After the Coronation: Understanding the UK as a monarchical state

The aftermath of the weekend is a time to reflect. What was that about? Does any of it matter? And is this really what Britain – modern, 21st century Britain – is all about?

First, we need to confront the compulsory nature of the Coronation ‘celebrations’. This was a party where no one was allowed to rain on the parade – or publicly indicate their dissent. We were literally ordered by the authorities to commemorate the new king and instructed on how we had to behave and conform. This included a ‘zero tolerance’ approach from the Met to peaceful protest, including breaking the agreement they had previously reached with Republic, the anti-monarchical group.

Second, we were invited to swear an oath of loyalty to the king – a tactless reminder of the nature of power, authority and legitimacy in the UK. We are subjects not citizens. We have no such thing as any fundamental rights. And we are strangers in what should be our own home: the country known as the UK.

Third, there was the stifling consensus and suffocating groupthink of mainstream media prepared to present wall-to-wall coverage of a Coronation which only a tiny percentage of the population – 11% according to the latest poll from YouGov – were completely bought into. Mainstream media have a tough balancing act to undertake in such a ‘national event’, and it is understandable that many outlets were glad to tell a story of Britain disconnected from current troubles, yet presenting a set of fables and fairy tales about royalty in such a partial and disingenuous way is part of the problem.

Fourth, just in case any less than deferential tones slipped through there was a further layer of control. This was the BBC’s acceptance of Buckingham Palace having the ultimate say, and to shape and censor the images it broadcast and presented to the world. The Coronation was not even the first time the BBC had abdicated its responsibility; apparently it did so last year during the memorial to the Queen.

The nature of the British state and power

Beyond this the Coronation tells us that the British state is – at its core heart and in its DNA – not democratic, about Parliament or parliamentary sovereignty, the people or ‘the will of the people’ – or any such modern manifestations. Rather it is, in the words of the late Stephen Haseler, author of The End of the House of Windsor (one of only two critical books of all things royal along with Tom Nairn’s The Enchanted Glass), ‘a monarchical state’. 

This means that power and consent sit at the apex of the state and political system and flow downward: ‘flow’ being an exaggeration as in reality it remains concentrated in the narrow elite with the rest of us spectators and passive observers in our own country.

The Coronation for all the profiling of the Commonwealth, and trying to remain quiet about the real nature of the Empire and its enduring legacy to the present, reminds us that the reach and appeal of the British monarchy and its global footprint is getting smaller by the day.

International interest and audiences were down; TV buy-ins from across the world were a pale imitation of years gone by; and many of the countries which still have the British monarchy as their head of state are planning their escape from the last vestiges of Empire and colonialism.

If you think the last two characteristics do not matter: the UK has yet to apologise for the systematic violence, genocide and plundering that were the foundations of Empire. It is no use repeating cliched words of avoiding responsibility by stating ‘that we cannot transpose the values of the present on the past’ as senior politicians do. Britain has a collective amnesia about the true nature of Empire which sprawls across the entire political spectrum, and this continual avoidance reveals much about the selective, dishonest nature of official Britishness.

Britain is a diminished, shrunken place these days, both domestically and internationally. For all the rhetoric and boosterist language, events of the past few weeks have underlined this basic fact. This is a country which celebrates its pre-democratic characteristics; the endurance of feudalism, privilege and hereditary birth right, and thinks of these as key selling points to the world. Delusion of course is central to such values. Just as Andrew Marr started going on about ‘the second Elizabethan age’ towards the end of the Queen’s reign, so some desperate sycophants are trying to now get mileage by calling this new reign ‘a Carolean age’. 

Is the monarchy the last remaining story of Britain?

Is the monarchy the last story of Britain which still has reach and box office appeal, albeit fading? Does monarchy and its ceremonies and rituals provide one of the few ways in which people across the UK can come together in public spaces and have the pretence of being a ‘people’ and collective? If the answer is yes then this surely underlines the threadbare nature of what can bring us together, connect us and remind us that we live in a society, are interconnected and dependent on each other.

Nesrine Malik observed in the aftermath of the Coronation that: ‘It is bizarre to not pause and think for a second, why are feudalism and ethnic nationalism the only two options we have to celebrate British identity?’

We have to question if this really is the sum of what Britain can come together over and celebrate in the early 21st century. If this is honestly the best that post-Empire, post-Brexit Britain can do then the whole artifice is definitely in trouble. And so are its elites, institutions and the entire rotten system.

Yet despite all this, the hard nature of what the UK is, where power sits and the increasingly hollowed out nature of the establishment, our politicians, political system and mainstream media, do not want to confront such issues – from left and liberals to centre-right and right-wing. 

Take a plethora of books now breaking out in an industry of ‘what is wrong with Britain’: a genre which also showed its presence in other eras where the Tories ran out of positive ideas and imploded: the early 1960s and mid-1990s. Whether of the liberal persuasion (Ian Dunt, How Westminster Works …. And Why It Doesn’t); left-leaning (Rafael Behr, Politics: A Survivor’s Guide); or right-wing populist take (Matthew Goodwin, Values, Voice and Virtue) there are many.

These books, all published in the past month, posit many things wrong with UK politics and society. They all point to various malaises and offer numerous remedies. But for all their differences on one thing they are completely agreed. All have seemingly taken a vow of silence on all things royal; on the nature of the Crown, its place and powers, and how they are an intrinsic part not just of the British establishment, but of the British state.

Our political class and commentariat do not want to talk about the monarchical state

This startling omission is standard in conventional political accounts, but is part of the problem. Dunt, Behr and Goodwin all have qualities; yet they and many others are happy to go along with the conceits, deceits and diversions which the British establishment and its apologists throw up to maintain the culture of undemocracy and lack of scrutiny, accountability and transparency at the heart of British politics and the state.

We cannot talk about what has gone wrong with Britain without talking about the UK royal family, the Crown and the monarchical state. Without doing so as the above accounts do – everything else they offer has a degree of at best displaced activity. Either they do not understand the fundamental nature of the UK or are consciously deciding to not comprehend fully the UK, its political system, power and elites.

Along with the above hard thinking we need to ask where are the good stories of Britain? The ones many of us grew up with and made us feel we were part of something bigger than ourselves like the Britain which defeated Nazism; which created the NHS and the post-war welfare state; which through collective endeavours widened the opportunities and life chances of millions of working people and their families.

We should know the truth about why those good stories have withered and become marginalised. It is because the UK is not a hospitable place for millions upon millions of people and government does not seem to care, show compassion or solidarity, and instead pursues ripping up the last elements of the social contract along with an authoritarian populism of being cruel and discriminatory to those vulnerable and without voice.

This version of Britain is the reality many people have to confront and survive in rather than the fairy tale stories of royalty. It is even an account of Britain increasingly recognised by more international media, the New York Times recently describing the UK in the following damning way: ‘Life under the Tories has become poorer, nastier, more brutish and shorter.’

The nature of the UK’s monarchical state has been central to the brutal use of political power that dehumanises and desensitises the public through the application of repugnant, dishonest policies driven by a failure of the economic and social model which has dominated the UK for the past four decades. 

This is not fundamentally about individual royals per se (Charles, Camilla and the assorted hangers-on), but about a historical social system of power, entitlement and feudalism. We must be able to talk about these things, about what is wrong with the current state of Britain, and what if anything can be done to challenge the existing social order. Silence and evasion are a kind of collusion: even more serious and damaging than the self-censorship practiced by the BBC at the weekend.

The UK’s political system and state are defined by the values of pre-democracy captured by the forces of post-democracy, and that central fact and the role of the monarchical state needs to be understood and challenged. This is a prerequisite of government, politics and democracy addressing the issues the vast majority of people face in their lives and a political system and state not owned and distorted by privilege, wealth and an insider class. 


Comments (12)

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  1. MacGilleRuadh says:

    Our wee local village had a coronation tea party. It was pushed through by the community cooncil, almost entirely peopled by relatively recent incomers. Community funds were blown on it and there must have been about 25 souls attending, almost outnumbered by the band they had hired. One or two sad looking union jacks hung in desultory fashion from the fence. Most folk drove by, dumfoonert.

    1. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

      Our community council ignored the coronation. It was not even mentioned in social chit chat.

  2. Meg Macleod says:

    I think of apples in a barrel…..some become rotten to the core…..not always obvious to the observer..but eventually the fungus spreads……..
    Until its too late….the whole lot has to be put on the compost pile… takes years for to transform it all into something friable and able to support fertile growth…transforming something rotten into something good requires the patience and determination of a gardener…so we must become gardeners and not give up through the rainy season

  3. Squigglypen says:

    An excellent treatise on the state of us. As a seven year old being told about the fairy queen being crowned in faraway London( where?) I confidently opined that we did not need a queen. Anyway she didn’t visit us in the east end of Glasgow and certainly didn’t improve our dreadful poverty existence. Now if a wee seven year old could spot the excrement in our country what’s happening to the rest of you? My parents – just through a dreadful war still pulled the forelock to their ‘betters’, were appalled at my attitude and continued to live in poverty for the rest of their poor lives.
    Seventy years later I’m still waiting for the rest of you to wake up and smell the coffee. The French don’t take any nonsense as their ‘royal’ family found out. Time we did the same. Give them a ‘single end’ and wave cheerio and they can be glad it’s not the French they are dealing with ….
    I am still waiting for a free of englanders….royals…aristocrats( the Scottish variety) and worst of all… Scottish traitors… a border and our resources belonging to us and benefitting oor weans. Is this too much to ask. Seems to be as we produce so many quislings very willing to take the’ bag o’ siller’ that Rabbie talked of. What’s the answer? Don’t know. I despair of Scots and their cringy acceptance of all things thrown at them. I heard one Scottish woman on the radio say she was close to ‘bustin intae tears’ at the wonderful sight of Charlie chimp on his throne. She sounded half cut..which might explain her insanity.
    Here’s a solution…UDI. Oh whit a panic wid be in their breasties at that. But by god it would make them sit up and take notice as the Scots finally woke up.
    Aye I am a nationalist. ( like the rest of the world) and yon evil Thatcher and her ‘rose of England’.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Pure unandaltered fascism and this is been posted on a supposedly left/progressive blog without any comment?
      Kick out the ‘english/quislings/traitors’. Unbelievable.
      Up yours squiggly, whowever you are.

      1. Niemand says:

        Transparent bigoted hatred towards the English is tolerated on this site. It is also rarely called out by others. Make of that what you will but it is certainly one thing it shares with Wings.

        1. This is not true. One-man moderation means I can’t be across everything every day at all times.

          1. Niemand says:

            This post basically calls for ethnic cleansing of the English ‘excrement’ from Scotland (as well as Scottish ‘traitors’). It is appalling. Why is it still here as is a very similar one by the same poster not very long ago where similar objections happened? The poster has form and posts regularly but has never been even asked to moderate language (I am not one for banning people, let people speak but in a civilised way). I understand you cannot be across it all of course but this is glaring and repetitive. It is also true only one or two people ever call out such prejudice.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            I suppose it depends on what is meant by ‘Englander’. It could mean someone with an ‘England-first’ attitude, like one of the variants of ‘Little Englander’ (now pro- or historically anti-Empire).

            If it means ‘born in England’, then the implication is of ethnic cleansing, families torn apart, and what of repercussions for Scots-born living in England? I have commented before on the insanity of attempting to use objective criteria to develop ethnic hierarchies. The point of civic nationalism is that we don’t.

            Frustratingly, we are still awaiting the results of the (botched?) 2022 Scottish Census being published, but the 2011 one (which showed doubled numbers of Scots born outside Scotland from 2001) says 459,000 were born in England.

            Treason laws will be crucial in a transition for independence, partly since UK laws still cast treason as criminal disloyalty to the monarch. Apparently nobody can tell me when Scottish civil servants and others will be released from their lifetime oath of secrecy to the UK state in the event of Scottish independence. It will be essential to define what treason in an independent Scotland is constitutionally, partly because there will be so much opportunity and motive. I don’t mean chopping people’s heads off, simple expulsion to the country or corporate HQ that offenders serve should usually be enough (perhaps like an agent of the League of Evil Accountants being expelled from Australia). UK treason law stands today as evidence that its people are subjects rather than citizens (look up Treason Felony Act 1848). I think it is unfair to call Scots who obey such legislation ‘traitors’ even if that legislation is essentially evil, but certainly I agree there are conflicts and divided loyalties unavoidable in the irrational British Imperial quasi-Constitution that light should be shone upon. At the moment, we are legally obliged to follow the King into whichever unjust war or nuclear holocaust he or his government leads us into, whereupon I can only wish that an uprising of conscientious traitors will prevent.

        2. Alec Lomax says:

          The Rev Wings despises the English so much that he can’t be arsed moving back to Scotland. Other than that Squiglypen should grow up.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I have been reading Critics of Empire: British Radicals and the Imperial Challenge (a view from 1968 looking back at decade 1895-1905), and author Bernard Porter has quite a lot to say about popular Jingoism. One phrase which stood out that seemed to sum up the recent Coronation was ‘Might is Right’. I suppose medieval monarchs had to win a battle to ‘show God was on their side’. Militarily, Queen Elizabeth seemed to be struggling for an endorsement since before Suez. I suppose King Charles at least managed to rout Republic.

    Declassified UK has this take on whether Charles’ might has been right so far:
    “As Charles accedes to the throne, his role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment for 46 years is not forgotten in Northern Ireland where Paras have committed a shocking number of killings, some still being revealed in court.”

  5. florian albert says:

    “First we need to confront the compulsory nature of the Coronation ‘celebrations’.

    For the overwhelming majority of Scots, there was nothing – repeat, nothing – compulsory in the Coronation celebrations. Most Scots, me included, chose to ignore it. Sure, there was a vast amount about it on TV and in the papers. There are always such things in the media. Today it the Eurovision Song Contest. Tomorrow it will be Rangers v Celtic. That is the price we pay for being an open society.

    Gerry Hassan plainly believes that the ‘monarchical state’ – not a phrase that most people will be familiar with – is a priority in need of attention. There is very little evidence that voters agree with him on this.

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