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Despite everything, the royal circus endures

In a disastrous period for the British monarchy, where even its own members want out, public support for the institution remains solidly in the majority. Sadly, that shows no signs of changing, writes NICK WRIGHT

THE highly choreographed appearance of the future queen at the Sarah Everard vigil demonstrates that at least one pillar of our peculiar semi-feudal bourgeois state has its wits about it.

If this expedition was at her own initiative it displays a welcome sense of independence in breaching the unspoken protocols which govern the public appearances of the Royal Family. If not, it is a particularly hypocritical pretence in which her husband, our future king, is either complicit or if not, paradoxically an equally subversive enemy of convention.

The monarchy — which sits at the centre of the system of state power in Britain — has had a bad week or two as its collective family value systems and modes of behaviour are revealed to be a spectacularly bad fit for a year in which Black Lives Matter has compelled a radical examination of imperialism in the modern era and has tested the mechanisms for maintaining public order.

This disjuncture between the conventions which govern the public and private performance of the Royal Family and the values of society as a whole presents a recurring problem from which there is no escape — except, perhaps, by a collective act of abdication on its part or the adoption by our nation of a republican constitution.

Very little of what royalty does reaches the outside world unfiltered by media management but even so it is a disaster zone. The treatment of the earlier future-queen Diana was, aside from exposing a toxic misogyny at the heart of the Palace, a corporate public relations disaster.

This resulted in a drop in support for the monarchy in 2005 when the present heir to the throne married his mistress, with 22 per cent favouring a republic.

Such was the damage that the intervening decades have seen a major rebranding operation. Although hobbled by the persistence of the archaic rituals which surround its public role, this has been relatively successful.

It really is a very odd institution. That our present head of state has achieved a fair measure of immunity from public criticism goes only to demonstrate that this does not automatically transfer to her eldest and apparent heir. In the royal popularity stakes she comes in second behind her eldest grandson while her eldest son is seventh.

The incorrigible nature of her consort’s unreflective racism, nostalgia for his adopted empire and routine misogyny is tolerated only because his misanthropy is applied without discrimination. Bizarrely, this equal opportunities bigot remains the fifth most popular royal with a 49 per cent approval rating against 29 per cent with a negative view.

It would be too much to expect that his dynastic marriage — contracted, if not for reasons of state, in conformity with them — would provide an ideal model for the 20th century or a workable example for successive generations.

In the year that Phillip Glucksburg, a prince of both Greece and Denmark, started his courtship of the 13-year-old Elizabeth he joined the Royal Navy. The year 1939 was a good year for the transplanted princeling to sign up in service of the British empire.

The impending conflict between imperial Britain and Germany was a threat to the closely interlocked royal families of Europe. At the time it must have seemed a particularly adroit move for his sisters to marry to German princes. At a point at which the British establishment and the Foreign Office were conspiring to engineer an alliance with Hitler against the Soviet Union this must have appeared to the family to be double indemnity.

For the Royal Family the consequence of the Anglo/Soviet/US victory was that his sisters were unwelcome at the postwar wedding of their recently naturalised and now British brother. The wartime service of their husbands as high functionaries of the Nazi state and its secret police was too embarrassing a signifier of ruling-class corporate identity.

We can think of this as an early public relations challenge and a prototypical example of reputational damage. Not to discount, however, the precedent set by the Nazi sympathies and wartime betrayals of the Queen’s uncle and his equally reactionary US consort.

The poet Philip Larkin might have had in mind the Royal Family when he wrote: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

It requires a heart of stone not to be moved by the pressures exerted on the two brother princes both before their mother’s death and since — and we can only wonder at the effect of the traumas they endured.

After this fraught childhood and adolescence Harry spent a full decade in the army.

A decade after Diana’s spectacular demise, the youthful Captain Harry Windsor was blooded in the imperial war on Afghanistan. This entailed a state conspiracy in which the MOD’s press supremo organised a voluntary vow of media silence from a servile press.

“There’s no way I’m going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country,” he said in 2007.

The ways in which the children of monarchs and heirs to the throne are socialised is a guarantee that become adult humans with very little in common with their subjects. Unbundle that and we find someone spectacularly out of touch with a generation that marched in its millions against imperialist war.

During his deployment in Afghanistan he was a forward air controller deploying air strikes against Afghans and later trained as an Apache helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps.

As his opposite numbers in the US military have testified, the psychological effects on privileged youth of calling down mightily expensive munitions on powerless and faceless indigenes whilst safely insulated in a well-guarded military facility can compel a moment of self-reflection and in some cases regret.

This prince professes a continuing concern with the practical and psychological problems of veterans and there is nothing to suggest that this is fake or forced. As a serving soldier, no matter how privileged, he will have some sense of the realities of this most pointless and wasteful of imperialism’s wars.

The fallout from the dissident behaviour of the royal couple he forms with Meghan Markle is reflected in the media offensive they have endured and in the consequential opinion polling. Its effect is bifurcated by generation.

Most 18-24 year olds (55 per cent) like Meghan, while only a third (32 per cent) dislike her. Much the same applies to Harry, with three in five Britons aged 18 to 24 (59 per cent) having a positive opinion of him and only three in 10 (28 per cent) disliking him.

But people aged 65 and older dislike both Harry (27 per cent positive v 69 per cent negative) and Meghan (13 per cent v 83 per cent).

There is a legion of withered royal commentators with instant psychological explanations for his present departure from convention. Their collective opinion appears to be that that Markle exercises a malign influence over him and that he has abandoned the royal tradition of service to the nation for life as a privileged exile unencumbered by royal duties.

The media hints at an implied emasculation that for most young people appears more as an assertion of real human values. Does even a goldfish dream of life beyond the glass screen?

The most obvious explanation for this departure from convention ­– that Harry has had enough of the British press, life in the goldfish bowl and (by implication) his toxic relatives — is that he would rather raise their children elsewhere. It doesn’t take an great leap of imagination to conclude that his wife, who it appears has a dysfunctional family herself, might feel the same.

The equally obvious insight, that opinions about her character are shaped in a toxic mixture of media-conditioned racism and misogyny, is one that seems to have been absorbed by a large number of young people.

The Palace ­– that amalgam of state functionaries and courtiers — can probably let these two go their own way. It is the continuity of the institution itself rather than any component part that is important.

The present Queen is both head of state and head of the armed services. When people join the armed forces they swear an oath of allegiance not to the nation, the people or the government of the day, but to the Queen and her successors.

The polite fiction is that personal loyalty is owed to the monarch but that the existence of a standing army is subject to parliamentary oversight and approval.

Support for the continued existence of royalty is around 60 per cent — down somewhat when some crisis affects its standing while republican views are held by about a quarter, rising occasionally.

It looks like the institution will ride out this latest squall. Jeremy Corbyn, whose republican views are well known, said during his 2015 campaign for the Labour leadership that republicanism was “not a battle that I am fighting.”

This, it seems was a mature reflection on the salience of the issue among the electorate with, perhaps, a long view that challenging the constitutional basis of state power requires a much greater appreciation of the real nature of the institutions in which this power resides than is present in the electorate.

Republicanism has a long tradition in England. We beat the French in the royal decapitation stakes by a good few decades. The 1816 Spa Fields riots, the 1817 Pentrich Rising and the 1848 Chartist movement all saw the red, white and green tricolour raised. All were incidents of working class revolt and all were met by repression.

But it is clear that the role of the monarchy as a centrepiece for the system of class power will not come into contention until the ruling class is compelled to mobilise these mechanisms in a battle for its continued dominance.

That was true in the transition from feudalism to capitalism when king Charles lost his head and will be true when the present system gives way to socialism.

A British republic will not come into being in a battle over the popularity or otherwise of the individuals who have the misfortune of being born into this archaic gilded cage.

Nick Wright is royal correspondent at



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