Why should we care about the monarchy?

In a week that began with International Women’s Day, a series of revelations demonstrated the endemic misogyny, racism and inequality that infect every corner of British life

A ‘bombshell’ interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by Oprah Winfrey about their decision to step away from royal duties was replete with references to overt racism within the royal family as well as psychological abuse and neglect. Meghan in particular spoke of the total lack of support offered to her in the face of horrific and relentless abuse in the media and how this drove her to suicidal thoughts. The response of the UK tabloids and right-wing media was characteristically vile, with an incandescent Piers Morgan, “ghosted” by Meghan and now coincidentally her most virulent critic conveniently using his outpouring of vitriol and refusal to roll back his comments as a perfect excuse to begin jockeying for a better-paying job at the nascent GB News.

Later that week, the murder of Sarah Everard by a Metropolitan Police officer highlighted the ubiquity of gendered violence in our society. With the increasingly evident decriminalisation of rape and a recent YouGov survey revealing that 97% of young women have been sexually harassed, it is clear that violence against women is woven into the fabric of our society. Not content with being directly complicit in Everard’s murder, Metropolitan Police also felt the need to aggressively police the outpouring of grief that followed, violently cracking down with truncheons and riot police on unarmed attendees of a peaceful vigil. With thousands of women discussing the lengths they have to go to in order to simply feel safe walking the streets of their city at night, it might seem peculiar to devote attention at this time to the most out-of-touch institution in the United Kingdom (facing stiff competition) — the monarchy.

But if we believe, as socialists and progressives, that systems of oppression and injustice are self-perpetuating, then it must be true that one of the oldest, most immutable pieces of the superstructure should be identified as a key site of reproduction for the intersecting misogyny, classism and racism that permeates our society.

There is no way to reform the worst excesses of the monarchy, in the same way that there is no way to reform a militarised, racist, misogynist police force

If we are to take a step towards a more fair and equal society, we can’t content ourselves with socialist policies that redistribute wealth, we must dismantle every institution which doesn’t derive power directly from ordinary people. To many on the left in Britain, it almost seems like discussing the monarchy is beneath them, almost grubby – low-hanging fruit compared to attacking the very real manifestations of inequality in our society, embodied by the ever-loyal Tory Party.

The left should be much more active in making the case for a republic, reclaiming the productive discourse around our constitutional monarchy from liberals, right-wingers and technocrats who tinker around the edges. We should take up the mantle of Tony Benn’s Commonwealth of Britain Bill, making us a federal republic with guaranteed social and economic rights, and a constitution that codifies these protections. Throw in a Green New Deal and you’ve got a solution to the crisis of union, the climate crisis and the economic crises we face…

The monarchy, the police, the House of Lords, multinational corporations and the right-wing media are confidently self-reproducing (true in a very literal sense for the royal family) systems of inequality, unafraid of negative ‘optics’ because their power and position does not come from the public. Any institution premised on the superiority of bloodline is inherently racist, misogynistic and a slap in the face of anyone with an inkling of an understanding about social justice. So why does it still endure? To understand this toxic relationship between the famously boot-licking British public and their gilded overlords, it is worth also thinking about the imperial context and the importance of a racialized ‘other’ to the monarchy, without which they would not make sense.

The Commonwealth, the supposedly ‘voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries’ doesn’t seem so free and voluntary when you consider that only two out of that number were spared colonisation by the British (Rwanda and Mozambique). It goes without saying that during the decades of decolonisation that followed the Second World War, the vast majority of former colonies jettisoned the vestiges of monarchy as quickly as possible, leaving the largely white dominions and a few smaller island nations clinging to the Crown. Even Barbados is set to become a republic later this year.

Unsurprisingly, since becoming republics, not a single Commonwealth nation has sought to restore Queen Elizabeth as head of state. Coercive, extractivist and violent imperial structures of oppression tend to alienate those suffering under the yoke of oppression by those living in gilded palaces wearing priceless heirlooms, while as imperial subjects their family members starve to death or die in concentration camps.

Prince William, like his father Prince Charles, spent a large part of the week following Meghan and Harry’s interview being photographed and filmed spending time around as many black people as possible. Urgently claiming that “We’re very much not a racist family” would come across as desperate in most contexts, but when those claims come directly from a man second in line to inherit a throne based on centuries of racialised violence, slavery, white supremacy and subjugation of one quarter of the globe, it comes across as a bare-faced lie.

While questions around which members of the royal family voiced concerns about Archie’s skin colour are certainly worth exploring, within the context of an imperial project based on the racially-justified oppression of millions of people, each and every member of the royal family is racist. It’s alarming that some people are only just realising this fact. You needn’t look particularly hard to find overt examples of racism by the royals in public either, looking at Princess Michaels’ deeply racist Blackamoor brooch or virtually anything uttered by Prince Philip when speaking to a non-white person in the last 50 years.

Where individual behaviour is concerned, if racism is fair game, so is the complete disempowerment of women, which may seem like a paradox given the Queen is of course matriarch of the royal family. But cast your mind back to what is potentially the longest car-crash in recorded history, Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview in which a very sweaty royal alleges he is physically unable to sweat whilst denying knowledge of his close friend Jeffrey Epstein’s horrific sex trafficking and sexual violence.

Andrew is very much still under investigation in the US, but is refusing to cooperate in a rape investigation in which he is a prime suspect. This man is still eighth in line to the throne. There is a conceivable possibility in which this man’s bloodline will allow him to be head of state for well over one hundred million people. Let’s also not forget rules of primogeniture that were legal until 2011, meaning that women in the royal family were bumped down the line of succession by each male birth, enshrining in law the idea that women were worth less than men.

The grotesque wealth of the royal family has been underplayed and hidden in recent years

Their wealth would have transformed them into pariahs in any ‘normal’ country with a properly functioning media and political arena. From the millions hidden in offshore tax havens, such as the Queen’s rainy-day funds uncovered in the Panama Papers, to more recent revelations that found the royals have frequently lobbied for legal changes to hide their embarrassingly large fortunes. On top of the terrifying consequences of an unelected monarch abusing their supposedly ceremonial power to influence elected officials on thousands of occasions, the royal family enjoy one of the most privileged tax statuses in the country.

Free from paying inheritance tax, and enjoying a Sovereign Grant payment close to £100 million each year as well as countless priceless assets and properties, there is a strong case to be made for the royals being among the wealthiest people to have ever lived. Pink-faced royalists will breathlessly argue that the royals bring in billions in tourism each year, (surely not in 2020, comrades?) whilst ignoring the fact that the famously republican French welcome far more tourists each year and rake in billions more in income.

The very existence of a royal family in Britain should serve as an embarrassment, a reminder of the centuries of brutal subjugation that millions were forced into across the globe, and an ever-present blotch that makes a mockery of democracy in our society. The sad situation reminds me of Alexei Yurchak’s ‘hypernormalisation’ in Everything Was Forever, Until it was No More, although as a surrogate for Soviet Russia we have our own failing system and a similar lack of imagination outside of the status quo. Any pretence of a functioning, healthy democracy is utterly imperiled by the existence of the royal family, yet a recent snap poll demonstrated that 63% of those surveyed believed Britain should continue to have a monarchy.

Is this sad state of affairs simply a legacy of the incomplete English Revolution? The lack of a codified English constitution has led to a system that Walter Bagehot described as a ‘republic masquerading as a monarchy’. If that is the case, then at the death of Elizabeth II let the masquerade come to a long overdue end, with Britain and those clutching to the last pathetic vestiges of an imperial dream finally free to rebuild themselves as functioning democracies. We must learn from the examples of failed revolutions of the past, such as the German Revolution of 1918 and understand that we can’t simply unpick at the thread of the monarchy and hope the ornate tapestry of our class-based, racist, misogynistic society will unravel. Republicanism offers us the chance to shatter the gilded predominance of racist, misogynistic and grotesquely wealthy at the highest echelons of our society, and to dismantle a legacy of oppression that dates back to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

We can use the opportunities offered up by republicanism to move forward into the future

After successive defeats at the ballot box, it is clear that the British left will always struggle to win power and change society using the rules of the established status quo. So let’s take up the call of republicanism to offer a positive programme that does away with the shackles of the past, and eliminates the festering social and economic inequalities that have been entrenched here for centuries.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect DiEM25’s official policies or positions.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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