Since the sad news of Elizabeth Windsor’s death earlier today, I have received a number of tweets telling me that “now is not the time” to expess opposition to monarchy.
These messages are missing a fundamental point about the difference between mourning an individual and celebrating a system.
Today, Charles Windsor has been declared to be the head of state of millions of people who have had no say in the matter. And I have been told that “now is not the time” to challenge this. Surely the most important time to object that an unelected head of state is being imposed on us is the time when an unelected head of state is being imposed on us.
Focusing on the UK (rather than all the other countries of which Charles Windsor now claims to be king), many will argue that most people support the monarchy and will be happy to have Charles as head of state. Thus an undemocratic institution is defended on the grounds of majority support. If these people are so sure that Charles has the support of the majority, why do they object to his name appearing on a ballot paper or him being subjected to democratic scrutiny?
Two days ago, Liz Truss became Prime Minister based on the votes of a tiny percentage of the British population who happen to be members of the Conservative Party. Two days after a largely unelected Prime Minister taking office, we have an unelected head of state imposed as well. The fact that his mother was also unelected does not make his appointment any more acceptable.
This is exactly the time when the media should be full of discussion about the rights and wrongs of Charles Windsor becoming king. Instead, we can expect wall-to-wall repetitive royalist coverage from the BBC and most daily newspapers for at least the next several days. Liz Truss’ government will be almost devoid of meaningful media scrutiny in their first few days and weeks in office, which is seriously alarming and dangerous for democracy.
Mourning or subservience?
The wall-to-wall royal coverage we are already experiencing seems to have less to do with mourning than with subservience. The excessive public devotions and uncritical reporting whip up anachonristic ideas of loyalty and servility to a particular wealthy family based on an accident of birth and heredity, and the fact that their ancestors were successful in violently seizing power. This in turn entrenches and perpetuates inequality, promoting the idea that it is normal, natural and honourable for one person to bow down to another.
This was made clear by one particular shocking piece of BBC coverage this afternoon, before Elizabeth Windsor’s death had even been announced. BBC presenter Clive Myrie, referring to Parliament’s debate on energy bills, said it was “insignificant now given the gravity of the situation we seem to be experiencing with Her Majesty”. He placed such strong emphasis on the word “insignificant” that his colleague Damian Grammaticas said, “Well, certainly overshadowed” – apparently correcting Myrie’ language.
How can the death of Elizabeth Windsor make the energy crisis insignificant? Thousands of people are likely to die from the cold. Are their lives and deaths now insigificant because of the death of one particular person? They can be insignificant only if one person’s life is worth more than another’s – indeed, worth more than thousands of others. The existience of monarchy and the coverage of it are a celebration and promotion of inequality, a call to put aside the life-and-death concerns of working class people in favour of an excessive and subservient focus on the Windsor family. Nothing could illustrate this more than the bizarre decision of the CWU and RMT unions to call off strikes that are about vital and desperate cost-of-living concerns.
Now is the time to resist
Of course Elizabeth Windsor’s death is sad. It would be crass and unpleasant to suggest otherwise. Of course her family, friends and admirers want to mourn. Of course there will be a lot of media coverage. This is different from wall-to-wall, highly biased coverage that fails to address difficult issues, promotes subservience and portrays poverty and energy bills as trivial issues by comparison.
Even more importantly, it is no justification for imposing another unelected head of state on us and expecting us to be loyal to him. One person who tweeted me today told me that I should not be attacking a “grieving son”. I strongly support and respect Charles’ right to grieve for his mother. But the fact that Charles is grieving does not give him a right to claim to be our head of state.
When an injustice is taking place, it is ludicrous and dangerous to suggest that it is “not the time” to talk about it.