In recent years, polls have put support for abolition of the monarchy as high as 43 per cent, and one 2002 poll found that 70% believed Britain would be a republic within 50 years.
A majority still accepts the monarchy as harmless, or a boost to the tourist trade, or “a bit of fun”. But we have moved on a lot from the days — as recent as the early 1970s — when cinemas would play “God Save The Queen” at the end of every programme, and the audience was expected to stand.
The Windsor-Middleton wedding on 29 April will be used by the Government to try to distract people from the grimness of the cuts, and by the ruling class more generally to build up William Windsor as a “nice young man” whose arrival as king, possibly soon, can revive the monarchy.
This is not harmless. The monarchy is objectionable not only as a blatant celebration of inequality and privilege, but politically.
The Queen, not Parliament, chooses the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister chooses the government, and thus “buys” himself or herself a “payroll vote”.
This gives the monarchy huge power. Do not be misled by the fact that the monarchy usually limits itself to show-business. The ruling class keeps the monarchy out of ordinary politics the better to have it in reserve for extraordinary politics.
In 1975, the Queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General John Kerr, sacked that country’s reforming Labor government on the pretext of its difficulties in getting its Budget approved by the upper house of Parliament. Kerr installed the Tory opposition to rule instead, called a general election, rode out a big wave of protest strikes, and saw the exultant Tories win the election.
The Queen, or a future King William, could do the same in a political crisis in Britain.
Or if the trade unions should come to reassert control over the Labour Party, and a left Labour majority which the ruling class saw as dangerous were elected to Parliament, the Queen or King William could choose a Labour right-winger for prime minister and through the “payroll” factor enable that prime minister to construct a majority from sections of Labour, Lib Dems, nationalists, and maybe some Tories, pleading the need for “consensus” and “national unity”.
Back in 1925, Leon Trotsky disputed the claim of the Labour Party leaders of that time that “the royal power does not interfere with the country’s progress”.
“The royal power is weak because the instrument of bourgeois rule is the bourgeois parliament, and because the bourgeoisie does not need any special activities outside of parliament. But in case of need, the bourgeoisie will make use of the royal power as a concentration of all non-parliamentary, i.e. real forces, aimed against the working class”.
In 1981, writing a book summing up lessons from 11 years as a Labour minister, Tony Benn asked what would happen “if a government elected by a clear majority on a mandate of reform were to introduce legislation to complete the process of democratic advance”.
“The Lords veto, the prerogative of the crown to dismiss and dissolve, and the loyalties of the courts and the services to adjudicate upon legitimacy and to enforce those judgements might all be used to defend the status quo against a parliamentary majority elected to transform it”.
The monarchy is a feebler reserve power than it used to be. Having decided that its traditional methods of self-promotion, deliberately developed by Disraeli and others in the years beginning with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, had become too old-fashioned to continue, from the early 1980s the monarchy tried the methods of showbiz - and fell foul of them.
With people such as Sarah Ferguson, “Duchess of York”, as its representatives, it looked seedy, bloated, and boring. Maybe, in time, large sections of the ruling class will decide they could do better with an elected president than with the wretched Windsor family. But for now most of them pin their hopes on William Windsor and Kate Middleton to restore the mystique.
The workers’ government which we need in order to rescind the cuts and establish a decent livelihood for all cannot come into existence without democracy and cannot sustain itself without extending democracy.
We need, first of all, freedom of action for the trade unions. We need a federal republic in which public decisions are taken by accountable, recallable representatives, subject to frequent election on a fair system of proportional representation.
We need freedom of public information and entrenched legal rights for all citizens. We need rights of guaranteed access to the means of mass publicity for all substantial and serious bodies of opinion, not only those with wealth.
We need to force the giant corporations and banks to open their books to working-class scrutiny.
Down with the monarchy! Up the republic!