A missed opportunity

Eddie Ford laments the republican speech Jeremy Corbyn did not make

In case you spent last week in a deep underground bunker, on April 21 Elizabeth Windsor enjoyed her 90th birthday - showing that with the best medical treatment available, and a little bit of luck, you can reach such an age nowadays without it being regarded as a minor miracle. Communists look forward to a time when everyone can reasonably expect to live to such an age, or even older, whilst retaining a sufficient quality of life.

Of course, just like with last year’s hoo-ha about her becoming Britain’s longest ever reigning monarch, we have been carpet bombed with nonsense about how we are “uniquely blessed” - as David Cameron put it - to have the queen ruling over us. In fact, according to the prime minister, it is a “joy” for “us all to celebrate”, “cherish” and “honour” - he gushed on about how Elizabeth Windsor has “led to a gentle evolution of our monarchy” that has brought the institution “closer to the people, while also retaining its dignity”.

Feel a tear coming to your eye yet? No, you’re right, it is weird and creepy. Having said that, you will still be hard pressed to outmatch The Spectator when it comes to toe-curling, barmy obsequiousness. Last year it told us that that the “second Elizabethan age” represents a “golden age of prosperity”, which is “almost unprecedented in the history of human societies” - not to mention the “peaceful unwinding of an empire, which, with a few exceptions, has been neither violent nor tragic”.1 This might come as news to the Indians, Kenyans, Irish …

Forelock-tugging servility aside, some newspapers - if that it is not too generous a term - persist in peddling the most absurd downright inaccuracies and falsehoods worthy of Stalin’s Pravda, though that is probably being unfair to the former Soviet publication. The most egregious, perhaps, is, in the words of The Independent, the idea that Windsor is the “longest reigning monarch in History” (original capitalisation).2 Sorry to spoil the party, but, though it might be an unpatriotic act to point this out, the prize for the longest ever serving monarch goes to Sobhuza II of Swaziland, who reigned for 82 years until his death in 1982. Indeed, Windsor only comes a comparatively unimpressive 44th in the charts.3

Naturally, as only befits someone totally dedicated to duty and selfless service to the nation - as we must have been told countless times by the enraptured media - her birthday celebrations are modest. Merely a four-day pageant at Windsor Castle involving 900 horses4 and in June a street party for 10,000 invited guests (£150 per head) on the Mall, the grand avenue leading to Buckingham Palace.5

Anyway, during the excruciating tributes to Elizabeth Windsor in the House of Commons that went on for five hours - where we had to endure some of the most boring anecdotes of all time6 - Cameron during his “humble address” highlighted the “exquisite and defining” speech the queen gave on her 21st birthday, in which she said that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”. Perfectly capturing the whole revolting tone of the parliamentary tributes, and the birthday toadying in general, the prime minister exhorted the whole country to join him in saying, “Long may she reign over us”. For any democrat or vaguely sentient person, this is a depressing thought. Then again, so is the likelihood of her ghastly eldest son (now aged 67) becoming King Charles III.

Missed opportunity

In his capacity as leader of the official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn too delivered his thoughts on the nonagenarian. Now, Corbyn has a reputation of being an ardent, lifelong republican - fierce opponent of the establishment, man and boy. Therefore you would have expected him to use the occasion to say that we do not want her to “reign over us” at all, thank you very much, and call for the abolition of the monarchy, not to mention the House of Lords.

After all, this is the man who refused to sing the national anthem in September 2015 and in 1995 seconded the Commonwealth of Britain Bill put forward by Tony Benn - which called for the transformation of the UK into a “democratic, federal and secular Commonwealth of Britain” through the abolition of the monarchy, privy council and House of Lords.7 Corbyn has also talked previously about stripping the monarch’s royal prerogative - powers which, in his own words, are a “very convenient way of bypassing parliament”. What democrat can disagree?

Alas, he did no such thing. Communists cannot pretend to be surprised, it does have to be said, but we were still disappointed. What a missed opportunity to actually shock the establishment, galvanise the population and shift the debate away from the fawning crap of the mass media. He could have said that at this ripe old age - congratulations and all that - not only should Elizabeth Windsor retire, but the entire institution of the constitutional monarchy should be abolished. Allow Charlie and the rest to experience some sort of normal, socially useful life - as opposed to the fantastically alienated, hyper-strange existence they currently suffer. Do them a favour, relieve the burden and make an intransigent call for a republic - rallying many younger people, and previous non-voters, to the ranks of the Labour Party.

Rather, what we got was a speech peppered with references to “Her Majesty” (eight times) and Windsor’s “outstanding commitment” to “public life”, “the country” and so on.8 True, there was an initial rider about “whatever differing views people across this country have about the institution” - itself fairly mealy-mouthed, if truth be told - but from then onwards it was sentimental gumf9 about a “highly respected individual”. He stated that the “vast majority share an opinion that Her Majesty has served this country” and she “has overwhelming support in doing so, with a clear sense of public service and public duty”. Thanks, Jeremy - very radical.

Painfully, the supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ Labour leader praised Windsor for being a “defender of that incredible multicultural global institution”, the Commonwealth, and lauded her “historic visit” to Ireland in 2011 - gosh, we are told, she even spoke a few words in Irish Gaelic at a Dublin reception: will wonders never cease? Even worse, Corbyn implicitly parroted hoary old myths about the ‘anti-fascist’ role of the monarchy during World War II, waffling on about how two nonagenarians from his constituency (George and Iris) were part of the generation - “that of the queen and of my parents” - that “defeated the horrors of fascism in Europe, endured the privations of the post-war era and built a more civilised and equal Britain”. Is this the same Elizabeth Windsor who as a child did Hitler-salutes and comes from a family that were sympathetic, putting it very mildly, to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler?10

And when did she ever go through “privations”, then or now? She frequents opulent palaces, castles and mansions, and has a personal fortune worth at least £340 million (not forgetting the millions from the public purse). Equally as laughable is the notion that the Windsors have helped to build a more “equal” Britain. Quite the opposite - they are at the top of a grotesquely unequal and unjust society. One newspaper recently featured an article about how more than a million people in Britain are “living in destitution” - so poor that they are “unable to afford essentials such as food, heating and clothes”.11 Just as dismal was Corbyn’s comment that the queen was “absolutely above politics”.

In short, whatever the subjective intentions might have been, Corbyn’s speech was diabolical: a low point that we hope is never repeated - though the idiotic suggestion that you could have Trident without missiles came pretty close. George Eaton, the political editor of the New Statesman, summed it up in a tweet saying that Corbyn “raised as much enthusiasm as any lifelong republic [sic] should summon”.12 That is, playing the respectable politician, he was as positive about the monarch as a republican could possibly be - and then a bit more, arguably. Close your eyes and you could almost think that you were listening to a pro-monarchist in the House of Commons on that day.

Safe republicanism

In reality though, as we have pointed out before in this paper, Corbyn’s republicanism is of a platonic kind - a fine ideal, it appears, but not something you fight for in the here and now (not since the days of the Commonwealth of Britain Bill, in any case). There are more important things to concentrate on. In other words, a republicanism that the establishment can easily live with.

Communists, on the other hand, have a radically different perspective. We prioritise the fight for republicanism, not because we want to replace the monarch with a directly elected president (ie, an elected monarch), but rather out of the programmatic conviction that the working class must become the most consistent fighter for extreme democracy in every sphere of society - and fighting for a genuinely democratic republic is part and parcel of the struggle to democratise all aspects of society. Unlike the bourgeois liberal Republic campaign group, we do not call for a referendum on the monarchy after the present queen has died, on the dubious basis that the period of time between Elizabeth Windsor’s funeral and the coronation of Prince Charles’ coronation will provide an “opportune moment”.13

No, communists fight for the immediate abolition of the monarchy as it underpins the British state, and the status quo as a whole (how we communists would respond if there actually was a referendum on the monarchy is an entirely different, tactical, matter). For the ruling class, it symbolises the mythological unity of the British people and the nation - a unity they would have us believe transcends all divisions in society, not least those of class. When all is said and done, when the chips are down, we can all come together in support of this imaginary, fairy-tale, British family - deadening the class struggle and dulling radicalism.

This explains why we in the CPGB place so much stress on the fight for a democratic republic, not because we have a weird programmatic or ideological fetish (let alone a commitment to an artificial ‘stagist’ theory of revolution, as some of our more stupid critics allege) but simply for the reason that it constitutes an intrinsic part of our communist minimum programme: our demands directly raise the question of the state itself, of how we are ruled and hence how we need to rule ourselves. Hence our call for the sweeping away of the House of Lords, presidential prime minister patronage, the disestablishment of the Church of England, the introduction of a single-chamber parliament with proportional representation, annual elections, the replacement of the standing army by a people’s militia, a federal Britain, etc.

As for Elizabeth Windsor herself, her present-day politics are not too hard to work out - even if we generously discount her Hitler-saluting as childish “larking about”, as The Sun put it.14The Independent recently ran an article about the only “five times”, supposedly, that her political opinions have slipped out. There was her comment during the Scottish referendum that people should “think very carefully about the future” and, when they did, David Cameron reported that she “purred down the line” with satisfaction (unsurprisingly, he had to apologise afterwards). Then she told a BBC special correspondent she was “upset” that there had been no way to arrest Abu Hamza and had spoken to the home secretary about the issue (the BBC had to apologise for that one too). She regretted the loss of the American colonies during the bicentennial celebrations in 1976 because Britain “lacked the statesmanship to know the right time and the manner of yielding what is impossible to keep”. She made “reactionary and unconstitutional” remarks at a Downing Street Christmas party about Turkey’s bid to join the European Union (yes, she was not to keen on the idea). And she was not too impressed either by Margaret Thatcher’s “confrontational and socially divisive” approach to the apartheid regime in South Africa - especially her refusal to impose token sanctions.15

This writer can add another entry to the list, which TheIndependent oddly missed out - Michael Gove’s deliberate leak to TheSun, which revealed that at a Buckingham Palace reception with MPs in 2011 the queen said “I don’t understand” Europe and was hostile to further EU integration (thus the headline in The Sun: “Queen backs Brexit”16). An impression only further reinforced by the Palace’s purely technical or semantic complaint that the “Queen backs Brexit” headline was inaccurate, as the term had not been coined at the time. Very convincing.

The politics of Elizabeth Windsor are in fact totally predictable. What else would you expect from an aristocratic old lady brought up in the days when Britain still presided over a global empire of robbery, cruelty and oppression?



1. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/09/our-longest-reigning-monarch-has-presided-over-a-second-elizabethan-age.

2. The Independent April 21.

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest-reigning_monarchs.

4. www.hmq90.co.uk.

5. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35318389.

6. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/21/in-honour-of-the-queen-an-mp-tells-the-single-most-boring-anecdo.

7. www.parliament.uk/edm/1995-96/1075.

8. www.ukpol.co.uk/2016/04/21/jeremy-corbyn-2016-speech-to-commons-on-queens-90-birthday.

9. Defined by the Urban Dictionary as a “whole lotta crap no-one wants to deal with, learn or say”: www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=gumf.

10. www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/royals/6548665/Their-Royal-Heilnesses.html.

11. The Guardian April 27.

12. See www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/watch-the-difference-between-how-jeremy-corbyn-and-david-cameron-honour-the-queen-a6992601.html

13. The Independent April 21.

14. The Sun July 17 2015.

15. The Independent April 21 2015.

16. The Sun March 8 2016.