Britain: Royal wedding exposes deep class divisions

Thursday, 28 April 2011
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On Friday 29 April the people of Britain will be invited to participate in the joyful celebration of the marriage of Mr. William Windsor and Ms. Katherine Middleton. At the same time that the government is cutting billions from unnecessary extravagances such as hospitals, schools, teachers, nurses, the old and the sick, the unemployed and single parents, the Coalition has had the good sense to spend a lot of money on something as essential to the Public Good as the nuptials of Willy and Kate.

The happy couple. Photo: UK_repsomeThe happy couple. Photo: UK_repsome One can see many advantages in this. At a time of falling living standards for everyone who is not either a member of the royal family or a banker, it can take the minds of the British public off unpleasant thoughts of unpaid debts and unemployment. It might even make them forget the recent mass demonstration that brought half a million of them onto the streets of London to protest the vicious cuts being implemented by the ruling Conservative-Lib-Dem Coalition.

More important still, the royal occasion can have beneficial effects on the aforementioned Coalition, which is currently plummeting in public opinion polls. This collapse has brought to the fore a split between the Tories and the Lib-Dems who are facing annihilation in the local government election in May. It is the sincere hope of David Cameron that the destinies of the Coalition will be revived on the basis of the wedding oath: “What God has put together, let no man put asunder.”

We are informed that a large part of the proceedings will be paid for out of the pockets of the Middletons and the royal family. However, on the one hand, this overlooks the fact that the money in the bank accounts of the Windsors comes from the generosity of the British taxpaying public. Some ill-intentioned people have even hinted that our royal family, who are in receipt of millions in handouts from social security, may be considered as the biggest scroungers off the state. However, this unkind judgement overlooks the vital role that the monarchy plays in British society.

Apart from providing many hours of harmless entertainment for the masses, taking their minds off their troubles, the monarchy also provides productive employment to a large number of journalists, television commentators and photographers. Take for example the BBC, which has designated no fewer than 550 journalists to cover the wedding. Considering that the same BBC has recently announced the sacking of hundreds of journalists and the virtual demolition of its renowned World Service as a result of government cuts, this must count as an act of unprecedented generosity.

In fact, London is now being overrun with journalists from all over the world, who are swarming with an enthusiasm like that of the participants in a cannibal feast. This enthusiasm is quite understandable, as not every nation is blessed with the institution of monarchy. The French and Italians, having been for so long deprived of it, are in transports of delight. But it is always the Americans who are particularly prone to the intoxicating effects of proximity to royalty, falling over themselves to express their devotion to the British Crown that they so heedlessly ejected in 1776. Yet, as the BBC glumly pointed out, the enthusiasm of the world’s press is not entirely reciprocated by the people of this Isle.

Indifference

There has been a striking change in attitudes in British society since 1981 when Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married. Then about 10 million people across the country attended street parties. Even more took to the streets in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Now, despite the best efforts of the Prime Minister to get people to celebrate the royal wedding, the figures are sharply down.

The press tries to explain this away in terms of a “breakdown in community spirit in large cities and towns”. But this is explanation that explains nothing, since Britain has had large cities and towns for the past hundred years or more. Even if this were the case, it fails to explain why such a breakdown in community spirit has taken place. Is it not to do with the cannibal spirit of capitalism and the market economy that tends to atomize society and encourage selfishness under the slogan of “individualism”? Remember Thatcher’s statement: “there is no such thing as society”.

As the Great Day approaches there are signs of desperation on the part of the authorities, especially the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Last week he urged people to "go ahead" and organize street parties on 29 April. In an effort to encourage more people to host street parties, local councils scrapped much of the red tape and regulations that would normally apply when such an event takes place.

Chris White, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA)'s culture, tourism and sport programme board, said: "Councils across the country have pulled out all the stops to make organizing royal wedding street parties as easy as possible.” And added that, “Bringing communities together in these tough times can only be a good thing and it's something councils see as one of their key roles."

The government had stressed that it has ordered councils to "relax the rules" and cut red tape which could stop people holding parties. Local government minister Grant Shapps said: "We've made clear that the bonkers health and safety rules that can prevent simple celebrations taking place need not apply to royal wedding parties – far from it, they can be set up with the minimum of fuss and almost no form-filling."

Never mind the rules and laws designed to keep the populace safe and sound! Let there be flood and fire, let there be earthquakes and pestilence! But above all, let there be street parties! The reason for these exceptional measures is simply that the people of Britain have responded to the noisy campaign in the media with a wall of deafening indifference, if not outright hostility. And instead of uniting the Nation, the royal circus has served to expose sharp and deepening class divisions.

The class divide

The Daily Telegraph, a Conservative paper, carried an article on 23 April with the interesting title: Royal wedding: street parties list suggests class divide. In it we read the following:

“Hundreds of thousands of patriotic Britons will break out the bunting next week to celebrate the royal wedding – but official figures reveal a class divide among those hosting street parties

While middle class communities in the south east and the Home Counties have embraced the idea of hosting a traditional royal themed street party, the more working class areas including the industrial cities of the north have proved less than enthusiastic.” [our emphasis].

According to the LGA, by Tuesday, more than 5,500 communities had applied to close their roads off in order to host street parties for the royal wedding. London topped the national table with more than 800 applications, while Hertfordshire, Surrey and Kent all featured high up on the list with large numbers of celebrations taking place. These are all counties in the South East, with a high proportion of middle class and high earners.

But in the working class heartlands such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield take up has been much less enthusiastic. And in Glasgow, which has a population of almost 600,000, overwhelmingly working class, not one application for a street party has been made.

In the London boroughs figures suggest there will be around one party for every 9,600 residents. But in Birmingham the figure is just one for every 41,000 residents, in Liverpool one for every 27,630 and in Manchester one for every 20,130. In Yorkshire royal wedding fever has failed to grip Bradford, which is having just four street parties across the city, while Leeds has 21 and Sheffield 31. Cardiff has approved 53 road closures and Bristol 54. Newcastle has had 32 applications, but in nearby Sunderland there have been only four.

However, it is not simply a north-south divide, but a class divide that goes far deeper. Let us take for example the southern county of Shropshire, a predominantly rural area not generally associated with the class struggle or radical politics. An article in The Shropshire Star on 1st February 2011 had the title: “Royal Wedding: No street partying like it’s 1981”. It reads as follows:

“Shropshire has turned its back on staging major street parties to celebrate the Royal Wedding in April. Little interest has been shown in holding parties to mark the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Shropshire Council has received just four applications for closures on April 29 and has had to ask for further information on each one before they can be properly considered.

“It will not charge for closures while Telford & Wrekin Council – which will charge a £25 fee – has had a ‘few initial inquiries’ but no firm applications for closures. Shrewsbury Mayor, Kathleen Owen, said it was ‘very disappointing’ that more people hadn’t applied.”

At the end of the article in the Shropshire Star are the comments from the readers and they make interesting reading! This is a typical example:

“We have had a communications and information explosion since 1981 and the majority of people would find having their noses rubbed with such opulence abhorrent given the current domestic financial meltdown, with the country just about ticking over whilst running on empty. There may be a party going on in Westminster that day, but outside of the M25 I don’t think anyone really cares.”

And this:

“I wish W C all the best, but keep it a quiet affair after all some of us are losing our jobs through no fault of our own, some no pay rise, some shorter working week, we all are suffering a huge tax and cost of living rise. What have we got to celebrate? Oh! I forgot we voted this government and council in and now we pay the price… yes I am bitter because it was the bankers’ fault and we are all paying for it but never mind… they are still getting their bonuses so that’s OK… enough to cover the deficit…. something wrong somewhere. I would sooner pay more tax in the short term and keep my job and support my family rather than lose my job; but we weren’t even given the choice. You can’t seriously vote this council or this government back in again.”

And again:

“The Royals are so out of touch with the ordinary person in the street that nobody really gives a damn about this forthcoming wedding. People have far greater worries on their minds like how will they make ends meet, how much longer will they have a job? etc. In the Royal Household they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘Recession”. (Royal Wedding: No street partying like it’s 1981, shropshirestar.com: ]

This lack of interest explains the government backed campaign in the media to encourage more people to organize street parties. They may succeed in this to some extent, but it cannot change the fact that there is a change in the attitude of the British people to the royals and to the rich in general. The reason why this is alarming is not simply that David Cameron wants to get more votes in May. It is that the British Monarchy is a reserve weapon in the hands of the ruling class. In an atmosphere of heightened class struggle they may need to use this weapon in the future, and they need to keep it sharp.

Opposition silenced

A decorated Regent Street. Photo: David JonesA decorated Regent Street. Photo: David Jones The importance of the occasion is such that no effort or expense must be spared to ensure that it passes off safely. No half measures indeed! One week before the Joyous Day, the police chiefs were already announcing that no demonstrations of any kind would be tolerated – peaceful or otherwise. Even the displaying of placards with tasteless messages that may prove offensive to the sensitivities of the Great British Public is to be strictly prohibited.

Since this is clearly a matter of public concern, the bill for policing will naturally be paid for out of the public finances. It will not come cheap. £15 million of public money will be spent on April 29th; while at the same time ordinary working people are being told to tighten their belts as their schools and hospitals are closed and unemployment continues to grow.

Police officers will be on duty in large numbers to ensure the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton is a "safe, secure and happy event". In order to ensure the maximum peace of mind on the day, the authorities in their wisdom have decided to place police sharpshooters on London’s rooftops with orders to shoot to kill. There must be no half measures to protect the royal jamboree!

Scotland Yard will deploy no fewer than 5,000 officers backed by the military on Friday and has promised that “criminal activity” will be met with a “robust” response. How does one define “criminal activity”, and what does a “robust” response mean? The answer can be found in an article in the Metro (27.04.2011), under the title: Anti-royalists banned from London royal wedding protests, which informs us that Anti-Monarchy protesters have been told by police that disrupting the royal wedding will not be tolerated.

Metropolitan police Commander Christine Jones said: “Any criminals attempting to disrupt it, be that in the guise of a protest or otherwise, will be met by a robust, decisive, flexible and proportionate policing response.” This implies that Anti-Monarchy protesters are criminals and that any republican agitation constitutes potentially criminal activity.

Now it is a long and honourable tradition of British democracy that any group of citizens may gather together for the sake of peaceful protest. But next Friday this tradition is to be violated by the police in the most blatant manner. Nobody will be permitted to express opposition to the royal wedding “in the guise of a protest or otherwise”. This means that even a peaceful protest will be regarded as a crime, and treated accordingly.

And how is this criminal activity to be dealt with? We are told that it will be dealt with robustly. How robust is robust? The Metro informs us: “Marksmen from the Met’s specialist CO19 firearms unit are understood to be on a ‘shoot to kill’ footing and special forces are expected to infiltrate the crowds.” [Our emphasis]. This is despite the fact that, according to the same report, “Senior officers insist there is no ‘specific intelligence’ about threats”.

So, although there is no “specific intelligence” of any kind of a terrorist threat, the authorities have decided to infiltrate the crowds with plainclothes police, as well as placing sharpshooters on the roofs of London with orders to shoot to kill!

The Metro article states that sixty people arrested for “causing trouble” during the TUC marches have been banned from central London on Friday. This means that people can be arrested and banned from the streets of London merely on suspicion that they may cause a breach of the peace, although they have committed no offence, and the police are expected to make several more arrests in coming days.

Of course, one can request permission from the police to rally against the wedding. But since it has been made clear that all groups applying to protest are likely to be refused permission unless they agree to postpone action until later in the day, this seems a rather pointless procedure. Police will also seize any banners that the public “would find offensive” according to Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens – even if they would be acceptable at other times. The anti-monarchy pressure group Republic said correctly that moves by the police to seize protest banners were an attack on free speech.

Moreover, not every street party will receive official encouragement. Camden Council has taken steps to ban a republican street party, despite previous confirmation that the event could go ahead. The campaign group Republic, who were organising the party, have vowed to fight the decision. Having given the go ahead in March for Earlham Street in Covent Garden to be the site of Republic’s party, and with just three weeks to go, the Council has refused to provide a temporary traffic order to close Earlham Street, effectively banning the event altogether. So much for free speech!

Unusually the decision was taken at the level of senior management, with Sam Monck, Assistant Director of Environment and Transport, citing “local opposition” as the reason for the ban. The ban has the apparent support of Labour councillor Sue Vincent, Executive Member for the department.

A spokesman for Republic said: ‘This country does not belong to the monarchy and people have every right to protest against it. We do not find it acceptable our police force is going to silence peaceful protesters.’

Guess who’s coming to dinner…

While being encouraged to hold street parties, very few of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects are actually invited to attend the wedding. This regrettable fact may be explained on two grounds: 1) the limited space inside Westminster Abby and 2) the vast number of important foreign guests who must be accommodated therein.

As well as the Royal Family, 50 heads of state are attending the ceremony, which it is anticipated will be watched by up to two billion people on television. There will be 70-80 close protection teams for VIPs on the day (all paid for, of course, at the public expense).

Among the list of guests is the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who reportedly received a personal invitation to the wedding from the Queen herself. No vulgar street parties for him! The Crown Prince has been a guest of the royal family before – in December 2004, Prince Charles invited him to St James's Palace and they have had regular discussions on relations between their two countries, according to recent reports in the Saudi press.

The Bahraini ruling family is supposed to be “committed to reform.” But for many weeks Bahrain has been the scene of mass pro-democracy demonstrations that have been ruthlessly repressed by the police and army. At least 30 people have died in Bahrain since protests began in mid-February, including four who died in official custody, and many activists and lawyers have been imprisoned.

What has been the reaction of the Crown Prince to all this? He has praised the "relentless efforts of Bahrain's security forces to maintain security and stability". He told Bahraini TV: "I will continue … to be firm on the principle that there can be no leniency with anyone who seeks to split our society into two halves." Scores of people have been killed and the government has announced a state of emergency, calling in Saudi troops to “keep order”.

The whole world is well aware of the atrocities of Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak. But a discrete curtain has been drawn over what is happening in Bahrain. The public opinion of the world has been denied access to the savagery of the Bahraini security services and their Saudi accomplices.

Human rights campaigners have been petitioning the foreign secretary, William Hague, to revoke the invitation. "Bahrain has created a state of fear, not a state of safety," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch. The situation has caused such a scandal that it was proving an embarrassment to the Windsors.

Finally Clarence House was informed on Sunday morning that the prince would no longer be attending, and the Bahraini royal family would not be sending a representative. The Prince said it was with "deep regret" that he had reached his "considered decision". He said he had hoped the situation in Bahrain would have improved so he could attend and not "overshadow" the event. He added that they had "clearly sought to involve my potential attendance as a political proxy for wider matters involving Bahrain".

The Windsors are wholly indifferent to the fate of the people of Bahrain. But they are acutely sensitive to bad publicity. It is evident that the Prince’s "considered decision" was not arrived at unaided. The BBC's royal correspondent Peter Hunt said just 24 hours before that the Prince was definitely coming, and added "who knows what sort of diplomatic pressure might have been applied behind the scenes?" He said while Prince William's officials were saying nothing in public, they would be privately pleased that one "distraction" had gone away.

In March, Bahrain's Sunni rulers announced martial law, deployed security forces and called in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf Arab countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, to crush the revolt. Protesters have been shot, arrested, tortured and killed to prop up the Bahraini royal family. But the Saudis who are responsible for much of the repression in Bahrain have no intention of missing out on a free lunch and will be honoured guests at the wedding.

The royal business deals

It is well known that the royal Arab dictators have plenty of friends in Clarence House and Buckingham Palace. The relationship between the British royal family and those of the Middle East has a long history. Recently Prince Charles used his connections with the Qatari princes – who own the site – to  sabotage the plans for Chelsea barracks at the cost of thousands of jobs.

The lucrative relationship between members of the British royal family and corrupt Arab dictators was recently made public when Prince Andrew called the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) "idiots" for daring to investigate claims of corruption in a £43billion British arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This conduct was too much even for the Sun newspaper.

The WikiLeaks website revealed that Andrew, who has been given the “job” of Britain's “roving trade envoy”, condoned offering bribes for lucrative contracts during a meeting in Kyrgyzstan. The Prince, who is not renowned for his intellectual powers, gave his "astonishingly candid" performance at an official lunch in the former Soviet state in Central Asia two years ago. In the course of his rant (doubtless fuelled by an excess of champagne and vodka) he also managed to insult the Americans and the French.

It was a reference to an SFO probe into alleged "kickbacks" a senior Saudi royal had received in return for the arms contract. The incendiary comments found their way back to the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Tatiana Gfoeller, who cabled an even more "astonishingly candid” secret report to her masters in Washington. She accused the middle son of the Queen of speaking "cockily" and said his comments "verged on the rude".

She said that a delegate from one firm admitted it was tempting to resort to bribery in Kyrgyzstan. In an exchange between British and Canadian guests, business corruption levels in the country were said to have been compared with Canada's Yukon Territory in the 19th century. At this, Andrew burst out laughing and said: "All of this sounds exactly like France."

Britain's largest defence contractor BAE Systems supplied military jets to the Saudis and earlier this year paid nearly £300million in fines to settle bribery charges by Britain's Serious Fraud Office and US Department of Justice. Andrew is reported as having "railed" at British anti-corruption investigators, who had the "idiocy" to almost ruin BAE's al-Yamama deal with the Saudis.

Gfoeller added that British businessmen present – who she called "his mother's subjects" – “roared their approval". Here the mask of Olympian royalty finally falls to the ground to reveal the grubby connections between the corrupt wheeling and dealing of big business and the British monarchy.

According to the leaked documents, Andrew also denounced reporters for investigating bribery, referring to them as "those ******* journalists who poke their noses everywhere and make it harder for British businessmen to do business." His swearword was deleted in the leaked report, but with or without the expletives, his meaning was crystal clear: What is a little palm greasing between friends, after all? Come to that, what is a little repression, torture and murder? After all, money does not smell!

These revelations came only six months after Andrew’s ex-wife, the notorious Fergie, was secretly filmed accepting £27,000 from an undercover reporter posing as a tycoon. She claimed that for another £500,000, she could fix access to Andrew – a very reasonable offer from any point of view, and one that lifts a small corner to reveal the sordid links between the monarchy, big business and reactionary politics.

Andrew's outbursts caused extreme embarrassment to Buckingham Palace, which, naturally, refused to comment. It all flew in the face of protocol and the myth that the Royal Family must keep out of politics. This does not mean that the members of the Windsor clan have no politics or business interests – only that the public must not know what they are. The only difference between Andrew and the rest of the Windsor gang is that he has an exceptionally big mouth and an exceptionally small brain and therefore commits the heinous offense of saying what the others think and do on the quiet.

Many of the royals of other countries that Andrew has dealt with will be at the wedding. The inclusion of corrupt and brutal Arab dictators on the guest list of the royal wedding sends a very clear message to the world. It exposes the reactionary outlook and politics of the supposedly apolitical Windsor family. None of this will be referred to by the official media covering the wedding. They will no doubt be concentrating on Kate’s dress, the wedding anthem, her procession down the aisle and other such matters of crucial importance to the workers and youth of Britain. The reason for this is that it shows up the real principles and priorities of the family, its friendships, connections and business interests, and in so doing, it provides a very clear reason why the monarchy should be abolished without delay.

London, April 28, 2011