Roar of the dead lion
Eddie Ford wants to be spared any more royal babies and gilded easels
A new baby came into the world last week. But, of course, it was not any old baby, something the fawning mass media made sure we could never forget. Yes, prince George Alexander Louis - or, more formally, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. He is the seventh royal George since the German-born Hanoverian George I acceded to the throne in 1714 and, more importantly still, as we no longer need reminding, the third in line to the throne after his grandfather and father.
As always with anything royal, we have had the usual take-no-prisoners saturation coverage - though, if anything, this time round it has been even more stupefying than normal. Hence a constant barrage of mindnumbing trivia, like the fact that the current queen is the first reigning monarch in more than a century to have met a great-grandchild born in direct succession to the crown. Or that a royal gun salute normally comprises 21 rounds, but is increased to 41 if fired from a royal park or residence - and that the Tower of London gets an extra 21 for the citizens of the City of London to show their loyalty to the monarch. And so on and so on until you want to scream.
Piling in, well-remunerated reporters from every corner of the world assembled outside the Lindo wing of St Mary’s hospital waiting for the royal birth, which eventually happened on July 22 - a blue-eyed boy who “cried lustily” when handed to his parents. Surreally, the global paparazzi tried to generate suspense from the fact that absolutely nothing was happening - “The news is that there is no news,” as one American anchorman almost brilliantly summed it up. Meanwhile, “With every contraction, Kate becomes a worker” - so went the headline in one downmarket German newspaper. Desperation setting in, the editor of Debrett’s found that he had a captive audience in the shape of the official Beijing news agency. In the end - due to the complete absence of anything remotely interesting - reporters were forced to start interviewing other reporters, “like rats eating each other on a doomed ship”.1
The royal brat certainly began life in the style to which he will very quickly become accustomed. The Lindo wing is more like a luxurious hotel than the sort labour ward you or I would recognise. For anyone interested, a deluxe room costs £5,500 for a normal delivery package and £7,500 for a caesarean, excluding consultants’ fees, plus £1,000 for each extra 24 hours stayed. Naturally, there are individual birthing rooms and a state-of-the-art birthing pool. Each room has satellite TV, radio, internet, daily newspapers and a safe - an essential feature, of course. An extensive menu is offered with a comprehensive wine list, “should you wish to enjoy a glass of champagne and toast your baby’s arrival”. All very civilised, it has to be said.
For some bizarre reason, royal protocol dictates that the birth of a new baby has to be formally displayed on a gilded easel placed outside the privy purse door - yes, there is such a thing at the front of Buckingham Palace. However, if you want to catch a glimpse of the easel, then you have to get down there pretty sharpish, as it only remains on show for 24 hours - meaning that the average viewing time is three seconds before the police brusquely move you on, warning you not to take ‘illicit’ photographs or make some other kind of nuisance of yourself.
An official statement outlined how the palace did not want to announce the birth on Twitter or any other social networking site in order to retain the “theatre” and majesty of the occasion - it was “important” that everything was “done properly”, taking into account “historical precedence”: the very same easel was used to announce prince William’s birth way back in 1982. It brings a lump to your throat.
Prince George and his parents, William Windsor and Kate Middleton, will be moving to their rural home - or retreat - in a couple of months. This will be the extremely spacious, Georgian, 10-bedroom Anmer Hall on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, now vacant after the queen “generously” paid-off the current tenant (James Everett, the owner of the timber company, Norfolk Oak), who still had four years left on his lease. Their primary or ‘official’ residence, it almost goes without saying, will be the 20-room Kensington Palace - which at the moment is being renovated to the cost of £1 million, courtesy of the taxpayer. Currently, the new royal family is slumming it at the Old Boot Inn in Bucklebury, Berkshire - the bucolic village which is home to the parents of Kate Middleton. We are told that when the Cambridges come in for their pint and a pie just as the locals do, a high chair is ready for George - “We may turn it into a little throne,” joked the landlord.
Amidst the never-ending torrent of sycophantic crap coming from the media, perhaps the most infuriating aspect is the garbage history we have had to endure. Apparently, what marks out Britain from all the rest is the unbroken line of continuity from William the Conqueror to the current monarch - and maybe beyond one day to King George VII - which has spared us the awful upheavals, civil wars and revolutions that have disfigured other, less fortunate countries. Thank god for the British monarchy, which has brought us such social peace.
Shameless nonsense. British history has been a series of rapid and often blood-filled breaks and ruptures. Who the hell were the Norman, Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, Hanoverians, etc? In reality, one set of usurpers after another. William I (or William the Bastard) spoke French, not English. The current usurpers, as we know, are of solidly Germanic lineage - a ‘foreign’ aristocratic family lording it over the common people.
Inevitably, even now, there are rival contenders to the British throne - crackpots or not. For instance, there is Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Prinz von Bayern, the self-styled ‘His Royal Highness the Duke of Bavaria’ and the great-grandson of Ludwig III - the last king of Bavaria before being deposed in 1918.2 He is also, or so he claims, the current senior co-heirgeneral of King Charles I of England and Scotland and thus, as King Francis II, is considered by hopeful Jacobites to be the legitimate ‘king over the water’: the true heir of the Stuart kings of England, France, Scotland and Ireland. There are no signs that he is assembling an invasion force, but at the end of the day it is no more or less crazy for Francis II to be the ‘legitimate’ monarch of Britain than Elizabeth II, King George VII or anyone else.
Even the word ‘Britain’ is a relatively recent reinvention. Britannia used to be a Roman province, but after the 1707 Act of Union under Queen Anne, the English and Scottish parliaments united to become the Kingdom of Great Britain. Then in 1801, under a new Act of Union, this kingdom merged with the Kingdom of Ireland (so-called) to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (now Northern Ireland, of course). In other words, most of our supposedly ‘historic’ or ‘ancient’ traditions - and the contemporary political arrangement - are actually far more modern products of class struggle, revolutions and counter-revolutions. Not something you often heard from the BBC or the journalists camped outside St Mary’s hospital and Buckingham Palace.
Socialist Worker points out that prince George Alexander Louis was “bred to deadline” and is a “royal parasite” born into “luxury and class rule” - his London home will be in Kensington Palace, with its private walled garden, where “it” will have plenty of space to play outside, as well as some 20 rooms (July 23).3 Remarking that the “leeches” at Buckingham Palace pay no bedroom tax or council tax, whilst “most of Britain’s new babies face a bleak future under austerity”, Socialist Worker concludes that “behind the dazzle and the fairytale nonsense, the royal festivities celebrate nothing but a class war that still plagues our society”.
No democrat could disagree with the sentiments being expressed by Socialist Worker. It is obscene that a baby can be born into such grotesque privilege and that British society is scarred by increasing levels of inequality and deepening poverty. It is monstrous that a tiny, exploitative elite can enjoy wealth almost beyond imagination, while the rest of us struggle to put food on the table and pay the bills. But what Socialist Worker fails to mention anywhere is the fact that the monarchy, royal babies and all, is part and parcel of the quasi democratic constitutional-political system which exists today in modern capitalist Britain - with its corrupting prime ministerial patronage, unaccountable secret service, Church of England whose supreme governor doubles up the head of state, House of Lords, standing army, etc. Nor should we forget for a moment that the monarchy has emergency powers. In typical economistic fashion though, regrettably characteristic of the British left as a whole, the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, etc reduce everything down to an essentially mundane issue of “parasites” and “leeches” living in big houses, as opposed to hard pressed workers striving to make ends meet.
However, The Daily Telegraph usefully reminded us only a few months ago of the real political power wielded by the monarchy - it is not purely ceremonial or a trinket.4 The newspaper detailed the bills that have been or could have been blocked recently. For example, in 1999 the queen vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill, which aimed to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.
Going further back, a more dramatic example of monarchical power and interference was the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis (‘the dismissal’), when the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, removed the prime minister - Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party - and appointed the then leader of the opposition, Malcolm Fraser (Liberal Party), as caretaker prime minister.5 The governor general, of course, is the queen’s duly authorised representative and thus is invested with the prerogative powers of the British crown - if he does not like you, you might be out.
We communists want to sweep away the entire British constitutional political system, not reform it or get rid of individual “parasites”. Logically, therefore, we fight for a democratic republic - something else you will never see mentioned in Socialist Worker, which fails abysmally to take democratic questions seriously (including the democracy in its own organisation, it goes without saying). Similarly, we treat with contempt the current craven Labour Party leadership. Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman, the “living dogs” of Labourism, find the very idea of republicanism - or any sort of radical change - utterly alien. They are her majesty’s very loyal opposition.
Rather, we admire the genuinely glorious tradition of radical republicanism, as represented by Gerard Winstanley, Thomas Rainsborough, the Levellers and the agitators of the New Model Army. We certainly need to learn from the example of Oliver Cromwell and his stunningly successful military campaign against the crown. Eg, Leon Trotsky favourably contrasted Cromwell’s decisiveness and revolutionary boldness to the flabby gradualism of the Fabians. “British workers”, he said, “can learn incomparably more from Cromwell than from MacDonald, Snowden, Webb and other such compromising brethren. Cromwell was a great revolutionary of his time, who knew how to uphold the interests of the new, bourgeois social system against the old aristocratic one without holding back at anything. This must be learnt from him, and the dead lion of the 17th century is in this sense immeasurably greater than many living dogs.”6
Of course, our class deserves better than replicating the set-up in France or the USA, where you still have minority capitalist rule and class exploitation. Marxist republicanism, unlike bourgeois republicanism, does not content itself with the abolition of this or that post or title. We do not wish to see the queen replaced by an elected monarch like François Hollande, Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin - hence we reject the calls for a ‘directly elected head of state’ that emanate from bourgeois liberals like The Guardian and the Republic campaign. Our revolutionary republicanism can only be realised as socialism and the rule of the working class.
1. Simon Jenkins The Guardian July 23.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz,_Duke_ of_Bavaria.
4. ‘Queen and prince Charles using power of veto over new laws, Whitehall documents reveal’ The Daily Telegraph January 15.
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Australian_ constitutional_crisis.