2,000,000 cream cakes. 150,000 bottles of Pimm’s. 3,000 street parties. 1,400 parading soldiers. 400 musicians. 200 horses. £28,000,000 of taxpayer money. Purple Union Jack bunting strung infinitely about gates and lampposts and shopfronts in village and town and city, coiling its way through every Wetherspoons and supermarket visible. The country is told to rest on its haunches in the mild summer rain and give thanks.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is set to be an event marked by an ostentatiousness that is inexistent and unimaginable in the majority of communities that celebrate it. It is an opportunity, welcomed by the powers that be, to create a desperate chimera of national grandeur – one which (after two years of suffering and countless needless deaths of frontline workers such as Belly Mujinga and Emanuel Gomes, after the Prince Andrew case, after the exposure of the Government’s nauseating party culture, and during a cost of living crisis) is nothing less than grotesque. This is not the time for distraction, let alone a time for celebration.
As a socialist, I support the abolition of monarchy. This is not to say, however, that this is the default working-class position. Far from it. In my polemic, A Small Man’s England, I have explored how the right, the far right, and regressive notions of national identity have sadly come to be all too revered in many white, working-class English communities. This, of course, is nothing new. In the same way that R.H. Tawney pointed to the fetish worship of
economic activity, industry and business amongst the poorest in society in 1920, today a similar (and even older) self-destructive worship refuses to fade – the veneration of royalty.
As a supposed symbol of ‘national pride’, ‘a piece of history’, a study in ‘elegance and class’, and a ‘cornerstone of tradition’, the Queen is still held by many working-class people to be a figure as irreproachable as she is remote (almost, in fact, idealised for her unrelatability); a figure who is ‘completely separate’ from the corruptions of more easily criticised governments – ‘the nation’s grandmother’, if you will. Further to this, the Queen serves as a key component of the atavistic branch of national identity desperately seized by those working-class people whose class consciousness (and thus, sense of self and purpose) has been obliterated by decades of neoliberalism and who regard nationhood as its only successor.
Indeed, the monarchy has always had its admirers in the poorest areas of the UK (particularly in England), and there is no sign of such indoctrination giving up the ghost – if anything, with the traditional socialist ambitions of the working class long dismantled and a significant increase in conservative/Conservative loyalty within this demographic, a person could not be blamed for assuming the Windsors may be growing in approval amongst those who stand to gain the least from the safeguarding of hierarchy. Despite this, an Ipsos poll conducted in 2021 demonstrated a significant drop in popularity for the monarchy – with 60% of the broader public in favour of maintaining the monarchy last year, compared to 76% in 2016.
This gradual movement of the public towards a place of uncertainty, if not outright opposition, indicates (if nothing else) how recent changes in British cultural and political experience may have further elucidated the unfitness of our out-of-touch monarchy. Such denunciation should prove difficult to argue against considering some of the controversies and hidden information unearthed of late: the Queen’s request of poverty grant money to heat her palaces; the offshore investment of millions of pounds from her private estate in a Cayman Islands fund; the recent offer of below minimum wage for the role of a live-in housekeeper at Buckingham Palace. These instances of a blatant misuse of power (to name but a few) should stand as testament to the unsuitability of a monarchical system within a nation which should be aiming to progress morally and shed itself of the old corruptions which still continue to define it.
In the run up to the Jubilee, friends and colleagues have suggested that the monarchy, due to its outdated and increasingly recognised controversial nature, could now be regarded to bear a certain condition of self-destructiveness, or indeed to be approaching finality. The last decade has been marked by scandal, by a gradual shift in public opinion, and (amongst some of the younger Windsors) by a relationship with the media comparable to that of a B-List celebrity with reality TV. All of this has encouraged some to suggest that the monarchy may self- implode or corrode in years to come.
Historically, capitalism has been theorised to bear a similar trait of self-destruction. However, like capitalism, the monarchy has proven itself to be capable of surviving catastrophe, of outmanoeuvring attempts to deride it, of evolving its façade in response to shifts in culture, whilst at the same time maintaining its power. In seeking abolition, the task of discourse, and of fostering an anti-monarchical consensus amongst a populace which is more fragmented than it has ever been, is far from complete. It is not the time for distraction, and it is never the time to celebrate hierarchy. The population remains in crisis and do not deserve such insult. Whatever the future may hold, this weekend I shall not be taking part in the attempted simulacrum of a quaint ‘little England’ which, truthfully, has not existed for centuries. I shall not be donned in plastic bowler hat, nor felt top hat emblazoned with the Union Jack. When the time for authentic celebration comes, it will be without fantasy.
Tommy Sissons is the author of A Small Man’s England, out now.