Naturally, the occasion has been used to bombard us with propaganda about how lucky we are to have such a person as head of state and, more generally, how grateful we should be to live under a constitutional monarchy. Former prime minister John Major asininely told us that the queen is “above and beyond” politics - which supposedly explains why she is so popular: never involved in the grubby, dirty, day-to-day business of government.
Capturing the tone near perfectly was the BBC’s toadying royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell. In an article entitled, ‘A constant amid gale-force changes’, Witchell identifies her most important qualities: “steadfast, constant, dutiful” - before going on to say that it is hard to imagine a Britain without the figure who has been a “backdrop” throughout the lives of the overwhelming majority of the population.\2 He invites us to recall the dark days of post-war Britain and rationing, in which “deference and class distinction” were still strong - how terrible - and where we still had the death sentence and homosexuality was illegal.
Back in 1952, Witchell continues, Winston Churchill occupied Downing Street, Joseph Stalin the Kremlin and Harry S Truman the White House - all elderly men whose political careers were coming to an end. Then suddenly, almost magically, Britain had a young, 25-year-old woman on the throne - heralding an Elizabethan era of change, to the point that the Britain of 2015 is “hard to recognise” today: Despite a succession of family traumas, including the tragic death of Diana Spencer in a car crash, writes Witchell, the queen has been a “permanent anchor” throughout it all, embodying the “timeless virtues of stoicism and duty” - few will fault this record-breaking monarch, he thinks. Thank heavens the age of deference is over.
Getting even more carried away, if anything, was The Spectator - which gushed about the “golden age of prosperity, which has been the second Elizabethan age”, and how Britain has “achieved something almost unprecedented in the history of human societies”: that is, the “peaceful unwinding of an empire which, with a few exceptions, has been neither violent nor tragic” (September 5). That the crown has “never been stronger”, we read, is “largely down to the strength of character” of the queen herself - the people whom “she has served with such devotion” have every reason to “wish that the second Elizabethan age lasts many more years”.
But, actually, far more revolting than naked monarchist apologetics have been the articles from self-professed republicans, who nevertheless praise the monarch for bringing stability and doing “great service” to the nation. Hence Cole Moreton in The Independent writes that “even republicans like me” have to admit that there is “much to admire” about an 89-year-old who is so “obviously dedicated to her work” (September 5). Yes, admittedly:
It’s all a bit medieval, isn’t it? Undemocratic, you might say. Unjust. Not at all in tune with the sort of country I would like to live in: namely one that sees all its citizens as equal and behaves accordingly.
Obviously, hereditary public office goes against every democratic principle and a republic is an “attractive thought”, says Moreton - until you “contemplate what a couple of wild-eyed former prime ministers might have made of the job if they had been elected president Thatcher or president Blair”. Perish the thought, so: “God bless you, Ma’am, for sparing us that.”
Expressing similar sentiments in the same paper is John Rentoul - who also claims to be a republican, ever since reading in 1975 My queen and I, a republican pamphlet by Labour MP Willie Hamilton. But he believes the queen “should be allowed to serve out her time”. Very reasonable. Then what comes next? For him, the succession might be the time or an “unwinding of the mystique and myths around the real person of the monarch” - he hopes that Charles “scales back” the royal operation and tries to “promote equality of respect among all citizens”. In fact, Rentoul confesses, as long as the monarchy has no power, there is “nothing too terrible about inherited titles and a bit of harmless pageantry”. Brings some gaiety and eccentricity to the nation.
Rabid Bolshevik Jeremy Corbyn is planning to assassinate the royal family or at least make them pay the bedroom tax. Come the revolution on May 5 2020, the leading members of the monarchy together would be lined up and shot against the tobacco-stained walls of an NHS hospital … However, in a nod to austerity,Corbyn would use just one bullet to kill top royals such as the queen, Phil, Chaz and Andy.\3
At least according to the spoof website, News Thump. Alas, comrade Corbyn is not as intransigently republican as the above suggests. Yes, the comrade says he is a republican, but apparently abolition of the monarchy “can wait” because - wait for it - his “priority” is “social justice”. Quite how you can have social justice when a particular family descended from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha can inherit political power and obscene privilege is a matter to be explained. Corbyn also says that he would like the UK to be a republic, but “it’s not a battle that I am fighting”.\4
True, in 1995 he seconded the ‘Commonwealth of Britain Bill’ brought forward by Tony Benn, which called for the transformation of the UK into a “democratic, federal and secular Commonwealth of Britain”, with an elected president, devolution, abolition of the House of Lords and an equal representation of men and women in parliament”.\5 More recently, Corbyn has talked about stripping (or weakening) the queen’s royal prerogative - powers the comrade correctly described at a leadership hustings as a “very convenient way of bypassing parliament”. According to him, the royal prerogative should be “subject to parliamentary vote and veto if necessary”. Then last week TheDaily Telegraph tried to whip up a little scandal about his declaration that he would not serve on the privy council - which would be a first for a Labour leader (or indeed any leader of the official opposition).\6 More signs of Corbyn’s dangerous republican proclivities?
Yet, regrettably, that republicanism seems Platonic - it is a worthy ideal, it seems, but not something for the here and now. There are far more important things to do. However, communists take a radically different position. We prioritise the fight for republicanism because for us it is essential that the working class becomes the most consistent fighter for extreme democracy in every sphere of society. Fighting for a democratic republic is part and parcel of the struggle to democratise all aspects of society. We are opposed to aristocracy and elitism in all its guises, whether in the workplace, trade union, university, parliament - or, for that matter, amongst the left, with its confessional sects and self-perpetuating central committees. But if we are indifferent to the continued existence of the monarchy - accepting our status as ‘subjects of the realm’ - then how can we challenge the bourgeoisie and become a new ruling class? We remain slaves.
Clearly, the constitutional monarchy serves as a bedrock for the British state - and the status quo as a whole. For the ruling class, it symbolises the mythological unity of the British people and the nation - a unity that supposedly transcends all divisions, not least those of class. The prime minister and the leader of the opposition may exchange ritualised insults across the floor of the House of Commons, but these clashes are of minor importance, when compared to the underlying common interest of this imagined British family - or so we are led to believe by the establishment and its cynical media.
This explains why we in the CPGB place so much emphasis on the fight to abolish the constitutional monarchy system, not just the actual monarch. By which we mean sweeping away the House of Lords, getting rid of the presidential prime minister and all forms of prime ministerial patronage, introducing a single-chamber parliament with proportional representation, annual elections, MPs’ salaries set at the level of a skilled worker, and so on. We also demand the disestablishment of the Church of England, the replacement of the standing army by a people’s militia and a federal Britain. That is, republicanism forms an intrinsic part of our communist minimum programme. And it does so because such demands directly raise the question of the state itself - of how we are ruled. And by logical extension the form working class power will take.
We urge Corbyn to reconsider his stance. The Labour Party needs to commit itself to radical, republican democracy - something that would really put the cat amongst the pigeons.