The whole British establishment was hoping that the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebration would be a distraction from Britain’s political turmoil. But amid the bunting, scattered street parties, and royal appearances, there was a dark shadow of unease across the proceedings.
Afterall, this Jubilee comes at a time when the working class is facing a devastating squeeze on its living standards, with inflation heading for 10% and energy costs spiralling. It is also a time of deep political division and growing discontent.
Those who enjoyed the occasion, including the extra bank holiday, saw it as a distraction from this cost-of-living crisis and everyday hardship; a form of escapism.
Most were seemingly enjoying the good weather, rather than spending time watching the Royals waving from carriages and balconies.
Some 7.5 million people watched the BBC’s Trooping the Colour broadcast – although the viewing figures were substantially down on previous royal occasions. In fact, in marked contrast, more than 20 million watched the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
The Queen’s reign is the longest in British history, and the third longest in history, after Louis XlV and the recently departed King of Thailand.
The newspapers described it as a monarchy in “transition”. But it is more like a monarchy lost in translation. A new page is certainly being turned.
Feeling unwell, even the Queen herself did not attend the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Prince Andrew, surrounded by scandal, was also apparently unable to attend due to Covid. But nobody believed this excuse – a convenient cover to protect the disgraced prince from the reception he would have received.
Heir to the throne Prince Charles was there, however, the face of sullen continuity. He had stood in for the Queen at the opening of Parliament last month, and now led the royal party at the cathedral.
Similarly, Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, stood in for the Archbishop of Caterbury. He is particularly obtuse. He presented the sermon, complete with insipid horse-riding jokes. Referring to the Queen, he stated that the country was “so glad you’re still in the saddle”, assuring everyone there was “still more to come” from the frail 96 year old.
There was a larger contingent of royal parasites at this service than at the palace the previous day, which was just attended by ‘working royals’ – a euphemism for people who have not worked a day in their lives.
Kiss of death
In so many ways, the occasion served to reinforce class divisions, with all the wealth and pomp on display – including a gilded carriage – at a time of decline and austerity.
They were all there, including past prime ministers Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron, basking in the glow of the royal pageant; loyal upholders of the establishment.
Everything was fine until a former officer in the Irish Guards described the soldiers as “a great mick cocktail”, while the BBC presenter tried to dismiss the derogatory remark as normal.
But worse was to come. Boris and Carrie Johnson turned up, representing the most vile government in British history, with the Tory leader facing a growing revolt from his own MPs following the partygate scandal.
As soon as Johnson appeared outside St Paul’s, the booing and whistling began. The BBC commentator refused to acknowledge this, whilst weirdly remarking on everything else, including the buttons on the bishops’ robes.
This booing said it all. It came not from a crowd of republicans, but from a crowd of fanatical royalists – the very bedrock of conservatism – who had waited for hours to glimpse a member of the Royal Family.
This outward show of disapproval was unprecedented. And it is extremely ominous for the Tories. If Johnson couldn’t gain this crowd’s support, Conservative MPs clearly concluded, then there wasn’t much hope for him – or them.
In contrast, Sir Keir Starmer, when he turned up, was met with silence. Most likely, very few recognised who this grey man even was.
Following his humiliating arrival, Boris then proceeded to read a verse from the Philippians: “The Lord is near”, or words to that effect, hoping the Almighty would save him and his government.
The embarrassment must have been excruciating. But Boris, caught up in his own dream world, seemed to brush the episode off.
In fact, the royalist protest was the equivalent of Blind Pew delivering the black spot in ‘Treasure Island’ – a fate worse than death.
By the end of the weekend, therefore, the required threshold of letters had been submitted by rebellious Tory MPs, leading to tonight’s vote of confidence in Johnson’s leadership.
Rocked by scandal
“Johnson was also cheered by some in the crowd,” explained the Financial Times, “but the intrusion of Britain’s fractured politics into a thanksgiving service for the Queen was evidence of a country ill at ease with itself.”
These are certainly troubling times, to say the least. The Archbishop of York’s sermon referred to this “great historic day”, whilst also acknowledging that the country was “living in a time of uncertainty and challenge” – a clear warning to the ruling class.
For them, the capitalist establishment, the monarchy is viewed as a source of stability. But it is an institution that has been rocked and plagued by scandals in the past period. Its reputation has been badly undermined.
Recently, Prince Andrew’s status has been shattered by his close association with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, including allegations of sex with a minor. Despite pleas by the Archbishop of Canterbury for ‘forgiveness’, it seems unlikely that he will ever be forgiven.
The allegations of racism in the House of Windsor by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan also took their toll, resulting in a damaging rift, and leading to their departure for the United States. The cheers they received were a reminder of the support that Lady Diana gained as a previous victim of the palace.
The public relations disaster surrounding the visit to the Caribbean this year by Prince William and his wife Kate was another blow to the image of the British monarchy. Coincidentally, Barbados removed the Queen as head of state.
The whole oppressive legacy of the British Empire, and its relationship with its former colonies, was also brought into sharp relief with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
No wonder that support for the monarchy has declined, especially amongst the younger generation. Last year, for example, a YouGov poll found that 41% of people aged 18 to 24 wanted an elected head of state, compared to 31% who preferred a monarch.
“The Queen is making plans to ensure the monarchy continues to play a role in offering stability and continuity in such difficult times now and into the future,” states the Financial Times.
That has been the monarchy’s historic function – to act as an institution that stands above politics and society. In the view of Walter Baghot, the constitutionalist, it deliberately cultivates this mystique, as being above classes and representing ‘the nation’.
This is done not for sentimental reasons, but to provide the ruling class with a reserve weapon in times of crisis; a clarion that will be used to rally the forces of the old order if capitalism is threatened.
For the establishment, democracy is merely a convenient device, to be dispensed with when needed.
The monarchy has many latent powers. The armed forces pledge loyalty to the monarch, as does the entire apparatus of the state. The government of the day is ‘Her Majesty's government’, and the opposition also ‘Her Majesty’s Opposition’, all of whom vow to serve Her Royal Highness.
Of course, these powers are held in reserve, only to be used in exceptional circumstances. For them to be effective, the monarchy must be seen to be above politics, acting in the ‘national’ interest – namely the interests of capitalism.
This reserve weapon has been blunted in recent times, however, as the monarchy becomes embroiled in everyday scandals, which burn away the illusions and mystique surrounding this reactionary relic.
The Queen is nearing the end of her life. Her longevity has certainly provided continuity. But the transition to the reign of King Charles will not be smooth. He doesn’t have his mother’s authority or standing.
In reality, the monarchy is already in crisis – a reflection of the crisis of British capitalism. The transition will deepen the crisis and further undermine the credibility of this rotten institution.
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II will mark the end of an era. The revolutionary turmoil that will envelop British society in the stormy years ahead will raise the question not only of the overthrow of capitalism, but also of the monarchy, its reserve weapon.