A day of absolute monarchy and criminalising republicanism
The establishment did not want anything to interfere with the royal wedding celebrations - including 'unruly' free speech and the democratic right to protest. Eddie Ford reports
Quite plainly, the establishment was desperate for the royal wedding to be hailed as an outstanding success - a glorious advert for UK plc. Failure was not an option. To this end, we have been bombarded with dazzling statistics which appear to confirm that the April 29 nuptials represented a massive propaganda victory for the monarchist cause.
So a near triumphant BBC press release tells us that a “peak audience of 20 million viewers (70% share) from across the UK” tuned into the BBC’s television coverage of the royal wedding and that “over the day 34.7 million viewers in the UK watched some of the BBC’s wedding coverage on TV” (those watching the coverage on Sky News peaked at just over 600,000). We are also told that the ‘killjoy’ refuseniks who watched other terrestrial channels during the wedding accounted for only 0.6% of the British viewing public. Then, almost breathlessly, we have been informed that globally some two billion people watched the wedding. Everyone adores the British monarchy, it seems.
However, it almost goes without saying that these impressive-looking statistics should be treated with extreme scepticism - not regarded as definite proof of royalist ideological supremacy. Some statisticians have even treacherously suggested that these numbers are essentially nonsense. Hence the BBC viewing figures for the wedding, like all such exercises, are based on a (purportedly) “representative” sample of 1,000 viewers with meters in their homes. Most, of course, watched only a small part of the wedding coverage - often whilst doing something else. Meanwhile, the global figures are obviously wishful thinking. The world’s population is currently estimated to be 6.92 billion, of which just under 1.5 billion possess a TV set. Logic alone dictates that for any given period of time, even if we have ready access to a set, we will be engaged in some form of activity other than TV watching - sleeping, working, having sex, etc. Therefore, it is a reasonably safe proposition that not everyone in the world was glued to their TV set watching the ‘fairy tale’ wedding of William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor and Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.
For those still desperately seeking monarchist affirmation, for whatever peculiar reason, there are plenty of other statistics to draw comfort from. For instance, Facebook claimed that more than 6.8 million people commented on the wedding within the first 12 hours of the event (whether all these Facebook comments were complimentary or nor is a different matter), whilst on Twitter, users were posting 237 tweets every second about the service, with a grand total of four million tweets (and still counting).
Then there is the obviously marvellous fact that 1,000 miles of bunting was sold for the wedding, most of it used for the street parties held across the UK. And some 100 million pints of beer were served during the ritual (though not at the couple’s wedding reception: a Buckingham Palace source said that beer “isn’t really an appropriate drink to be serving in the queen’s presence” - it was important to “give their guests a sophisticated experience”).
But, for all that, the royal wedding has exposed an underlying anxiety at the heart of the establishment. That is, a worry that the British public are not as fervently royalist as they used to be - or should be. Deference levels have declined. Respect for authority has deteriorated. Damn it, Britain is just not as … British as it used to be. Thus the almost neurotic over-egging of the royalist pudding on April 29, in a strained effort to put the pomp-and-circumstance crap back into British identity.
Interestingly enough, a poll conducted only a few days before the wedding by The Guardian/ICM provides evidence that the attitude of the British people to the institution of the monarchy is far from one of unambiguous veneration. We find out that only 37% were “genuinely interested” in the wedding, while 46% said they were not. Even so, 47% thought they would “probably” watch it on television, including a majority of women and people aged between 18 and 24. Almost the same proportion, 49%, said they were “more excited” by the idea of an extra bank holiday than the actual wedding. Nearly half those questioned, 47%, agreed that the monarchy is a “unifying force”, as opposed to 36% who think it “divisive”. More significantly, a minority of 26% think the country would be “better off” getting rid of the royal family. While the most enthusiastic supporters of the monarchy are pensioners, among 19-24s a relatively large 37% think that Britain should ditch the monarchy.
From this welter of data The Guardian concludes - not entirely inaccurately - that there seemed to be “tolerant scepticism rather than royalist hysteria around the wedding itself”. Or, to put it another way, the British people - as things stand now - are broadly composed of “moderate” republicans and increasingly less enthusiastic or “reluctant” monarchists.
The fundamental insecurity of the establishment was fully revealed by its irrationally authoritarian overreaction to protests against the royal wedding jamboree - or, more accurately still, to even the very thought of someone mounting a protest on such a happy day: surely a thought crime, if not evidence of mental disorder.
Accordingly, 99 people were “excluded” or “barred” from the City of Westminster on April 29. A small area was declared a “sterile” zone by the police, using the powers of the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act - meaning that all public access to it was forbidden and the police could exercise absolutist control there. Licence for state oppression, in other words.
Then there were the “pre-emptive arrests” of 70 people - some on the day before the wedding - under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1996, which grants the police ‘emergency’ stop and search powers. More state oppression. These “pre-emptive” arrests involved police raids on squats and social centres and were justified on the grounds the arrested individuals might be considering a “breach of the peace” or a “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance” - that is, having bad or wicked thoughts. Indeed, in the words of police commander Bob Broadhurst, those who posed a “threat” to the royal wedding (ie, protestors) represented a “threat to democracy” itself. And, of course, to counter this “threat” - the threat of people exercising their supposed right to free speech and protest - Scotland Yard deployed 5,000 officers “interspersed with military personnel”, with marksmen from the Metropolitan police’s specialist firearms unit on a ‘shoot to kill’ footing and ‘special forces’ infiltrating the crowds.
So here was the “robust” policing to ensure that the marriage of William and Kate was a “safe, secure and happy event” - as promised by commander Christine Jones, the Met officer in control of operations on that glorious, god-blessed, day. After all, she complained, “there are 364 other days of the year when people can come to London and demonstrate” - so why pick April 29 as well, unless your only intention is to persecute the innocent royal couple and unpatriotically disrupt the nation’s rejoicing? Some things are sacred, it seems, and therefore should be protected from ‘unruly’ democratic criticism or protest.
It was hard to remember sometimes that the happy occasion was supposed to be ‘non-political’. Strangely enough though, we as taxpayers have to pay the security bill, now estimated at more than £20 million - poor, cash-strapped things that are the Windsors and Middletons (the “commoner”, Kate Middleton, it should be noted in passing, is descended from a pit owner and well-to-do wool merchants from the 18th century, whilst her ‘ordinary’ parents jointly own Party Pieces - a private company with an estimated value of £30 million).
As part of the “pre-emptive” strike against democracy - sorry, “criminals” and “troublemakers” - the Met obtained ‘intelligence’ from the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre - a police unit set up in 2006 together with various mental health agencies to identify individuals purportedly “obsessed” with members of the royal family (or ‘celebrities’ in general). The FTAC receives around 1,000 referrals a year of people judged to have engaged in “inappropriate” or “harassing” communications towards members of the royal family, politicians or other ‘celebrities’. They may then be referred to local health services for further assessment and potential involuntary commitment. In some cases, they may be detained by police under the section 136 powers of the Mental Health Act 1983 prior to referral. Without indulging in Orwellian paranoia or conspiratorial fantasies, deploying mental health bodies like they were an auxiliary arm of the police does have a whiff of Soviet-style practices - using, and abusing, psychiatric medicine in the service of state repression.
On April 29 itself there were 55 ‘non-pre-emptive’ or ‘ordinary’ arrests, including those involved in the ‘Government of the Dead’s Right Royal Orgy/Zombie Wedding’. The event was billed on Facebook and elsewhere as featuring “rumpy pumpy” and a “mass bed-in”, with a “spanking new working guillotine” - though it did add the disclaimer that “this is a totally non-terrorist event and bears absolutely no resemblance to the Jacobin terror of 1793-94”. This piece of street theatre - jointly organised with the anti-cuts LBGT campaigning group, Queer Resistance - was scheduled to end with the mock execution of a selected member of the royal family, most probably at the ‘not the royal wedding’ street party organised by Republic in Red Lion Square. This had initially been banned by Camden council on the ostensible grounds that this rather respectable liberal grouping had not submitted a “management plan” - which turned out to be thoroughly untrue. Rather, the establishment was displaying its determination that nothing should be allowed to detract from its big day. In reality Republic calls for a “directly elected” head of state - ie, an elected ‘monarch’, as opposed to an unelected one.
Anyway, and needless to say, the police arrested 10 or more of the Soho Square ‘zombie flashmob’ participants, quickly moving in when one of the protestors launched into “We all live in a fascist regime” - sung to the tune of the Beatles’ ‘Yellow submarine’ - possibly proving that satire is sometimes redundant. Prior to the arrest, police officers can be seen on YouTube telling activists to disperse before they “offend” royalists - which they obviously did. Additionally, the police swooped on a group of five people, three of them zombies, when they entered a branch of Starbucks on Oxford Street - arresting them “on suspicion of planning a breach of the peace”. Otherwise known to you and me as ordering a cup of coffee.
However, the main organisers of the Right Royal Orgy were “pre-emptively” arrested the previous day - principally comrades Chris Knight and Camilla Power, alongside Patrick Macroidan (affectionately known as “the executioner”) in London, and Charlie Veitch, routinely described by the mainstream media as a “self-confessed” anarchist, in Cambridge (see our interview with comrade Knight, pp6-7). Comrades Knight and Power are also known for their anthropological work and are regular speakers at the CPGB’s annual Communist University.
What is clear, and disturbing, is that the official reaction to even the mildest form of republican sentiment or dissent has been to try to silence or effectively criminalise it - an unfortunately all too easy task for the authorities, given the panoply of draconian and anti-democratic laws at its disposal. So can you imagine how they would react when confronted by a mass, working class-led republican movement? Another worrying development was the simultaneous purge of dozens of anti-cuts and socialist groups by Facebook bosses - doubtlessly seeing the distraction of the royal wedding as their opportunity. Those groups axed without warning include UK Uncut, Save NHS, Arts Against Cuts, Goldsmiths Fight Back, Socialist Unity, Central London SWP, SWP Cork, Ecosocialists Unite, York Anarchists, etc. Bedtime for free speech and democracy.
In other words, who can disagree that the royal wedding has certainly been a chance to show-case Britain at its most traditional best - obscenely privileged, corrupt, authoritarian and anti-democratic? Not to mention utterly ridiculous. Yes, good, old-fashioned royalist values - at permanent war with the forces of the new republican Britain that we communists want to usher in by winning the battle for democracy. Far from being “reluctant”, communists are unabashedly proud and militant republicans - as an intrinsic part of our fight for extreme democracy across all of society.
Furthermore, we have yet again been shown the severe limits of so-called ‘bourgeois democracy’ - a misnomer if ever there was one. The bourgeoisie has never been a democratic class and any democratic rights that currently exist, and which can evaporate so quickly thanks to the likes of section 60, do so purely because the working class has ferociously fought for them in the teeth of bourgeois and aristocratic opposition.