More than £10 million will come straight out of the public purse to fund the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, along with millions more from private sponsors.
That’s money for pompous pageantry to celebrate an accident of birth, and an institution that more civilised countries than ours abolished centuries ago.
Even when they’re being rammed down our throat by the media and political establishment, there’s a temptation to dismiss the monarchy as an irritating quirk, a relic, but ultimately one that has no real grip on or connection to actual politics.
But the rogues’ gallery of despots that came together for the Queen’s Jubilee lunch shows how the British monarchy is still part of a network of reaction that includes people engaged in far worse crimes than the odd bigoted gaffe.
Mswati III, the King of Swaziland who, in 2000, proposed the branding and sterilisation of HIV-positive people as a response to the AIDS epidemic, and who spends tens of millions of dollars on private jets and Maybach cars while “his” people starve.
Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was there, a representative of the monarchy of Saudi Arabia which maintains theocratic gender apartheid.
The King of Bahrain attended, presumably on a day off from overseeing the murderous repression of the pro-democracy movement in that country.
The “King of Romania”, the “King of Bulgarians”, and the “King of the Hellenes” also came along for the day, even though Romania has been a republic since 1947, Bulgaria since 1946, and Greece since 1973.
The Queen’s Jubilee gives political legitimacy and cover not only to “monarchs” whose power and position has been abolished decades ago, but to currently-reigning despots and autocrats whose subjects would love the luxury of dismissing them as irrelevant hangovers from a bygone age.
The lengths to which the British state is now prepared to go to protect the monarchy, and its self-promoting public celebrations, from criticism was shown last year, when dozens of people were rounded up and arrested in a police operation based on pre-emptive political arrests.
Arrestees included 10 socialists and anarchist republicans, arrested to “prevent a potential breach of their peace” while committing the heinous crime of standing outside a train station... on the day of the Royal Wedding.
They, along with several other arrestees, commence a Judicial Review against the Metropolitan Police on Monday 28 May. If the Review finds the police’s actions to have been unlawful, republicans should press their advantage by organising the biggest possible republican presence at the Jubilee celebrations.
The “but-they-bring-in-tourist-money” argument for the continued existence of the monarchy hardly stands up to scrutiny when one looks 20 miles across the Channel to France, whose tourist industry does not appear to have suffered much since its monarchy was abolished for the last time in 1870. People still visit the Palace of Versailles even though it is uninhabited. Although Britain’s monarchy has not invoked its powers of royal veto and dismissal since 1975, when its representative in Australia dissolved a Labor Party government, the very existence of those powers — and of the monarchy itself — is an affront to democracy.
The monarchy is a financial drain, a political cover for violent reaction, and a reservoir of immense wealth and power obtained solely through accidents of birth.
Its abolition is not something to be put off until some revolutionary future, but a key democratic demand to be fought for now. We can start on Jubilee weekend.