11th April 2021
British Royals – how long can the show go on?
For the past 70 years the British ruling class has managed its public relations with remarkable efficiency. Central to that success has been the constant refinement of the aristocracy’s shop window product, the Royal Family.
The Royal Family product did not come ready made by any means. The post war successes for socialism across much of Europe and the desire for greater policy change and equality in Britain, following the Second World War, squeezed the Monarchy into a space where it was associated with the anachronism of colonial Empire, doomed to be crushed in the onward march of history.
However, the ruthlessness of the British ruling class is only matched by its resilience and its capacity to defend it privileges at all costs. The transition from the direct colonial rule of Empire to post colonial influence was confirmed with the creation of the British Commonwealth in 1949, the Head of which is Queen Elizabeth II, the role previously having been that of her father King George VI. The Queen’s designated successor, not surprisingly is Prince Charles.
The Commonwealth is notionally a “free association of independent member nations” and currently comprises 54 sovereign states, of which sixteen, including Australia and New Zealand, still retain the British Queen as their Head of State. To have a monarchy at all in the 21st century is anachronistic to say the least, to have a Head of State based half a world away is a political miscalculation on a grand scale.
For the British ruling class however the Monarch as Head of State in far flung territories is a means of keeping former fragments of Empire alive for British influence and economic investment. This has certainly been a large part of the international role of the British Monarchy for over half a century. If the nuclear arsenal has been the hardware which has kept Britain’s permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the Queen has provided the ‘soft power’ which has helped sustain a network of power and influence.
There have been blips of course, the Suez crisis, the often bloody struggles for independence, the struggle to hang on to territory and influence, including the Falklands War. The craven following of the United States into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. There have been internal challenges too. The Miner’s Strike 1984/85 which threw into sharp relief the class divide in Britain, the struggle for a united Ireland, the relatively mild challenge of Jeremy Corbyn’s period as leader of the Labour Party.
While notionally being ‘above the fray’ in all of these instances the Monarchy has nevertheless been wheeled out when necessary as the symbol of national unity, being above politics, not to be challenged or questioned.
The glass has cracked on occasions. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, was no stranger to controversy. The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, was only freed from a dysfunctional marriage by the untimely and suspicious death of his wife Princess Diana. The current royal rebel Prince Harry, having married an American woman of colour then defecting to the United States, is proving the latest thorn in the side. In the family praise for the Duke of Edinburgh since his death, Prince Andrew has been conspicuous by his absence.
Even these aberrations however become incorporated into what is portrayed as a great national soap opera. The significance of the Royal Family in constitutional terms, the Queen is both Head of State and the Church of England, is masked by the right wing press rendering every nuance as popular drama.
In this ruling class shop window the Duke of Edinburgh has played the part of showroom dummy for much of the time, although the wall to wall BBC coverage of his ‘life and achievements’ over the past two days would have the casual observer think that beatification was imminent. Normal programming suspended, including the entire output of BBC Four, anodyne programming across BBC music stations, news coverage reduced exclusively to tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh.
It is unlikely that any working class pensioners, had they lived off the state for 70 years, would attract quite the same glowing tributes in the Mail, Telegraph and Express. A similar suspension of normal activity, along with sycophantic outpourings, is likely to accompany the Duke’s funeral next Saturday.
It is hard to see the State’s response to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh as much more than a dress rehearsal for the day the Queen dies. For the ruling class that may be the moment when the shop window cracks and a new strategy needs to be deployed. Charles can neither be sold as popular or the coming man. While William and Kate are clearly being groomed as the modern face of the Monarchy, constitutional hoops will need to be jumped through.
The Duke’s death has certainly overshadowed the UK pandemic death rate hitting the 127,000 mark this weekend. However much of a distraction the death of an elderly aristocrat may be there are still millions struggling to feed the kids, pay the rent and hang on to their jobs. The ruling class have played the Royal Family card to their advantage for many decades now but it is a sleight of hand trick. Chicanery will ultimately be exposed and the charlatans will be found out.