Now that the Queen is dead, it’s time we bury the monarchy
Even performative nationalism can’t glue a broken society.
15 Sep 2022
The queues began in the night. Starting at St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile, a line of several thousands of people snaked across Edinburgh for miles, patiently waiting for the opportunity to shuffle past a 96-year-old woman’s coffin. The city jumped into action to accommodate the royal mourners: portaloos and water stops were installed along the route, while the Salvation Army arrived to hand out hot drinks and food during the cold night. Yet, elsewhere in the city, 4,500 of Edinburgh’s homeless citizens slept rough on the streets or in temporary accommodation – a figure only expected to worsen as the UK’s cost of living crisis continues into the winter.
As we’ve seen since the Queen’s death on 8 September, the UK is actually very well equipped to handle a crisis – or whatever the state deems to be one. Public billboards and advertising spaces immediately transformed to memorialise the Queen, transport services have been magicked out of thin air to accommodate mourners, and a meticulously orchestrated operation has rolled out across the country.
Where was this leap to action at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic? Where is it now as the UK enters a cost of living crisis? Where are the hot drinks and portaloos for the people who are forced to spend every night outside? And where, exactly, are the millions of pounds that will be coughed up for the Queen’s funeral and the King’s ascension, for the parents relying on schools and a footballer to feed their children, for the pensioners riding buses to stay warm and for the 42% of us who will not be able to heat our homes by next January? The pompous display of wealth feels jarring against the worst fall in living standards for 60 years. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s deeply inappropriate.
“In modern Britain, ‘respect’ is only reserved for the wealthy – not for the most vulnerable in society”
The Queen’s death has only proven what we’ve come to know and expect from the British establishment: that some people’s lives matter more than others. While one obscenely wealthy family mourns its matriarch (and avoids paying any inheritance tax due to a convenient loophole), other families are suffering the consequences with funerals, hospital appointments and long-planned community events cancelled during the declared ‘national period of mourning’ and the state funeral. Some local food banks have also announced they will be suspending service ‘as a mark of respect’ during the day of the funeral.
Media coverage has overwhelmingly focused on the Queen, overshadowing the police killing of 24-year-old Chris Kaba – even misreporting a protest march calling for justice as a tribute to the monarch. Evidently, in modern Britain, ‘respect’ is only reserved for the wealthy – not for the most vulnerable in society. This unjust and archaic ideology should be a remnant of the past – as should the British monarchy’s hold on this country.
And yet, the last week has demonstrated just how tight their grip is. As King Charles’ proclamation was read outside St Giles’ Cathedral on 11 September, a protester holding a sign reading “Fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy” was arrested and later charged by Police Scotland “in connection with a breach of the peace”. Another protester was arrested for heckling Prince Andrew in Edinburgh, and a third person in Oxford for simply asking: “Who elected Charles?” The message is loud and clear: perform nationalism or face punishment from the state. Democracy in this country is broken.
In the UK and across the world, many people of colour have been told to “go home” or have faced other racist abuse when speaking up about the real-time rewriting of history. When Dr. Uju Anya, a Nigerian-American language professor, tweeted that the “the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying”, Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos shared and criticised her post to his 5.1 million followers. Twitter suddenly removed her original post; the university she teaches in released a statement distancing themselves from her comments; and she received a deluge of hateful and racist messages.
While some people’s voices have been heavily policed, others have been invited to talk about republicanism on daytime TV. The difference is palpable and we know that this is not a coincidence. It is largely people of colour being disproportionately hounded and harassed for daring to question or speak the truth about the Royal Family’s history.
“We cannot and will not see any social progress without abolishing the monarchy”
Elizabeth II was born when Britain ruled an empire of around 600 million people. The monarchy – her family – built their wealth and power from the subjugation and abuse of people of colour around the world. The UK is a country built upon the enslavement of people, the pillaging of cultures and land. Her reign oversaw the British government’s political and financial support of the Biafrian genocide in Nigera, and the widespread violations committed against Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising. These are scars worn to this day. The Koh-i-Noor diamond, stolen by the British in the annexation of Punjab in India, remains part of the crown jewels. She never apologised or acknowledged the atrocities caused by her country. Instead, the monarchy continued on their royal visits to the colonies, with smiles on their faces.
Although many in this country like to forget, or even take pride in, the brutality committed, the legacy remains. The monarchy is a symbol of that violence, and its insidiousness seeps through our politics and society. The Tories continue to pursue hostile environment policies that have proven to be rooted in racism and are so clearly tied to its colonial past. Just look at the abuse the Windrush generation has faced.
Earlier this year, YouGov polling suggested that there’s been a drastic drop in public support for the monarchy over the last decade, especially among 18-24 year olds. It’s not surprising, given the scandals over the last few years surrounding Prince Andrew, and the treatment of Meghan Markle. But still to many, the Queen was a convenient figurehead behind which to hide the royal rot; a supposedly benign reminder of everyone’s grandmother, dressed in pastels or petting corgis.
Contrary to calls for decorum, now is precisely the time to assess the royal family’s central role in the brutality of the British Empire. We can’t let history become whitewashed with this quaint, twee version of a Queen who “epitomised public duty” by doing a role she was literally born into, and upholding the violence that role presided over.
The gal-dem view on this is clear. We cannot and will not see any social progress without abolishing the monarchy. We are not living in a democracy if there is an active hereditary monarchy. We know and have seen that there’s nothing to stop the royal family from abusing their power or wasting public money. Now that the Queen has passed, let’s end the whole thing.
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