Happy New Year.
Let’s start 2018 with a grown-up conversation, let’s talk about the future or not, of the monarchy…and let’s do it now. Let’s do it while Elizabeth still has a couple of decent years left in her (and with all that healthcare and looking after, why wouldn’t she) and let’s not leave it until she dies and we are “suddenly” left with King Charles III. Whatever conclusions we arrive at, we can decide that they shall not be acted upon until the Queen’s death.
For me, there is no place for a monarchy or an aristocracy in a democracy. It is at best an anachronism.
The essential question always comes back to the following example: a cousin of mine is due to give birth in April, which I understand is the same month as Kate Middleton is due to give birth. Why do we accept that one of these children will have a hugely privileged and protected life whilst the other will not? We are essentially saying that one of these children has more ‘worth’ than the other. There is no social organization that admits this as a philosophy and certainly no religion that does, yet it is accepted tacitly by millions as long as we aren’t so gauche as to say it out loud.
The fundamental basis of capitalism, and therefore an aristocracy whether new money or old, is that it is OK to build a society on the understanding that there will be winners and losers, that this is hardwired into the fact of that society: it is simply “how things are”. With the wealth and resources at our disposal, both nationally and globally, it does not have to be this way. That it is and remains so, is a matter of choice, a matter of decisions made. By pretending that it is some sort of “universal law” we absolve ourselves from our collusion in maintaining this state of things. Democracy requires consciousness and engagement.
That everyone who is a citizen of a nation should have the right to cast a vote to help determine the way that nation is run seems to us to be a natural thing,* albeit that this often had to be wrestled from the clammy, white, male grip of the landed gentry. But having the vote is only part of the story, equally pressing but more opaque, is the question of where power truly lies within society/communities. Answer, with money, with land and with influence all wrapped up in what we in the UK euphemistically label “the Establishment”. We need an honest understanding of those things, how they function and how they affect our lives and the decisions we make as an electorate, to enable the votes we cast to be made with full and proper information. All South Africans finally have the vote but few would claim they feel truly empowered because influence has clung close to money.
How does this relate to the monarchy? Because they are one of the symbolic “untouchables” of this situation and are used as barriers to forestall the conversation we need to have about this situation. “What would you rather have, a president?” Is something I get asked when I try to have this conversation, and while the present incumbent in the US is an advert for nothing except lazy, maniacal egotism, misogyny and racism, the answer has to be “Yes, or some equivalent as long as they are elected and can be de-selected and are held truly accountable to the same laws and rules of society as the rest of us”. A better question in reply though is, why do you need a figure-head at all?
“But they bring in millions in the form of tourism.” No, they don’t. Our history, the history of our people and all that we have achieved over the centuries, brings in the tourists, as well of course as the beautiful land itself, much of which we, the citizenry did not have access to until rights of way/access protests. The Palace of Versailles is one of France’s top 3 attractions, no royal has lived there for nearly 250 years. America has had no royal family for much the same period of time, what do all those tourists go and see?
“They do a lot of hard work”; that the work is “hard” is questionable…does banqueting for 5 hours with heads of various nations of more or less dubious outlook, compare with straight 12 hour shifts in Accident & Emergency, or with educating our young people, or with cleaning up after the rest of us? If, we concede that this is “work” then their hourly rate is astonishingly good, not to mention the perks and all at a tax rate that they can decide for themselves and declare only if they wish.
As a group we are taught to continually want and we are taught to be resentful, that there must be some “other” to blame for whatever it is we perceive ourselves to be lacking. You only had to watch the arguments of those campaigning to leave the EU to see this. And yet, the argument never comes around to those who truly prevent a better share being had by all because those controlling means of expression, communication and argument are on the side of the established power bases; they have too much vested, too much to lose to allow other conversations to gain traction. Newspapers, television and radio channels are not in the main, neutral platforms for the laying out of facts but commercial agencies with interests and agendas: Labour’s last election campaign was an interesting example of a conversation happening outside of the accepted channels and changing people’s minds.
As a collective, we have two uses to the state: a means of production/service, the demand for which will fluctuate; and to populate an army should war be declared (usually because the interests of one powerful faction are impacting on the interests of another). As a collective, because of our numbers it is better for those that hold power that we be kept uninformed or distracted.
We live in the age of misdirection: get angry by all means, but target that anger on the things we prescribe (immigrants, “coming over here and taking our jobs”; the unemployed, “lazy benefit scroungers”; women, “and their ingratitude for ‘harmless compliments’”; races other than whites, “always with a chip on their shoulder”) or get distracted by howls of false anger at concocted and meaningless ‘injustices’ (who got voted off “Strictly Come Dancing” the colour of your passport; ‘straight bananas’) Far better that we expend our energy that way than in disgust at malnourished children, food banks, the ever-increasing amount of the world’s wealth held in a few private (off-shore) bank accounts… “Two-Minutes Hate” direct to your living room, live on Sky.
The inequality between them and us is remarkable; our willful ignorance of it is equally remarkable. The system is rotten and needs changing from the head down.
* Of course, there are conversations to be had about who should get the vote (at what age; prisoners; those certified as insane etc.), but that is a separate matter to be settled later.