I wrote this article for the ‘i’ newpaper, who published it today.
The death of a monarch who had been in the job for 70 years is surely the right time to ask major questions about whether to continue with monarchy. Such discussions are being squashed at the time when they are most needed.
Voices critical of the monarchy are rarely heard on air. Parliament has not debated the future of the monarchy or the acceptance of Charles as head of state. Anti-monarchy protestors have been arrested on spurious grounds.
The Windsor family’s advisers may hope that public sadness about Elizabeth’s death can simply be turned into enthusiasm for Charles. Perhaps they hope that they can rush ahead to the coronation without us really noticing that a new head of state has been declared with no public debate. This would insult our intelligence.
Now is a crucial moment, in the run-up to Charles’ coronation, to raise and debate vital questions about power, wealth and equality. The cost-of-living crisis is a reminder of how far the very wealthy are removed from the realities that the rest of us face. While seven percent of the population who attend fee-paying schools are vastly over-represented among MPs, judges and newspaper editors, the need to tackle such a clearly unfair situation is not even a major debate in British politics. Protests at Charles’ coronation must be about championing the equal value of all people.
Since my arrest in Oxford for objecting to the proclamation of Charles as king, I have been even more determined to join the protests when he is crowned. There are rumours the coronation will take place in the spring. I suspect the organisers will not want to wait too long, hoping that grief for the previous monarch will lead people to suppress doubts about her successor.
Groups such as Republic are planning to demonstrate at the coronation. We can expect demonstrations in local communities around the UK at the same time.
We are likely to face many attempts to stop us protesting. New laws such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act are restricting our freedom to speak out, but police have always been draconian when it comes to resistance to royalty. During the royal wedding in 2011, peaceful protesters arrested by the police included five people who were ordering coffee in Starbuck’s after leaving a small-scale demonstration.
For royalists, British history is about kings and battles. Supporters of the status quo have accused me of “ignoring British history”. They are missing the point. The inspiring struggles of Levellers, Chartists and Suffragists – ordinary people standing up for justice – are as much part of British history as the monarchs and militaries who tried to suppress them.
We have our rights not because the rich and powerful handed them down to us, but because our ancestors campaigned and struggled for them. If we are to speak out against monarchy, militarism and inequality, we need to champion not the history of British rulers, but of British resistance.
Preparations for the coronation have got off to a shaky start. The organiser – Edward Fitzalan-Howard, Duke of Norfolk – has just been banned from driving. He cut across a police car to drive through a red light while speaking on his mobile phone. Magistrates rejected his argument that he should be allowed to drive at a “crucial point in the history of this nation”.
But there is no chance of Fitzalan-Howard being sacked from his role as coronation-organiser. He has inherited the job of Earl Marshal, which involves overseeing royal events. Just as Charles Windsor is an hereditary head of state, Edward Fitzalan-Howard is an hereditary events manager.
This won’t be the last time in the run-up to the coronation that the sheer strangeness of hereditary privilege is on embarrassing display.
Monarchy means having the next person in line regardless of who they are or what they have done. In the days after her death, many people praised Elizabeth’s dedication and sense of service. But her possession of such qualities is not an argument for monarchy. It is exactly the opposite. If we have a monarch who is good at the job and has values that we share, this is simply down to luck. If the militant Welsh nationalists who tried to assassinate Charles in 1969 had been successful, we would now likely be preparing for the coronation of King Andrew.
Of course, monarchs have considerably less power than they did 400 years ago. My main problem with monarchy is that it sets the tone for other aspects of life. In a healthy society we would find it demeaning to be expected to bow down to someone and call him “your majesty” because of who his ancestors were. Such behaviour can only appear normal in a society that upholds and celebrates inequality.
Democracy can only be partial when the top role in society is hereditary. Here’s to the day when we have democratically run local communities and democratic control of workplaces. This can never happen if we remain as forelock-tugging subjects of a king, but only if we live as equal citizens, respecting each other as equals and confident of our place in the world.