Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Strange Return of Royal Reverence

If you're a republican like me, you're probably wondering how you will escape the wall-to-wall coverage attending the next nine months of the royal pregnancy. But as the BBC, party leaders, and royal well-wishers raised a toast to Kate 'n' Wills last night, I started wondering how this state of affairs came to be.

I can remember as a wee nipper my mum putting this up in the corner of my bedroom and taking my brother and I to a street party round the corner to celebrate the royal wedding. Happy days for royalty and their supporters. But 10 years or so later the House of Windsor was rocked by an unceasing succession of scandal. Remember Squidgygate? And yet, a further 10 years on, by the time of 2002's Golden Jubilee there was nary a dissenting voice raised against the monarchy. And 2010's Royal Wedding, this year's Diamond Jubilee and now the royal babe-to-be, any hint of anti-monarchical irreverence has been thoroughly expunged from the media and body politic.

As we have seen with celebrity culture, there has been an ever-irresistable trend toward irreverence. Celebrities are there to be loved, hated, mocked, praised, derided. They are tabloid fodder and, ultimately, can be exchanged for any other celebrity - regardless of talent (or lack thereof). But what is interesting is how, in many ways, the monarchy has swam against this tide of irreverence in recent years. How so?

Much of it has to do with media coverage and, particularly, press reporting. That changed forever on 31st August, 1997 with Diana's death. The genuine outpouring of public grief, which, in turn, was fed by unceasing wall-to-wall coverage for endless weeks also marked the last occasion the press turned on the Queen. She was pressured by them into flying the flag from Buckingham Palace at half mast. The family as a whole came in for criticism for "being cold" and, of course, there was that celebrated moment at Diana's funeral when Viscount Spencer used his eulogy to put the boot in. But if there ever was a widespread discontent with the monarchy, the occasion of Diana's death turned it all around.

Very quickly the press voluntarily accepted that William and Harry would be out of bounds until reaching adulthood. Remarkably, bar the odd hiccup the press kept a notable distance. In the mean time, the monarchy experienced the death of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother in quick succession. The latter, who commanded wide respect and affection, saw that - in the Golden Jubilee year - pass to the Queen. Just as the Queen Mother was once off-limits, so now became the Queen. Irreverence has passed into cap-doffing reverence.

William has been the primary beneficiary of the 'hands-off' attitude. As anyone who follows the papers knows, there was endless speculation about a relationship between him and Kate Middleton. But this was almost of the innocent 'will they, won't they' variety. For once, salaciousness took a hike. And then came the royal wedding, which was an opportunity for the couple to ascend the heights of media beatification. Therefore when the pap photos of Kate in the altogether surfaced in the summer, there was a tidal wave of hypocritical outrage from the tabloids (who wouldn't have thought twice about printing them had the subject not been royalty). The politicians and celebs joined in the condemnation. There was talk of legal action against the French publishers and implied threats against anyone who would print them here. Who could have imagined the same 20 years ago?

Harry has also benefited from the halo of invulnerability, to an extent. As someone doomed to forever be in his brother's shadow, he has seamlessly combined the roles of soldiering, charity do-gooding, boozing, and womanising. This summer's naked pics, which The Sun splashed on their front pages (thereby breaking the press's gentlemen's agreement), didn't actually do his reputation any harm at all. In fact, he was subtly positioned as yet another red-blooded bachelor. This is Harry as a lad, a bloke, a rogue straight out of the pages of Loaded at its peak. As an army grunt and party animal, he inspires reverence less than identification. Out of the lot of them, Harry is the one most like *us*.

So, thanks to clever marketing and the acquiescence of the press, the Queen stands at the pinnacle of the British state as an aloof figure. She is above politics and the mundane cares of everyday life. She has come to be seen as a dutiful public servant who, while clearly being separate and apart from ordinary people, takes her obligations to her subjects very seriously indeed. She is the rallying point, the eternal and undying social anchor that will not be dislodged. She is, to put no finer point on it, emblematic of stability and security.

Kate 'n' Wills are practically a single entity who now occupy the 'Diana space' in monarchical media positioning. They're young, safe, traditional, glamorous, friendly and photogenic. Provided no scandal attaches to either of the pair as it did with William's parents, it is very difficult to see how their child can't carry the monarchy into the 22nd century.

There is, however, one big problem. We need to talk about Charles.

Unlike his mother, who is wise enough never to say anything of substance publicly, or his sons who are as modern as a constitutional monarchy can be; Charles is different. He is an aristocrat of the old school, a behind-the-scenes meddler not afraid of using his inherited position to push his hobby horses. He is of an England of a bygone age and would have been well beyond his sell by date had he ascended the throne 30 years ago.

The BBC is sure to continue its forelock-tugging ways regardless, but everyone else will have a real difficulty warming to King Charles III. For all the careful work done rebranding the Windsors and strengthening a popular reverence towards them, a marmite monarch like Charles could undo everything. It is quite possible he could do the unthinkable and help bring along a genuinely popular republicanism. The esteem collecting about the House of Windsor could be just a temporary moment of stability before the wider irreverence catches up with them.

It almost makes royal-watching sound worthwhile.

26 comments:

Boffy said...

One good point. My son, who vehemently hates the Royals was talking to me about it the other day, and about the cost for us of bringing up yet another of their breed.

However, from a Marxist standpoint, of course, we won't. According to Marx's analysis, taxes proper only go to finance the administration of the State. The majority of taxes that workers pay, however, are not really taxes at all in the Marxist sense. They are payments for commodities like Health and Education provided by State Capitalism.

In short, all those things that are necessary for the reproduction of Labour Power, like Health and Education, are paid for out of the Wage Fund.

But, everything else that the State spends money on, which includes the Royal Family is paid for out of the pool of Surplus Value. That means that it is Capitalists not workers who will be bearing this extra cost out of their collective profits.

That's no doubt why rational Capitalists in the past chopped the heads off their parasitic Aristocracy.

Phil said...

He's planning to reign as King George VII. Name changes aren't unknown, but I think it'll be hard to make that one stick at his age.

I don't think anyone will take him or Queen Camilla seriously for a moment - and they could be on the throne for a good while, even if he's 70+ when he accedes; they make old bones in that family. But it won't do much damage to the institution - Kate'n'Wills will be more Charles-and-Di than Charles-and-Di were, what with her being around the same age as him and not second choice.

Loz said...

The other beneficiaries (and ultimately the victims) of the "hands-off the royals" behaviour by the national press following Diana are the endless streams of celebrities.

OK, I know there were famous people before 1997. But the obsession with celebrities only really exploded when the national press realised they could no longer fixate on every potential scandal involving the royals.

To put it another way, where they once hacked Prince Charles's phone, they were forced to back off so went on instead to hack Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church...why do we think Heat Magazine didn't exist before 1999?

The royals have carefully repositioned themselves as "hardworking" by doing a few charity holidays and palm-pressing engagements in the lap of luxury, whilst criticism of the excess and decadence that fame and notoriety brings is instead targeted at those willing vulgar charvers who have found fame.

Clever stuff when you think about it. The royals are about as untouchable now as they have ever been without really doing a single thing.

I think is an extraordinarily dangerous state of affairs. Unlike some of the left who like to make light of the continued existence of our bloated monarchy as if it holds no real role, I feel it remains the biggest obstacle to serious change in this country.

I agree Charles is a dead duck. But it is clear to me that the establishment are paving the way for a direct transition to King William.

Lest we forget all the soldiers, coppers and others swear not to the government, but to her majesty. I still contend that in a major coming crisis where the UK government is falling, the button would be pressed to revert direct control to the King/Queen.

Given that politicians are almost universally reviled, I can see the squaddies and rozzers welcoming direct orders from King William and Queen Kate.

The British monarchy is the ultimate safeguard for our existing rich and powerful to retain their status, wealth and power. It is their plan B. And we ignore that fact at our peril.

julaybib said...

I was in my teens when Charles and Di tied the knot, and spent the day off school carefully avoiding anything to do with it - I didn't watch TV all day. I've tried my best to do likewise ever since, but I'm now shacked up with someone who reads unmentionably hideous celebrity magazines, so I listen for her sake. Other than that, I say bollocks to the lot of 'em. No royal is out of bounds when it comes to piss taking, including Wanker William and Kate Vomitum. What I want to know is, will their baby be third in line to the throne if its intersex?

Gary Elsby said...

If ever we needed examples why the 'thinking left' is so isolated in the UK, then have another read of this bollocks you lot have justv written.

'As Republican....'

'The Royals stand in the way of real change...'

The only one who makes any real sense is Boffy, and that is only because my interpreter has gone off sick (morning sympathy sickness for Kate) and I don't undertstand any of it!

Look what you lot have done to the working classes now that you run your local Labour Party.

You turned on the working classes.
To put it more bluntly, you are to kick old people out of care homes.

Oh yes, I forgot, it's them capitalist pig dogs who are really doing it (Kate n Wills no doubt) and not your heoric former Elected Mayors and a few mistresses (yep) in the cabinet).

I don't think that you can comprehend the real reasoning behind the so-called rise of the new Royals.
My own children (similar in age to Kate n Wills) don't (didn't) know anything about Wills n Harry, due to their in-hiding status.

Upon release, they became media friendly and my own children suddenly took notice and started to follow their movements.

Just as Boffy and Loz obviously do to the nth degree and with a finite touch, may I add.

The world over this is happening, including the potential Republics of Canada and Austrailia (NO CHANCE).

To swap the golden goose of media hype and A* status for a Republican God (Ed Balls a shoo in) is something that would surely bring the axe out in many communities the UK over.

You know who would be axed and you know deep down that your inner suppressed Royal leanings offer nothing to the table of a Republican change.

Boffy, a suppressed Royalist if ever there was one, offers only humour.

Phil said...

I don't know if Gary writes what he writes because

a) He's the worst troll ever;

or

b) He believes his incoherent contributions are incisive, thought-provoking additions to the discussion.

Gary Elsby said...

sadly, Phil, it is you that has offered nothing to your own blog of Republicanism.
You only offered a piss-take of a very successful hereditary Monarchy that is growing in strength by the hour.
I offered a challenge that Republicans are fighting a lost cause in Austrailia and Canada.

It is you that offers not even a withering defence of republicanism and I even offer up a possible prime contender in Labour's number 2.

You offer nothing.
Are you upset because I return the serve and take the piss out of your 'thought provoking' blog(ers)?

Not only do you fight a lost cause (all round) but you offer up nothing for your own cause.

It's noted that 2 of the bloggers carry Royal names.
Bet that hurts.

Phil said...

I know critical thought and the ability to properly read what people have written is difficult for you, so let me break this post into baby chunks for you.

1. Republicanism has always been a minority movement. There is no evidence of a resurgence.

2. The popularity of the monarchy is on the rise.

3. There has been an identifiable shift in the media treatment of the royals that may have something to do with it.

4. The monarchy's current popularity rests on the Queen and the singular media entity of Kate 'n' Wills. And, to a lesser extent, the laddish larks of Harry.

5. The continued success of the monarchy might be threatened by Charles' ascension to the throne.

I've read and reread your contribution but cannot find a single word that disputes any of this.

Perhaps Gary you might want to convince the readers of this place, most of whom are socialists, how supporting the monarchy is in anyway compatible with a society based on widening democracy and economic equality?

Gary Elsby said...

Oh dear, isn't it interesting that when you put the squeeze on a 'socialist' (care home shutter of no protest)Republican, he actually comes out fighting and writes a completely seperate blog.
Amusing.

You will not convince anyone to the contrary,on this blog, on any blog, or in the wider arena that Labour members hold a vast majority as hereditary Monarchists.
Be they full supporters or quietly passive.

We can assume, with ease, that the wider public are no different.

To push the cause of democracy by erasing a hereditary Monarchy that the public generally support is therfore a useless undertaking.

To know that a new born is the third in-line actually does away with the endless campaigning tactics of the Presidential spin doctors who would keep us guessing.
'Is it Ed or is it John'?
(It's noted that republicans everywhere supported the Chief Constable and not the idea of John).

Does the Monarchy support open democracy and wider economic prosperity?
If it's a girl, you have the answer in one and the pottery industry is in full swing!

The biggest selling point that Republicans offer is that there is no absolute linage and on a Thursday I can vote for my choice, Ed, John or Boris, three super heavyweights.

Cromwell got it right.

Phil said...

But Gary, the post is a look at how support for the monarchy has strengthened and not a critique of it as such.

You really need to address your capacity of comprehending things lest anyone think you have a tenuous relationship to reality.

Gary Elsby said...

I knew the name Phillip would come good in the end.

You'll be throwing yourself in a puddle of water next so they can walk dryly over you.

Phil said...

I wish you'd take up blogging. Seeing you try to make a series of original, coherent contributions would be a novelty.

Chris said...

If it is true that the Royals are paid out of surplus value, and I am still trying to figure out the logic of that position, wouldn't it mean that, if we didn't have Royals capitalists could, in theory, pay that money to health and education etc? So the Royals are still a burden on workers.


Phil said...

There was some tongue-in-cheek on Boffy's part, I feel. Different bits of revenue aren't allocated to different parts of the state's spend.

Gary Elsby said...

Come on Phil, you made a bad job of piss taking the Royals and and equally, if worse, job of promoting Republicanism ("As a Republican..").

Face up to facts Phil, most of your causes are lost and it's sad to observe.
Royals, as you imply, are on the move. Canada hints at dropping alliegeance to the Monarch-send in Kate.
Austrailia will bail out, exclaims the temporary Prime Minister (Welsh)-send in Kate.

What a jolly wheeze.

It's noted that my views are somewhat 'wrong'.
Shut any care homes lately?
Just for the record, during a five minute conversation with a 'prominent' Labour member recently, I gave a plan B to shutting a care home.
Keep it open and fully fubd it as a vital public service.

Easy.

Phil said...

I've been making a mistake all these years. I've been for mistaken for thinking an argument is trying to free itself from Gary's burblings. There isn't. He doesn't know what he's arguing half the time.

Loz said...

Gary, why do your points on a blogpost about a national political always come back to your quite disturbing obsession with Stoke-City-Council politics?

Are you still upset at your failure to become a councillor?

Gary Elsby said...

Look what you have done to my City!
Look what you are doing to my City!

You said it was all my fault!

...i'm supposed to look up to other comments about other subjects as though you must be right at least some of the time?

You've not only ruined my City, you continue to kick old people around AND you've destroyed the Stoke Labour Party!

If you complained publicly, respect may be offered to you.

You remain silent because you are as one.

That is disturbing.
The hard left in collusion with the hard right.
Sickenening.

The subject matter on offer regarding the Royals is wide of the mark and is not to be taken seriously.

Phil said...

Gary, do tell us, what has Labour "done" to this city?

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, please forgive me if I've disturbed you from super mario supremacy.

Labour has chosen to be silent.
Oh, I forgot, Kate is worthy of noise.

Phil said...

Has it ever occurred to you Gary that people loyal to the idea of the Labour Party and the labour movement might raise their concerns in internal forums or by other means? I know the idea of discipline is an alien one to you, but you never really 'got' the labour movement, did you?

Gary Elsby said...

So where is the internal vote of no confidence in this Labour Group?

When is the Labour membership to hold its extra ordinary general meeting (across the whole City) to have another say and vote?

It is just plain ridiculous for you to suggest that the view of the membership is a secret, so secret, that it has to remain secret.
Just plain ridiculous.
Labour Group members are the political arm of the Party in Stoke.
They are not THE party.

Sorry to disturb you from super Mario.

BTW, please be ready to accept the biggest petition this City has ever seen.
It will have a clear message from us to you.
Remember also that I was around when Boffy and co used to kick off big style.
Bit different from you weasels toadying up to the Mayors.

Phil said...

Has it occurred to you Gary that the membership, in general, accept the programme of the council for want of an alternative? I suppose it hasn't.

You see Gary, I would take your opposition as something other than faux internet posturing if I had seen you involved in the various protest groups and movements against cuts I've participated in during my 17 or so years in the city. But I haven't seen you at a single campaign group meeting or demonstration. Not one.

Incidentally, when Boffy and others were going against group decisions in following a no cuts line it was your (erstwhile?) "true socialist" comrades that kicked them out. I'm sure you roundly condemned the action taken against them and waged a war of solidarity on Boffy's behalf at the time.

Gary Elsby said...

Discipline?
The Labour Group are bound by rules.
(Sandwell funds certain seats to obtain a winning majority but refuses to fund others)
You are not bound by those rules and do not suffer either discipline or a loyalty clause.
You are a member who can say what you like according to your conscience.
Opelnly promoting the Conservative Party as being the answer, would bring you into disrepute.
To openly bring into question the direction of a Council is not something that bothered either me or others, including MPs in the slightest.

If you are trading your conscience for a false sell of 'discipline' (or misguided loyalty) then you will certainly not go to Heavan.

You really didn't quite get why I supported Blair on this (and not that) while at the same time agreeing with this (but not that in Stoke).

It's called loyalty, but not blind loyalty.
Labour yes, but not at any price.
I'm proud of my conscience Phil, regardless of it being a hinderence to my political and Parliamentary career.
I put principle before personal gain.
You can have the Mayors and care home closures and a false sense of loyalty to their cause (although your hint of secret protestations doth speak of some credit within your toenail).
I will continue to support the values I've always held which gains gound.

Gary Elsby said...

Would it be fair then if you classed me as a loyal loyalist who was loyal to the Party and very loyal to Tony and Gordon?

Remind me again why I am the only expelled member of the Labour Party in Staffordshire serving a five year sentence?(resigned on radio 4 which startled London into sending a registered letter which makes them look stupid).

Those campaign protests you mention, did they include a few loons with a paste table on a street corner?

The last time I spoke to that assembled crowd was on the steps of Glebe street on election night.
Very noisy they were.
BNP this, BNP that, down with the BNP etc.......

I spoke.....
It went silent..........
I asked them........
Who votes to close care homes, the BNP or Labour?
silence.....
more silence.....
a lone voice at the back...
Labour!!!

I'd like to say that the crowd started to shout down with Labour, but they started to shout the ususal.
I failed.

Phil said...

Gary, as you resigned you cannot, by definition, be "expelled". The rest of your nonsense is the typical nonsense that has been challenged plenty of times, to which you reply with the usual bluster.

Do come back when you've changed the record.