Blair pushes New Monarchy

Last week saw New Labour take another step towards its goal of establishing a popular, ‘modernised’ monarchy with the attempted ‘Dianafication’ of Elizabeth Windsor.

The climax of the queen’s 50th wedding anniversary was the first of the ‘people’s banquets’, where people from all classes and all walks of life sit together like members of a single family to celebrate the supposed unity of the nation under the revered monarch. At the queen’s table, which she shared with Tony Blair, were a top jockey, a policewoman, a car assembly worker and a nurse. The Duke of Edinburgh at the next table ‘entertained’ Cherie Blair along with a community worker, a farmer and a midwife.

The celebrations provided the backdrop for the latest stage of Blair’s plans to win a new consensus through wholesale constitutional reform. He aims to take advantage of the current period of relative social harmony to construct a new order capable of providing the basis for a more permanent and deep-rooted bourgeois stability. A rejuvenated monarchy lies at the very centre of this project.

Through the abolition of heredity in the House of Lords, the setting up of a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly and the achievement of a settlement in Ireland, Blair hopes to win support from all sections of society for a restructured United Kingdom state. The introduction of proportional representation and state funding for political parties will ensure a parallel political development. It will provide a permanent majority coalition for the ‘modernising’ centre of the bourgeois political spectrum - with New Labour at its core.

For these plans to succeed Blair needs to infuse the new constitutional arrangement with an image of permanence and stability. The monarchy is the ideal institution to symbolise that, but its own popularity has been slowly declining. Ironically dissatisfaction with the institution as a whole came to a head with its perceived lack of empathy for the mass display of mourning over the death of one of its adopted members, Diana Windsor.

The left’s failure to tap into this discontent - to view its superficial monarchist manifestation as, paradoxically, a potentially deeper opposition that could even embrace republicanism - has left the field clear for Blair to attempt to redirect that mass sentiment back to the establishment.

He confidently stepped into the gap at the ‘people’s banquet’. Addressing the queen in his speech, he referred to the “tragedy” of Diana’s death, which “has put you and those closest to you through a terrible test”. He added: “I know too, contrary to some of the hurtful things that were said at the time, how moved you were by the outpouring of grief that followed.”

In fact Blair knows full well that the monarchy - not least its most senior members - was exposed only too clearly as remote and archaic by its belated and inadequate reaction to the popular mood. He realises that this image must be radically changed if the royal institution is to play the necessary pivotal role in cohering the consensus he is striving to build. That is why he and his spin doctors have been gently steering the palace in the right direction, all the time playing down their own influence and playing up Elizabeth Windsor’s ‘wisdom’.

Blair’s nauseating sycophancy was so extreme that many democrats could not bring themselves to listen to his Whitehall speech. Despite claiming that the modest monarch had pleaded with him not to be too effusive in his comments, he fawned: “I am as proud as proud can be to be your prime minister today, offering this tribute on behalf of the country. You are our queen. We respect and cherish you. You are, simply, the best of British.”

She repaid the compliment, assuring us that in the prime minister’s capable hands “the economy ... is soundly based and growing”. Her more serious remarks had the New Labour imprimatur all over them. She noted the constitutional disparity between an elected government and a hereditary monarchy, but added: “They are complementary institutions, each with its own role to play; and each in its different way exists only with the support and consent of the people.”

Several commentators also remarked upon not only the content, but the changed style of the queen’s speech. She tended to personalise her comments rather than pronounce from afar on generalised abstractions. “She is talking to us rather than down to us,” wrote Suzanne Moore in The Independent (November 21).

Her walkabout, with the adoring Blair alongside her, was also cited as an example of the queen’s new-found closeness to her people. Some royal-watchers were at pains to protest that none of this could be construed as a reaction to the events of the summer. She had planned it all long ago, you see.

The most remarkable aspect of this whole process is that it is not being guided by a trusted existing section of the establishment. It is not an aristocratic Tory figurehead or a leading Church of England clergyman pointing out the new route. Indeed it is doubtful that such a person would have either the foresight or the credibility to carry through the changes Blair wants to implement.

However, in doing so, he is making those sections of the old establishment redundant. Alongside his far-reaching constitutional reforms, Blair is aiming at nothing less than the positioning of New Labour as the new preferred party of the British ruling class.

Jim Blackstock