Monday, 2 May 2011

Anti-Royalism and the Left.

With the Royal Wedding, there have been the usual voices calling for a British Republic, though usually this is based less on coherent arguments for a republic but merely loathing for monarchy as representing class society and privilege. Toynbee opined ( This royal wedding is Britain's Marie Antoinette moment, The Guardian Friday 29 April 2011 )

Of course Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had no invitation, being the prime ministers who held back the forces of conservatism for 13 years. Notwithstanding repellent sniggers of the Eton set who call the Middleton girls "the wisteria sisters" for their social climbing, or the "doors to manual" giggle at their former air steward mother, the Middletons belong in the top 0.5% of earners.....Besides, Kate Middleton, Samantha Cameron and the Hon Frances Osborne all went to the same school.

The irony is that by the standards of privilege in Britain, Toynbee is very privileged and had she not belonged to the right family, the Hampstead upper middle class intelligensia, she would not even be in the position to criticise the system of privilege. The lady who criticises those who complain about fuel duty whilst jetting off to her villa in Tuscany.

Polly Toynbee attended Badminton School Girl's School and later Holland Park School, a comprehensive in one of the richest parts of Central London also known as the "socialist Eton" and went up to Oxford University after getting only one A Level. Toynbee cannot change her family background but could have chosen not to send her children to fee paying schools.

Toynbee represents the inertia and sterility of public life and politics, even those on the gilded liberal left, is dominated by those with the "right connections" and elevate themselves to a position to pontificate about the class system that effectively ensures that they are where they are.

From a left wing or liberal perspective it was possible both to want to fight against privilege and the class system without necessarily abolishing the monarchy, even if it could be reformed and scaled down to that of Sweden, the Netherlands or Denmark.

George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn ( 1940 ), when calling for a transformation of the war effort to harness the patriotism of the British people and a democratic socialist state to then created after the defeat of Nazi Germany, did not call for the abolition of the monarchy. He wrote of an English Socialist government that,

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons.

Curiously, apart from the more unsophisticated and mulishly resentful "class war" bores, much Republicanism comes from the privileged middle classes and their "party" today in London did not excite much interest. Presumably a social democratic position could argue for a reformed monarchy

Just as Timothy Garton Ash argued ( Should a democracy have a King Wills and Queen Kate? You can do worse The Guardian, Thursday 28 April 2011 )

I don't think countries like Sweden, Holland, Denmark and Spain, all of which have monarchs, are worse off than those that have party politicians directly or indirectly elected to be president. Or would you rather have Buckingham Palace occupied by a President Blair?

With one brief interlude, when English revolutionaries experimented with decapitating one of them, there have been kings and queens in England, kings and queens of the English, for more than a thousand years. That is an amazing thing. It is the stuff of poetry. Imagine Shakespeare purged of all references to kingship. Before you abandon a thousand years of poetry, you should be very certain that you will fare better in prose.

There are damagingly undemocratic elements in the British political system – above all, the House of Lords – but the monarchy is not high among them. If we are talking about the power of a single unelected individual, Rupert Murdoch is a far greater threat to British democracy than our hereditary head of state.

According to the constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, no monarch has refused his or her assent to legislation since 1707. Some undemocratic obscurantism still derives from "crown prerogative", and the constitutional doctrine that sovereignty resides in "the crown in parliament", but the lawyer Richard Gordon has shown how the UK could have a thoroughly modern written constitution, firmly based on popular sovereignty, and still keep a hereditary monarch as head of state.

Sensible politics should in Britain entail reform of much of that which is decayed, against the interests on the long term future of the majority of the people, the rentier financial economy, decline of manufacturing in favour of over privileging the City and the reducing the country to a banal Heritage Theme Park.

The cloying media commentary on the Royal Wedding is annoying but it is merely for one day. It is of less importance than having an increasingly deracinated land where economic power and sovereignty has been ceded away and where the "leftism" is often associated with rather silly trendy poses and "identity politics".

The British are known for being a people given to cussedness. Tell them the Royal Family is merely a banal fairytale, that long term commitments to something as abstract as a "nation" are meaningless and to denigrate the entire history of the UK and people will instinctively rebel.

That means that sensible proposals that could challenge existing abuses of a dysfunctional political system, curtail the power of unaccountable corporations, bring about a change as regards the mindless deification of miraculous "market forces" and corruption is less rather than more likely to happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment