A Gold-Filled Irrelevance

How conditions have improved! At the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, or George V’s Silver one, or the Victory Parade, and even the present Queen’s wedding, to see any of it meant notable hardships for the workers. Up half the night to get a place; standing in the street for hours; shouting oneself hoarse; then having to get back home through all the crowds. Compare that with what progress has brought us today. This month loyal subjects will be able to sit in comfort at home, watching on colour TV the romance of Princess Anne brought to its consummation (well, not quite, but no doubt that will come).


Should one laugh or weep ? On one hand, millions riveted to this idiot’s spectacle; on the other, its reduction to only another pattern of moving wallpaper. While the gilt-edged incantations are pronounced, the Golden Oldies of the dirty-joke index are revived for a generation fresh to the ambience of royal weddings. The souvenirs pretending patriotic fervour but representing only fervour for Mammon — cheap mugs and tee-shirts in the High Street, silver and Wedgwood trophies to be hoarded as “investments”. And the sight of radicals and make-believe socialists, straight from the Labour conference, bowing obsequious knees and kissing the fat backside of opulence. Ugh!


In the working class, schoolchildren have the benefits from an occasion like this. For one thing, a day off. But the longer-view benefit is that one day they will be told truths about those they are now supposed to adulate. Elderly people who still remember Queen Victoria could have heard A.J.P. Taylor on television last year describe her as “a woman of the lowest intelligence who wouldn’t have obtained employment as a cook”. Her grandson the Duke of Clarence, who would have become King in this century had he lived, has been brought forward as a candidate for Jack the Ripper’s identity. And George III, we are told (BBC 1, 30th September), “was probably a criminal lunatic”.


But when they do tell you these things, son, don’t be mistaken about what you are learning. “Revelations” about royalty and rulers do not matter. The real truth being told concerns the politicians and pressmen who hoist these preposterous figures for worship by working people. If there are legal reasons why the low-down cannot be given at the time, there are different reasons for sustaining the story which isn’t true. It is like tellings backers that a horse-race was once fixed: if they knew but could not say, why did they go on shouting their odds?


What is the purpose of it all? Royalty is a pretended ruler long since denuded of power but maintained still in glittering barbaric splendour: a mediaeval survival. In most countries those who really rule have decided they are better without it, and in some they still find a use for what history has left them. If class-divided society is to be believed-in, here is a symbol of it. If privileged riches are a social ideal, here they are personified. And if rulers have to provide bread and circuses, here is the Big Top where the horses prance and the troupers have the style.


To be enthralled by this kind of thing is to be in the clutch of capitalism. Remember, however, that capitalism has alternatives. It does not need royalty — and that is why royalty doesn’t matter to the working class either. Working people are no better off in the countries where kings and queens have been superseded or never existed. In the United States the cheering and drum-beating go into presidential election circuses; in the one-party regimes, to ceremonial displays of the State’s might. Better to regard royalty as, in John Osborne’s phrase, “the gold fillings in a mouth full of decay”; then to see about the reasons for the decay. Of course a sane world would have no place for such nonsense, and it is society we must change first.


Robert Barltrop