By Alex Johnson, IMT Edinburgh
With the recent announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the upcoming wedding, we call not for celebration of but the abolition of the monarchy. The royal family is a feudal relic and symbol of national chauvinism which, along with the House of Lords, reveals what our so-called ‘democracy’ really is – a system designed and run to serve the interests of the ruling class. The monarchy is a drain on the public purse, receiving handouts of £35.7 million per year on top of countless other expenses. The upcoming royal wedding is an excellent example of this. While the royal family will pay for the wedding ceremony, reception etc., the taxpayer will foot the bill for the policing, security costs and public order arrangements around the event. Kate and William’s 2011 wedding saw £15 million spent of policing alone, with 5000 officers deployed. This time we can expect the same arrangements, if not even greater measures following the recent increase in terrorist attacks.
In large part, the monarchy maintains popularity through its mystical image and all the accompanying pageantry, pomp and illusions. Enormous care is taken to maintain the mystique surrounding the institution. The monarchy enjoys special consultation allowances regarding Freedom of Information requests and the royal household is beyond the reach of the FoI Act. Despite this, the monarchy is so deeply corrupt that scandals still manage to leak out. Last year, after a lengthy court battle, the Guardian released the ‘Black Spider Papers’, showing Prince Charles’ extensive efforts to influence government policy. Allegations have also emerged that Prince Andrew raped Virginia Roberts on three occasions, and he also enjoys an enduring friendship with prolific paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, which does nothing to help his case. Writing in the 19th Century, British Constitutional expert Walter Badgehot said, “[The monarchy’s] mystery is its life. We must not let daylight among magic.” This is as true today as ever.
It’s often claimed the monarchy is a positive thing for the working class as it stimulates the tourism industry, bringing in billions which will then supposedly “trickle down” and create more jobs and general wealth for the masses. However, when we examine this idea more closely, it’s clear that the vast majority of people see very little of the money which is brought in by tourism and big business in general. In reality, profits made by tourism companies are hoarded in the bank accounts of the owners of the industry. Very often these are tax-evading offshore accounts, which incidentally the Queen also uses for her private wealth. The best most of us can hope to gain is perhaps an increase in zero hours, minimum wage jobs which provide no security and barely enough to live off. According to Republic, “Chester Zoo, Stonehenge and the Roman Baths are all more successful tourist attractions than Windsor Castle, which is the only occupied royal residence to attract visitors in large numbers. If Windsor Castle was included in the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) list of top attractions it would come in at number 24.”Moreover, if we abolished the monarchy we would open up their palaces and all their sordid deeds to the public.
The monarchy as it exists today was formed following the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. People often think of France or America as the great trailblazing revolutionary republics, but in fact Britain was one of the first to sever ties with the monarchy. King Charles I was executed in 1649 in a revolutionary attempt to move society forward. The burgeoning forces of capital were finding the feudal system – with its ideals of a divinely ordained class system, endless local taxes and privileges, and basis in small-scale methods of production – a major fetter on production. A revolutionary civil war erupted which forced a break with the old system. This was followed by the Restoration in 1660 where a new monarchy was installed under Charles II, this time designed as prop to capitalism rather than feudalism. Limitations were put on the monarchy to prevent absolutism and more powers were given to parliament.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw Charles II’s successor, James VII of Scotland (or James II of England) deposed in a military coup engineered by parliament and the Dutch Prince William of Orange, who assumed the throne. On coming to power King William signed the Bill of Rights which made it illegal for the monarch to interfere with Acts of Parliament. Unlike in France, the restoration of the monarchy stuck and remains largely unchanged today, aside from a few laws which have further limited its powers.
Today, the monarch is presented as a symbolic figure, kept around almost for tradition’s sake. It is made out to exist largely for the fun and pageantry which provides a little light relief to the people in an otherwise bleak landscape of austerity, unemployment, and stagnant wages. If we look more closely, however, we find the Queen still enjoys numerous powers which could be used against the working class at a crucial moment. She must sign a bill before it is made into law, she is responsible for dissolving parliament, she can call early elections and she swears in the Prime Minister.
Private meetings are held weekly between the Queen and the Prime Minister, which are said to be a sort of time of offloading for Prime Ministers. The Queen describes herself as a “sponge” that people can come and tell things to. No details are published and no one else is present. Over 68 years, she has learned the details of and advised on strikes, wars, and scandals. The Telegraph explains, “If she is a ‘’sponge’’, she is a highly experienced one. “When the prime minister tells her, ‘We have a big problem,’ she can say, ‘Oh yes, we had something similar in 1958 and this is what we did.’” The Queen is a powerful and well-versed advisor, not an innocent old lady whose greatest area of knowledge is horse racing, as we are led to believe. She reads weekly intelligence summaries, daily accounts of proceedings in the House of Commons and receives immediate reports of all important overseas correspondence from the Foreign Office. Edward Heath described her as “undoubtedly one of the best-informed people in the world.”
We are led to believe that while technically the monarch possesses this experience and power, she would never abuse her legal powers and plays no meaningful role in politics. However, the extremely pro-monarchy Telegraph reports that senior royals have used their powers to impede the passage of at least 39 Bills Awaiting Royal Assent over the last thirty years. There is significant evidence of a plot to use the monarch’s powers to overthrow left-leaning Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. This may sound like an absurd conspiracy theory, but it is supported by a BBC documentary and the mainstream media. If we imagine a revolutionary government coming to power, perhaps trying to pass a law bringing large swathes of the economy under nationalised, workers’ control, it is hard to believe the Queen would agree to sign. Furthermore, the army pledges allegiance first and foremost to the Queen and it is more than likely the monarch’s powers would form part of an attempt at counter-revolution.
A key factor which keeps public opinion towards the monarchy benign is the idea they are supposedly completely uninterested in politics. However, there are numerous examples of royal interventions in politics which are not very fitting of a supposedly apolitical head of state. David Cameron was so concerned at the prospect of a Yes vote in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum that he asked the Queen to publicly intervene to help prevent it. The Guardian reported that the Queen made a statement asking voters to “think very carefully” before voting, aiming to suggest the decision was “full of foreboding.” They said, “without her taking a side, it cast just the right element of doubt over the nature of the decision.” It also emerged in 2013 that Prince Charles lobbied Alex Salmond to arrange a meeting between then Education Secretary, Mike Russell, and Teach First, a charity Charles is patron to and helped set up. It’s clear that the monarchy plays more of a role in politics than is portrayed.
The monarchy is a corrupt, undemocratic, feudal hangover which represents a real threat to the interests of the working class. In this light, we make the following demands:
· Abolition of the monarchy in its entirety, to be replaced by a workers’ republic.
· Nationalisation of all public and private crown estates.
· Abolish the House of Lords