In 2022, when it’s often difficult to get people to pay attention to anything for more than a few minutes, when the country faces an economic crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes, and the spectre of total environmental collapse looms ever closer, it seems to be extraordinarily anachronistic for the British establishment to insist that there must a ten-day period of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last Thursday, at the age of 96, after 70 years on the throne.
Obviously, some sort of period of mourning is appropriate for a monarch who was so popular (the most recent polling, in June, showed that 81% of the British people held a positive opinion of her, with only 12% seeing her negatively), but I have to ask whether it is really appropriate for ten days to be given over to obscure rituals and ostentatious pageantry designed not only to honour the Queen, but also to seamlessly endorse the succession of her eldest son, Prince Charles, and, by extension, to prop up, in an unquestioning manner, the entire edifice of the monarchy, and what it represents: the preservation of a largely old, almost entirely white British establishment involving aristocrats, the military, politicians, international trade (and especially the arms trade), and the UK’s ongoing colonial and post-colonial aspirations.
Operation London Bridge
According to the British establishment, the answer to the question, “Is this ten-day period of mourning appropriate?” is a resounding yes, although I suspect that few of Her Majesty’s subjects are aware that extraordinary detailed plans for the aftermath of her death — spelling out every step of the ten-day period with regard to the media, the funeral, and the transition to her successor, her eldest son, Prince Charles — were first conceived in the 1960s, and “refined in detail at the turn of the century”, as Sam Bright explained in a detailed article for the Guardian in 2017.
The plan, long maintained as a secret from the wider world, is known as ‘Operation London Bridge’, and is named after the code words for the Queen’s death — “London Bridge is down” — that were used to convey the news, “on secure lines”, to Buckingham Palace, to the Prime Minister, and then, “[f]rom the Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre, at an undisclosed location in the capital”, to “the 15 governments outside the UK where the Queen is also the head of state, and the 36 other nations of the Commonwealth for whom she has served as a symbolic figurehead.”
As the Guardian article explained, since the plan was first conceived, “there have been meetings two or three times a year for the various actors involved (around a dozen government departments, the police, army, broadcasters and the Royal Parks) in Church House, Westminster, the Palace, or elsewhere in Whitehall.” On Thursday, as the news broke, everything followed the plan. All the main broadcasters cancelled their regular schedules for non-stop reporting of the Queen’s death, some of it live, and some of its consisting of long-prepared programmes. Similarly, the UK’s newspapers also began printing stories prepared well in advance, and radio stations switched to “prepared music lists made up of ‘Mood 2’ (sad) or ‘Mood 1’ (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.”
Business as usual on the streets of London
If you were watching the news from around the world, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the entire nation was feeling distraught and bereft, even though, outside of the world of TV, radio and the newspapers, that wasn’t really the case. Although the Queen’s most devoted supporters flocked to Buckingham Palace on Thursday evening, by Friday the crowds on the Mall — many of them tourists — didn’t seem to be caught up in a national mood of loss, but were, rather, milling about aimlessly, and by Saturday the usual weekend pursuits — shopping, eating and drinking — were back in place as though nothing had happened. Cycling around the West End, I didn’t see anyone draped in the Union Jack, and I didn’t hear anyone, in the snatches of conversation you hear while cycling around, mention the Queen at all, or look like the were suffering any great sense of loss.
In fact, the only visible signs of the Queen’s death involved the vast network of extreme lucrative electronic billboards — from Piccadilly Circus to the thousands of bus stops up and down the country — whose owners stopped all advertising to show images of the Queen instead — but this only lasted until Sunday, when they reverted once more to their paid advertisers.
The only areas of the economy that actually shut down at the weekend were events that might be described as involving “collective fun” — football matches and sporting events, for example, and long-planned festivals.
Similarly — if not necessarily out of respect, but for fear of a backlash in a country in which right-wing newspapers, in particular, exercise such a baleful influence — striking workers cancelled their strikes planned for the mourning period, and the activists of Extinction Rebellion postponed their Autumn Rebellion in the capital, which was supposed to begin with mass street painting on the Friday, and a Festival of Resistance in Hyde Park from September 10-12 (although it has now been rescheduled for October 14-16). Conferences — of the TUC and the Liberal Democrats — were either postponed or cancelled (the TUC conference has been rescheduled for October 18-20, while the Lib Dem conference won’t be back until 2023), but otherwise, as I noted above, after whatever period of sadness and reflection seemed appropriate to people on an individual basis, they continued to get on with their lives.
Sorrow and reflection on an individual basis strike me as appropriate responses to the death of the Queen, but it’s another step entirely to suggest, as the voices of the establishment have been doing relentlessly, that we should all be in a period of protracted mourning, and that we are all dealing with our grief at the Queen’s passing. Is grief something that ordinary people actually feel about the demise of a figurehead, or does it actually require investment in the Queen’s role that exceeds what ought to be expected?
Personally, I think it’s the latter. I don’t dispute the fact that many of Her Majesty’s subjects are upset, and that, for some of them at least, the loss of the Queen may even be equivalent to the loss of a loved one within their own families, but I’m wary of normalising what seems to me to be a universal call for an exaggerated response to the loss of the nation’s hereditary figurehead, however admired she may have been — and in this I know I’m not alone.
For many of us watching this prolonged period of mourning unfold, it has been disconcerting to hear so many influential individuals and household names queuing up to praise her as though she was the greatest human being who ever lived, and, as a journalist, it has been particularly disturbing to see broadcasters and print journalists reinforcing this notion, queuing up to praise her in the most lavish manner possible.
Yes, she was charismatic, and yes, she got on well with people and was able to connect with them, but all the talk of her unprecedented ‘sacrifice’ and’ service’ ignores that fact that that was her job, as the unelected, hereditary head of state. It is appropriate to recognise that she did it well, but inappropriate to suggest that doing that job well was something extraordinary and unprecedented in and of itself.
In addition, the Queen was not just providing a role as the figurehead of the nation; she was also protecting her own family’s interests, as the head of what her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, referred to as “the Firm.” To suggest this is probably seen by many as treasonous, but it is undoubtedly true. Since 1649, when King Charles I was executed, after Parliament found him guilty of attempting to “uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people”, and since 1689, when a restored monarchy was again toppled, and a Bill of Rights introduced that formally “established the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown”, the monarchy has, in terms of power, been entirely subservient to Parliament.
As a British Library article about the UK’s frustratingly unwritten constitution explains, “In legal theory, the Queen has absolute and judicially unchallengeable power to refuse her assent to a Bill passed by the two Houses of Parliament. However, convention dictates the precise opposite and in practice she automatically gives her assent to any government Bill that has been duly passed and agreed by Parliament.”
As a result, it is easy to see how people can think of the monarch as someone essentially trapped in a gilded cage, but that underestimates now successive monarchs, including the Queen, have managed that relationship, not only to benefit themselves, and to ensure their continued existence, but also though a symbiotic relationship between themselves and the interests of the establishment — and this has taken place not just at home, but also abroad, in the remnants of Empire, which during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, involved strenuous efforts to reimagine the Empire as a Commonwealth of Nations instead.
The Royal finances
On the former point — the Queen’s preservation of the Royal Family — an insanely complicated situation has evolved over the centuries since the Bill of Rights (and the Union with Scotland in 1707), in which the monarch, and their immediate family, occupy a number of Royal residences (Buckingham Place and Windsor Castle, for example) as part of their constitutional role as the head of state, although some properties (Balmoral and Sandringham, for example) are owned outright.
The Royal Family also owns two private estates — the Duchy of Lancaster, valued at £652.8 million in March this year, and the Duchy of Cornwall, valued at £1 billion. The former, established in 1399, includes 44,478 acres of land in England and Wales, “the majority of which is in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Lincolnshire”, as the Guardian explained on September 14, and includes “farms, homes and commercial properties.” The Duchy “also has assets including shops, offices and commercial buildings, many of which are in the Savoy area of central London, alongside some financial investments and homes.” In addition, the Duchy “owns limestone and sandstone quarries stretching from south Wales to North Yorkshire, which supply material to the UK’s construction industry”, and “has rights to the foreshore from the midpoint of the River Mersey to Barrow-in-Furness.” Last year, the Queen received £24 million from the estate.
The Duchy of Cornwall, owned by the Prince of Wales, includes over 128,000 acres of land “across 20 counties in England and Wales, stretching from Devon to Kent, and Nottinghamshire to Carmarthenshire”, as the Guardian also explained, adding, “Much of the estate comprises farmland, but it also includes homes and commercial properties, forests, rivers and coastline, as well as the Oval cricket ground in central London and Dartmoor prison.” Last year, Prince Charles received £21 million from the estate.
The Queen also received other income, the extent of which is undisclosed, from private investments, and from various trusts, and the monarch also receives a Sovereign Grant, totalling £86.3 million for 2021-22, which “funds official travel, property maintenance and the operating costs of The Queen’s household, and an additional dedicated amount for Reservicing” (maintenance and repairs).
The Sovereign Grant is paid out of the profits of the Crown Estate, whose value was estimated at £15.6 billion in its annual accounts, released in June. The Crown Estate’s holdings, as the Guardian described it, “include sizeable chunks of central London — the monarch is one of the largest property owners in the West End, including St. James and Regent Street — as well as farmland, offices and retail parks from Southampton to Newcastle.” In addition, “the monarch owns the seabed and half the foreshore around large parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, an asset that has become increasingly lucrative since the North Sea oil boom and, more recently, auctions of plots for offshore windfarms.”
However, although “[t]he monarch’s ownership of the land comprising the estate dates back as far as 1066 and the Norman conquest of Britain”, since 1760, under King George III, its income has been “surrendered to the government” in exchange for the fixed annual payment to cover the monarch’s costs, which is now known as the Sovereign Grant. Notably, however, the Sovereign Grant doesn’t cover the cost of security for the Royal Family, which is not publicly disclosed, although it has been estimated that it could be up to £100 million a year.
All of the above rather undermines the notion that the Royal Family is some kind of passive recipient of public funds, clearly demonstrating that they are a weird kind of public/private hybrid, in which their own survival, as the country’s top aristocrats, is a constant. However, what is even more disturbing about the monarchy is their involvement in business and politics, and, in particular, their involvement in international trade and their maintenance of support for the UK in the former colonies of the Empire.
The arms trade
Amongst their other roles, the British monarch is the head of the British Armed Forces, a situation that may appear uncontentious in and of itself, but that becomes much murkier when it comes to representing British interests abroad. A particularly troubling example involves the disgraced Prince Andrew, who resigned from all of his public roles in May 2020, and was stripped of his ”military affiliations and Royal patronages” in January this year as part of a long-running scandal involving his friendship with the paedophile and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and allegations that he had sex with a 17-year old, Virginia Giuffre, who was a victim of sex trafficking by Epstein, for which he agreed an out of court settlement of £12 million in February.
Long before this scandal hit, from 2001 to 2011, Prince Andrew replaced the Duke of Kent as the UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment for UK Trade & Investment (now the Department of International Trade), which “involved him promoting UK business internationally, marketing the UK to potential inward investors, and building relationships in support of UK business interests”, as the BBC explained. Caught up in complaints about his relationships with dubious individuals in the Middle East, and with the Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev, he was criticised by Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) on Channel 4 News in March 2011 as “the front man” for UKTI’s obsession with the arms trade. As Stearman explained, “At the London office of UKTI the arms sector has more staff than all the others put together. We are concerned that Prince Andrew is used to sell arms, and where you sell arms it is likely to be to despotic regimes. He is the cheerleader in chief for the arms industry, shaking hands and paving the way for the salesmen.”
While no one else has been as mired in scandal as Andrew, it’s noteworthy that other prominent Royals have also been involved in foreign visits that can be seen to have helped British trade with contentious regimes. In 2014, for example, Prince Charles visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain, revisiting Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, as well as Jordan, in 2015, visiting the UAE and Bahrain again in 2016, and Jordan and Egypt in 2021. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have been significant purchasers of UK arms over the last ten years.
Whitewashing the crimes of Empire
More complicated than these foreign visits is the Royal Family’s relationship with the decline of the British Empire and its legacy. Queen Elizabeth inherited the throne as the empire was collapsing, but, as everyone who lived through her reign knows, she undertook numerous visits, throughout her reign, to the countries that made up the Commonwealth, the sanitised replacement for the blood-soaked Empire.
Nations always tell lies about their history, and the case of the British Empire the lie is that “our” empire — the biggest and most far-reaching in the world — was better than all the others. This is patently untrue, as Caroline Elkins, a historian at Harvard University, demonstrated in her book Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire, published in March this year. As Sunil Khilnani explained in ‘The British Empire Was Much Worse Than You Realize’, a review of Elkins’ book for the New Yorker, “In the twentieth century’s hierarchy of state-sponsored violence, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Hirohito’s Japan typically take top spots. The actions of a few European empires have invited harsh scrutiny, too — Belgium’s conduct in Congo, France’s in Algeria, and Portugal’s in Angola and Mozambique.” Khulnani added, “Britain is rarely seen as among the worst offenders”, because it was “the sole imperial power that remained a liberal democracy throughout the twentieth century” and it “claimed to be distinct from Europe’s colonial powers in its commitment to bringing rule of law, enlightened principles, and social progress to its colonies”, but as Elkins contends, “Britain’s use of systematic violence was no better than that of its rivals. The British were simply more skilled at hiding it.”
For Elkins, countering the official narrative of the ‘benevolent’ empire involves remembering “the practice of blowing Indian sepoys from cannons after the 1857 uprising, the Maxim-gun slaughter of Mahdists [in Sudan] in the eighteen-nineties, the use of concentration camps in the Boer wars, the massacre of peaceful protesters in Amritsar, [and] reprisal killings and the sacking of civilian property in Ireland”, but also in realising that these events were “just the British Empire warming up.”
In Palestine, in the late 1930s, earlier techniques coalesced into new horrors. As Khilnani explains, “From Ireland had come paramilitary techniques and the use of armored cars; from Mesopotamia, expertise in aerial bombing and the strafing of villages; from South Africa, the use of Dobermans for tracking and attacking suspects; from India, interrogation methods and the systematic use of solitary confinement; and, from the Raj’s North-West Frontier, the use of human shields to clear land mines.” With new tactics added — “night raids on suspect communities, oil-soaked sand stuffed down native throats, open-air cages for holding villagers, mass demolitions of houses” — the British military “were gaining skills that were put to use when they were later dispatched to Aden (in the south of present-day Yemen), to the Gold Coast, to Northern Rhodesia, to Kenya, and to Cyprus.”
Some of the worst atrocities took place after Elizabeth became Queen — in the 1950s, when the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya was opposed by “a British strategy of detention, beatings, starvation, torture, forced hard labor, rape, and castration”, and when “[m]ore than a million men, women, and children were forced into barbed-wire village compounds and concentration camps for reëducation in circumstances that the colony’s attorney general at the time called ‘distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.’”
Similar atrocities took place in Malaya, and although there is no evidence that Queen Elizabeth II was briefed about what was happening, her role as a figurehead, visiting the countries of the Commonwealth, helped to hide the truth, and to present, instead, a notion of the Commonwealth as “an alliance of nations led by the British ruler that embraced a view of itself as ‘a vehicle for the rule of law, economic development, and human rights’”, as the Harvard Gazette explained in a profile of history professor Maya Jasanoff two days ago. “The royals were trotted out as ceremonial figures at what appeared to be peaceful transfers of power”, Jasanoff said, “but, behind the scenes, the transfers were anything but peaceful in a number of places and anything but willing on the part of the British.”
Reaction to the British establishment’s refusal to address its crimes, and the ways in which the Queen, “riding an elephant or greeting colorful, traditionally clad subjects”, as the Harvard Gazette described it, successfully created a credible notion of a happy Commonwealth of Nations, largely depends on whether those looking at it represent the coloniser or the colonised. For many white British people, the Queen embodied the illusion of Britain’s exceptionalism and greatness, an illusion that, as can be seen in the way that those who voted for Britain to leave the EU cannot recognise that it has been a disaster on every level, is difficult to shift, as it involves recognising that we were never ‘great’, and that our exceptionalism may only have involved rapacious greed, sadism and almost unthinkable violence.
The colonised, meanwhile, are increasingly voicing their objections to the ongoing whitewash of Britain’s imperial and post-imperial crimes, and the ways in which the sunny notion of a Commonwealth of Nations, cultivated so assiduously by the Queen, is actually insulting. As Nalini Mohabir, an associate professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment at Concordia University in Montreal, explained an article for the Guardian this week, “For the people of formerly colonised countries, the monarchy is not a neutral institution. It is the embodiment of imperial legacies that benefited Britain at the expense of its colonies, and played an active role in the slave trade. Queen Elizabeth I financially backed slave-trading voyages, and by the 17th-century King Charles II granted royal approval to the Company of Adventurers of London Trading to the Ports of Africa, marking the moment at which transatlantic slavery officially began.”
In the Caribbean, as Mohabir proceeded to explain, “Barbados recently made the landmark decision to free itself of imperial bonds by removing the Queen as head of state. Following the Queen’s death, other Caribbean countries may follow suit. The Caribbean is still undergoing the process of decolonisation; many countries are dealing with the open wounds inflicted by colonial conquest and resource extraction. They are shifting from being smaller nations within a neocolonial world that required they remain members of the Commonwealth, to becoming protagonists that are actively unsettling the legacies of empire through calls for reparations.”
As she added, “Across the Caribbean, countries such as Jamaica, the Bahamas and Belize are calling for reparations”, demands that “were only accelerated after the disastrous visit of Prince William and Kate earlier this year”, when, wearing white, they were photographed in an open-top Land Rover at a military parade, as though it was still 1952, and not 2022. “Such reparations”, Mohabir continued, “would mean not just an apology, but distributive justice between so-called developed and developing countries. Integral to reparations is the idea of repairing unequal, one-sided relationships.”
An uncertain future for the monarchy, as remembering the Queen cynically morphs into a celebration of the new king
As for the the ten days of mourning, still ongoing, in which, as the country splits between those who remain devoted to the Queen (many of whom are queuing for many hours to pay tribute to her at her coffin, currently on display in Westminster Hall) and those who can no longer bear to even turn on their TVs, it is valid to wonder what is next for the monarchy. Many of us were surprised when, in an age where those in prominent positions have to go through a democratic process to get there (however broken that system may be, and however disgraceful those leaders may be), Prince Charles immediately, automatically became King Charles III when his mother died.
Despite this jarring reality, for the first few days after the Queen’s death the focus largely remained entirely focused on her, but by Saturday, when Charles was officially declared king, a second narrative emerged, that of his Accession, which, as the BBC helpfully explained, took place at St. James’s Palace, “in front of a ceremonial body known as the Accession Council”, which is “made up of members of the Privy Council — a group of senior MPs, past and present, and peers — as well as some senior civil servants, Commonwealth high commissioners, and the Lord Mayor of London.”
As the BBC article proceeded to explain, “After a fanfare of trumpeters, a public proclamation will be made declaring Charles as the new King … from a balcony above Friary Court in St. James’s Palace, by an official known as the Garter King of Arms. He will call: ‘God save the King’, and for the first time since 1952, the national anthem will be played with the words ‘God Save the King.’ Gun salutes will be fired in Hyde Park, the Tower of London and from naval ships, and the proclamation announcing Charles as the King will be read in in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.”
That afternoon, Prince Charles was also “proclaimed King outside the Royal Exchange” in the City of London, as the Evening Standard explained, where “[t]he second reading of the Accession Proclamation was met with applause and cheers of ‘God save the King.’” I happened to be cycling through the City at the time, and I heard the crowd chanting ’God save the King’, while wondering if I had entered some kind of time warp and was back in 1901. Perhaps that feeling wasn’t entirely coincidental, because, as Sam Knight explained in his article about ‘Operation London Bridge’, “What we think of as the ancient rituals of the monarchy were mainly crafted in the late 19th century, towards the end of Victoria’s reign”, on the basis that, “If the crown was going to give up its executive authority, it would have to inspire loyalty and awe by other means — and theatre was part of the answer.”
In this fantasy land of spectacle, conjured up at the height of Empire, the new king visits Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while the Queen’s coffin, moved from Balmoral, where she died, to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, has now made its way to Westminster Hall, where those wishing to pay tribute to her are queuing for miles. As the Metro newspaper explained, until Sunday, “Her Majesty will lie-in-state, resting on a raised platform — known as a catafalque — in the middle of Westminster Hall”, where her coffin is “topped with the Imperial State Crown, orb, and sceptre.”
With the end of this prolonged and elaborate pageantry now in sight — the funeral of the Queen on Monday — it is surely time to reflect on the extent to which this entire period of mourning has been for the Queen, and how much, as I asked at the beginning of this article, it has actually involved a supposedly seamless transition to the reign of King Charles III. In Sam Bright’s article five years ago, one passage that leapt out at me involved his explanation of how the point of this entire ten-day period is not just to honour the Queen; it is also to secure the succession. As he explained, the British Royal Family is “the last European royal family to practise coronations and to persist — with the complicity of a willing public — in the magic of the whole enterprise. That is why the planning for the Queen’s death and its ceremonial aftermath is so extensive. Succession is part of the job. It is an opportunity for order to be affirmed.”
Or, as one of Prince Charles’ advisors explained, “There are really two things happening. There is the demise of a sovereign and then there is the making of a king.”
If we have been ambushed by this second “thing”, it is no doubt because the Queen reigned for so long, and because, in Sam Bright’s words, “the death of a British monarch, and the accession of a new head of state, is a ritual that is passing out of living memory: three of the Queen’s last four prime ministers were born after she came to the throne.”
So where do we stand with the reality of this new king, and, indeed, with the future of the monarchy? In recent polling, while the Queen was liked by 81% of respondents, Charles was liked by just 42%, with 24% disliking him, and 30% neutral. New polls, conducted in recent days, indicate that 63% of respondents now “think he will do a good job”, but will that popularity last?
The monarchy itself, noticeably, is less popular than the Queen, with 62% supporting it at the time of the Platinum Jubilee, down from 73% in 2012, and with 22% of respondents wanting Britain to become a republic.
Time will tell if the new king will continue to be liked, but it is already noticeable that he lacks his mother’s equilibrium and her apparently easy way with people, as he has already been seen (and videoed) getting irritated with a courier — and with a leaky pen. More troubling, for the monarchy itself, is the presence of Prince Andrew, who was ill-advisedly allowed to walk through Edinburgh with the rest of the family (prompting a principled young man to heckle him, and to subsequently get arrested), and who, as a counsellor of state, is “effectively an official stand-in for when the monarch is unable to perform duties.”
Just as significantly, dissent is building up as a result of the heavy-handed policing of people protesting about Charles’ accession, with a young woman arrested in Edinburgh for holding up a placard that read ‘F*ck Imperialism, Abolish Monarchy’, and a young man in Oxford arrested for saying, “Who elected him?”, with reference to King Charles, as he walked past an accession ceremony after leaving a church. Outside the Houses of Parliament, meanwhile, a young woman was moved on by police for holding a sign that read ‘Not My King”, and, in response, Paul Powlesland, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, held up a blank piece of paper outside Parliament, and was told by a policeman that he risked being arrested if he wrote ‘Not My King’ on it.
To be fair to the police, few people seem to have noticed that, although we are generally allowed to protest non-violently without fear of arrest (outside 10 Downing Street, or outside Parliament, for example), Royal occasions have always been off-limits for protest. As Emily Apple, at the Network for Police Monitoring, explained to the Big Issue, “While the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act will make arrests at protests more likely, the police have a long history of abusing the powers they already have — especially in relation to royal events.”
As the Big Issue proceeded to explain, in 2011, “protesters dressed as zombies were arrested during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate. Police justified the arrest as pre-emptive, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling eight years later that there had been no breach of their right to liberty.” At the same time, “Another protester singing his version of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, reworked as ‘we all live in a fascist regime’, was handcuffed and arrested in Soho Square, not far from where the couple were exchanging their wedding vows”, and in 2002, “during the Golden Jubilee, a group of 23 anti-monarchy activists staging a protest in Tower Hill with the banner ‘execute the Queen’ were arrested”, although they “subsequently received £80,000 in damages from police after the group sued and the force agreed an out of court settlement.”
What’s noticeable now, however, is that, while not protesting about the Queen had largely become something of convention, with even persistent protestors like the anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray absent from Whitehall when they took place, King Charles III has no history of deference to draw on to justify the suppression of any kind of protest, highlighting how, as so often, exceptions were made for his mother because of her apparently hallowed status.
Although I found the Queen likeable, I never forgot what she represented, and I can see no reason for the monarchy to continue in its current state, as exemplified by the bloated pantomime of the last week. I fully declare myself to be a republican, and will be interested to see if a movement can grow that, if not able to abolish the monarchy, can at least shrink it to something of a less preposterous size and with considerably less influence and showiness. It has been particularly dispiriting, this last week, to see all this glitzy pomp and ritual taking place against a backdrop of severe economic collapse, under an uncaring and already dysfunctional new government, led by Liz Truss, that doesn’t really care that millions of people are being pushed into worse poverty than they have ever experienced in their lifetimes.
The Queen is dead. The King is Not My King. Let’s see if we can do things differently, and more equitably, shall we? As a courtier explained to Sam Bright five years ago, “It’s history. It will be 10 days of sorrow and spectacle in which, rather like the dazzling mirror of the monarchy itself, we will revel in who we were and avoid the question of what we have become.”
It’s time to wake up and decide who we are.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
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