Reinventing the monarchy
Danny Baker’s sacking over his royal baby tweet symbolises the official anti-racism of ruling class ideology, writes Eddie Ford
Everyone reading this was doubtlessly delighted to hear about the birth last week of another royal baby, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. The kid is actually seventh in line to the throne, so, alas, it is extremely unlikely that we will ever have a ‘King Archie’. Of course, his parents are Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan Markle - now the Duchess of Sussex, but originally an American actor, whose mother is black.
The choice of names for the baby is interesting for a number of a reasons - royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said the “individuality” shown by Harry and Meghan in their choice of non-traditional royal names was “marvellous” and would “rejuvenate” the monarchy. However, ‘Mountbatten’ is one of the names of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh - it is an anglicised version of the German ‘Battenberg’ (as in the cake). Apparently, Philip threw a tantrum when his wife declared in 1952 that the royal family’s surname from now on would be Windsor and not Mountbatten - he shouted, “I’m just a bloody amoeba”, as he was the only man in the country not to have passed on his surname to his children.1
In reality, Philip is not really Greek at all - rather, he comes from a European-wide aristocracy that has existed for centuries in various shapes and forms. Indeed, the idea that Elizabeth II and her family are British in the way that people down the pub would normally understand it is quite dubious. Apart from the fact that the queen is married to a ‘Greek’, all you have to think of is Queen Victoria, “the grandmother of Europe” - tsar Nicholas II, kaiser Wilhelm II, Constantine I of Greece, etc. Victoria, of course, married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha - but the family surname was hastily changed in 1917 to ‘Windsor’ in order to sound British. Then the first rule of the royal game was that you married other members of this European aristocracy, having the unfortunate effect of spreading haemophilia and other unwanted conditions through several royal houses. Too much inbreeding is never a good idea.
Anyhow, as for ‘Archie’, it means ‘bold’ or ‘brave’. Archie is also the heir apparent to his father’s Dukedom of Sussex, Earldom of Dumbarton, and Barony of Kilkeel. Given that Harry is not the eldest son of Charles, the Prince of Wales, his son is neither a British prince nor entitled to the sobriquet, “royal highness” - no doubt upsetting or confusing some. True, his parents do have the option of using one of Prince Harry’s subsidiary titles, such as ‘Earl of Dumbarton’. However, they decided that their child would simply be styled as ‘Master’ Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, because they want him to grow up as a “private citizen” - good luck with that one. Being generous, kind-hearted souls though, communists will do everything possible to help the proud parents get their wish by fighting for a republic, in which Archie Mountbatten-Windsor - or whatever he cares to call himself in the future - will be a truly private and equal citizen rather than leading a privileged, alienated and unnatural existence.
In other words, this particular royal baby symbolises a change in British culture and identity - you can marry a commoner like Meghan Markle, without anyone making a big fuss, except for a very small minority of eccentric reactionaries and incurable bigots. But this would have been unthinkable 50 years ago - just look at the constitutional crisis when Edward VIII, the ‘Nazi king’, proposed in 1936 to the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. He was forced to abdicate in order to marry her.
Now it is almost a different world. Not only is Markle a divorcee: she is also of ‘mixed race’ - hence the same goes for Archie. But, when Harry and Megan got married last year, almost 18 million in Britain watched it, with no less than 1.9 billion people following the “stunning” ceremony worldwide. It was a real coup for the establishment, which is keen to present itself as modern, liberal, forward-thinking and - last, but not least - anti-racist.
In fact, it went even further than that, with one commentator describing the wedding as a “rousing celebration of blackness” - also present at the chapel were such well known personalities such as Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Idris Elba and so on, while the Kingdom Gospel Choir sang ‘Stand by me’ (a soul song that became an enormous hit in the midst of the civil rights movement). For many black American women, though it is easy to scoff, it felt like one of their own had entered British royalty.
All of which makes the recent notorious tweet about the royal baby from Danny Baker very strange - it featured a photo of a well-dressed aristocratic couple from the 1920s holding the hands of a suited chimpanzee in a bowler hat, with the caption, “Royal baby leaves hospital”. A BBC Radio 5 Live host with decades of experience in broadcasting, presumably Baker has got a brain. After all, he is an expert on football, having presented numerous football videos and DVDs, as well as co-writing a book called Classic football debates settled once and for all. If Baker went to a football match and people started throwing bananas onto the pitch, or made loud hooting noises, it is hard to believe that he would sit around scratching his head and thinking - why are people throwing fruit and making these strange sounds? He would know exactly what they meant - and so would almost anyone else brought up in this culture: not to understand it was a racist ritual would actually make you far weirder than the people lobbing the bananas. Working for an officially anti-racist institution like the BBC, he must have read the guidelines and attended the meetings about what you can and cannot say.
Yet he claims to have been unaware of the racist connotations of the tweet, limply saying, “Sorry my gag pic of the little fella in the posh outfit has whipped some up”. But, apparently, it “never occurred” to him that it might be regarded as racist, because “mind not diseased” - which suggests that the real problem lies with those pointing out how obviously racist the image was - given the caption - rather than the person who idiotically posted it, regardless of his exact motivation.
In a later tweet - making things even worse, if anything - he said: “Would have used same stupid pic for any other royal birth or Boris Johnson kid or even one of my own. It’s a funny image (though not of course in that context). Enormous mistake, for sure. Grotesque.” He added: “Anyway, here’s to ya, Archie. Sorry, mate”. He even said at one point that he did not know it was Meghan Markle who had given birth, and so could not be guilty of racism. For someone so keyed in to popular culture, this is stretching credibility too far - please, Danny, give it a rest.
No wonder the BBC sacked him for a “grave error of judgment”. But it goes without saying that he is not the only one to make such errors - last year US comedian Roseanne Barr had her newly resurrected show pulled for a tweet in which she likened a former black advisor to Barack Obama to a child of the “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes”. More recently still, we had Amber Rudd’s distinctly non-politically correct use of “coloured” to describe Diane Abbott and the reference of ex-Labour and now Change UK MP Angela Smith to people of a “funny tinge”.
However, arguably, Baker’s seeming indifference to the special sensitivities surrounding the birth of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is on a different scale. As is more than obvious, the royal family is a historically white institution like no other in Britain - meaning that you should be careful, or at least not be stupid, about how you approach such an issue, even if your intention is to be satirical. On the other hand, you want to avoid fetishising or making absurdly exaggerated claims about ‘black royalty’ in the manner of Rachel Johnson, the sister of Boris - she went on about Meghan Markle’s “rich and exotic DNA” as a thickening agent to bolster the family’s “watery, thin blue blood.”
In the photos of the happy royal couple and their new baby, you have not only the reigning monarch, but also Markle’s mother from America - “overjoyed” at the arrival of her first grandchild, she is staying with her daughter at Frogmore Cottage, the new parents’ home on the Windsor Estate. Anyone who looks at those photos and says there is no such thing as official anti-racism is not living in the real world. Of course, this is not the same as saying there is no racism in Britain, which would be stupid - there is a whole ideology of nationalism which goes mainly unchallenged, even by much of the left. But it is self-evident that the British state and its institutions - not to mention all major non-state organisations - are run according to an official anti-racist ideology.
That is why Danny Baker was instantly dismissed for an incident widely perceived to be racist, whilst protesting all the time that that he is not a racist. The left has to wake up to this profound change in official ideology if it is to have any impact in wider society - otherwise it is in danger of just echoing the liberal mantras of official ideology.
The SWP’s Stand Up To Racism must be the easiest campaign in the world to run - it is like going outside a church and saying, ‘We are against evil’. You might get a pat on the back for your good work, but so what? SUTR is reminiscent of Momentum’s slightly crazy drive against David Icke, who is a ridiculous target - is he about to join the cabinet or form a government? But, as we all know, SUTR is really about rehabilitating the SWP after the Martin Smith/Delta scandal, which led to its stalls being attacked, copies of Socialist Worker being burnt, and all the rest.
It is surely about time that the SWP, and the left as whole, got to grips with official anti-racism - which is perniciously combined with British national chauvinism.