Elizabeth II has ruled the UK and its dominions for 70 years, making her the longest serving British monarch. As the Platinum Jubilee holiday weekend gets underway, however, despite the welcome time off work for lots of us, many will be asking whether the institution she sits as the head of can last much longer.
The Queen’s reign has been marked by the decline of Britain as a world power and the current pageant might well be its last hurrah, like a deflated balloon at the end of a child’s party.
The Monarchy is a hangover from feudal times but, since 1688, when it was restored after the bloody English Civil War, its role since 1688 has mainly been to support Parliament and the ruling capitalist class.
The myth that the Queen sits benignly above classes is exploded by her vast personal fortune, which includes land and property estimated at 6.6 billion acres worldwide. The Crown Estate is her biggest holding and consists of some of the best farmland in England, 14 retail parks and almost all of London’s Regent Street – valued at £13 billion.
Under the rules of the Sovereign Grant, the Monarchy receives 15% of its surplus profit, currently raised to 25% for ten years to pay for repairs to Buckingham Palace. The Queen also dodges paying tax. In 2017 the Panama Papers revealed she had stashed over £10 million in the Cayman Islands and had avoided paying over £13 million on the Duchy of Lancaster.
What is the Queen’s relationship to the Government? Formally she is Head of State, and does not interfere in the running of elected Parliament. In reality, however, she and members of her household repeatedly intervene to affect the outcome of important legislation. An investigation by The Guardian in 2021 revealed, for example, that over 1000 bills have been vetted by the Queen or her son and heir Prince Charles covering matters such as justice, social security, pensions, race relations and food policy.
They also include draft laws making the Royals exempt from providing normal protections to tenants facing eviction and employees covered under the Equality Act.
A ten year legal battle by the Guardian also revealed that in 2004/5 Prince Charles sent 27 memos, known collectively as the Black Spider Memos because of his spidery writing, that demonstrate lobbying of Tony Blair’s Government at thehighest level over some of Charles’s pet subjects such architecture, alternative medicine, farming policy and military equipment. While the content of these memos has been described as ‘underwhelming’, most of his correspondence to numerous Government departments requested under the Freedom of Information Act remains suppressed.
More recently in 2014 the Queen tried to influence the outcome of the Scottish Independence Referendum in a broadcast in which she pleaded with voters to, “think very carefully about the future” before casting their vote. This episode reveals the critical importance of the Monarchy for the ruling class in maintaining the stability of the capitalist state.
Crucially, the Monarchy retains powers to intervene at times of crisis, as it did in 1975 to remove Australia’s Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
During Whitlam’s first period in office his left-leaning Government had ended military conscription and introduced universal health care, along with free university education. During his second administration, a reduced majority meant legislation became blocked in the Senate resulting in stalemate. Whitlam was summarily dismissed by the Queen’s representative, Governor General Sir John Kerr, who instated the Liberal Party (conservative) opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker.
Many on the left today will question why the Queen moved quickly to dismiss a progressive PM but has been silent over the law-breaking right-wing populist Boris Johnson who openly flouted the constitution by ‘prorouging’ Parliament in 2019 during the Brexit crisis.
The ancient tradition of jubilee is understood to have marked a year of emancipation where slaves were set free and lands were restored to their owners. The BBC, mouthpiece of the British ruling class, interprets this benevolence for a modern audience by going into overdrive about Her Majesty’s years of devoted public service and support for good causes. The Platinum Jubilee is promoted as a celebration of national unity at a time of unprecedented difficulties for ordinary people.
While many of today’s workers will welcome an extra day’s holiday and a chance to unwind, the reality for most is the polar opposite of what the ancients intended.
Precarious employment and the cost of living crisis means more misery for the masses while the Queen and her entourage continue to lead a life of luxury. This undemocratic institution is all about preserving this status quo. Socialists therefore support abolishing this outdated institution, along with the House of Lords.
We call for the nationalisation of lands owned by the Royal Family, along with those owned by the other big landowners – a step necessary for tackling the environmental crisis in particular.
Crucially, we link these democratic demands to the need to fight for real social change. Only socialism – based on public ownership of the major monopolies and a truly democratic plan for production – can achieve true emancipation for the working class and poor.