THE CROWN RULES BRITANNIA

 

The role of the elaborate jubilee is to draw attention away from the power and nature of the crown itself, write Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender. Here they highlight the difference between the Monarchy and the Crown.

 

Monarchy is only the string that ties the robber’s bundle – Percy Bysshe Shelley


The jubilee is an obvious time to reflect on the distinction between queen and crown. Many people think these terms mean the same thing. It is much better to see them as opposites, albeit interconnected – the monarch and the state. Louis XIV famously said, “I am the state”, which is a definition of absolute monarchy. In contrast we see a hint of separation when Queen Victoria used the royal ‘we’: “We are not amused.” This means two of them are not happy – the person and the institution – me and my shadow.


This distinction has its origins in the doctrine in the middles ages that the king has two bodies. One is the ‘body natural’ – the living human being. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” said Shylock in The merchant of Venice (Shakespeare’s reference to Jews also reminds us that monarchs are not deities). But the second body is the ‘body politic’ – the institution of monarchy, which never dies. The king is dead – long live the king. The English revolution of 1649 made that distinction sharper.


Today we live in a capitalist world when everything is business. So our distinction is between two enterprises – the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. The latter is called “the firm” by the Duke of Edinburgh and has its HQ at Buckingham Palace. These are separate businesses which go together like a horse and carriage. The relationship between them is more like ‘state capitalism’ than the much vaunted ‘free enterprise’.


The Crown Corporation – hereafter simply called ‘the crown’ – is, like any capitalist firm, a separate legal entity. It is the largest and most powerful multinational ‘corporation’ in the country. It has offices, or embassies, in nearly every country in the world. It has power not only in the UK, but the various tax havens or secret bankingjurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, etc. It also has a very extensive information-gathering network, which enables it to keep ahead of most of its rivals.
First the crown is the state, together with its various organisations: departments of state such as the treasury and home office, revenue and customs, armed forces, security or secret services, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and her majesty’s prisons, etc. But it is much more than this. It is the people in charge who direct these millions employed by the crown across its territories.


The power of the crown is concentrated in its board of directors, which can be called the core executive or the political class. The phrase, ‘The crown rules Britannia’, means that it is the political class that runs the place – certainly not parliament and much less the people. The crown is not a democracy. The political class includes senior civil servants, the prime minister and his key ministers and advisors, heads of the security services and the joint chiefs of staff. The prime minister is the chief executive reporting weekly to the royal chair of the board.


The political class is mainly made up of bureaucrats who have clawed their way up from their Oxbridge education or through the military, with which “the firm” has a special affinity. The chair of the board is an hereditary position. Then there are professional politicians who are chosen by the prime minister to serve as the key ministers of the crown. They do not have to be elected because of the back-door route through the Lords. But they all have to swear allegiance to the crown.


The crown is no more a democratic institution than Ford, McDonalds or News International. This is not to say that there is no democratic influence. This is not absolutism, but constitutional monarchy. But gone is the pretence that we elect the people who actually govern us. They are all chosen, although it helps if you have a seat in parliament (general elections do impact on the composition of the political class). However, a minister who is not trusted by the political class will always be an outsider and ‘not one of us’.


The crown, therefore, has a kind of permanence at its core. Its strategic role in governing the country transcends the vagaries of elections. We often hear of one government defending its reactionary policies by pointing out that it all began under the previous lot. So it did. The crown and its policies in reality hardly change from one election to the next. They are merely given a face-lift and painted blue or red and pushed more quickly or slowly. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron follow the same line of policy and serve the same financial markets.


If we look inside the robber’s bundle we do not find the landed interests associated with aristocracy. We discover the City of London, its banks and financial markets with a long history of robbing people on a global scale. The crown has been their political instrument and the Bank of England their lever. The prime minister is the first minister of the City, whose priority is to protect and support them – for example, against a Greek default, the Tobin tax or European regulation. Today we are living through the ‘great bankster robbery’ carried on by the crown and the Bank of England, and fronted by the Tory-led coalition.


Crown and health


Since the defeat of the miners and the rise of Thatcherism, the crown has adopted the free-market philosophy. Governments come and go, but the same free-market strategy rolls on. Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – it makes little difference to the policies of the crown. Naturally, this sameness and consistency is echoed in the mass media, which generally promote the crown’s settled consensus of what are or are not the acceptable parameters for debate on any given subject.


Take the recent example of the NHS. The crown, in the guise of the department of health, has had a long-term plan to privatise healthcare and open it up as a market for competition. Private provision is now mainly responsible for the long-term care of the elderly. Privately run treatment centres set up by New Labour now control 5% of the profitable elective surgery ‘market’. The private finance initiative financed, at huge cost to the taxpayer, Blair’s hospital building plans. Now the private sector has taken over Hichingbrooke, the first NHS hospital run for profit, by Circle.


Whenever this has proved highly unpopular, ministers and civil servants have been prepared to retreat – and later return to the long-term game plan. Every government has taken it further. Now the coalition has taken a giant step forward with the Health and Social Care Bill. Tactical retreat may be necessary on some issues, as we have seen, but clearly ever more radical advances are in the pipeline.


Keep our NHS Public explained that “the health bill is the final stage in a 25-year privatisation project”. Ministers of the crown are “using existing powers to abolish PCTs [primary care trusts] and set up ‘pathfinder’, so-called ‘GP consortia’ and making arrangements with foreign private companies to take over NHS hospitals, while the government has pre-empted such debate as MPs are inclined to have” (No8, autumn 2011).


Whilst parliament was debating the bill, the crown was busily implementing its policies like some invisible coup. Crucial entities underpinning the privatising agenda were put in place before even the second reading of the bill. Through various crown regulations etc, ministers were able to ‘decree into existence’ Pathfinder GP consortia for over half the country. Funds were used to make staff redundant from the strategic health authorities and primary trusts. The old system was virtually demolished before the bill was on the statute book and 151 PCTs were put to the sword. Moreover, the new National Commissioning Board was empowered to appoint a chief executive, finance director and seven board members on salaries of up to £170,000. McKinsey and KPMG, who were consultants on the framing of the legislation, had been awarded big contracts to run GP commissioning.


Most of the left associate the crown with the queen and think that the latter is irrelevant to our increasingly difficult daily life. The opposite is the case. Whether the crown is taking us to war in Iraq or planning how to support the US-Israeli plans for Iran, or designing a privatised NHS or school system, it is a process largely impermeable to the needs of the people. Naturally, none of this is immutable or inevitable and the economic fragility of the economy is becoming ever more evident. Our political response to the crisis of the crown should not be another government of the crown, but another system of government altogether – one built on those truly democratic principles of popular sovereignty and accountability.


Queen rules the waves


Her majesty has a significant political role in this nation’s drama as the Great Distraction. The modern monarchy is a camouflage for the crown. We are so mesmerised by the continuous royal cavalcade and its pretensions of powerlessness and irrelevance to real life that we do not look in the opposite direction and notice the unaccountable power of the crown being wielded daily by the political class.


Monarchy is the UK’s national secular religion. Monarchy is the nation represented as a perfect world with a grateful people on their knees. Of course, the queen is not a god, but a living, breathing human being, dressed up for the job. Yet this ritual of worship, exemplified by the jubilee, idealises monarchy as a kind of living god which has come to walk among us mere mortals – or, most tellingly, ‘subjects’.


The jubilee will promote the queen as the nation’s grandmother. In her March 20 speech to parliament she spoke of “national qualities of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance”. It is surely inspiring to be praised by our national icon. She thinks we are great! We should surely reciprocate by welling up with pride.
The queen went on to say: “It is my sincere hope that the diamond jubilee will be an opportunity for people to come together in a sort of neighbourliness and celebration of their own communities.” We could all echo this sentiment as republicans, without hostility or any hint of cynicism. There is no reason to see her speech as anything other than sincere, for its contents explain why the motivation for the genuine affection which many of her subjects have for her is not simply rabid royalism.


However, shouldn’t we all wake up and smell the Darjeeling? Coming together for a crown-organised jubilee can never offer more than an illusion of unity in our class-divided society, in which rich and poor and those stuck in the middle are fighting for, or fighting to diminish, democracy and social justice. The monarchy is not neutral in this struggle, but the embodiment of a conservative, class-ridden society. With the queen, or her male offspring, safely enthroned in Buckingham Palace there will never be even the chance of substantive change. The subliminal message is: ‘Britain’s hereditary (ruling) class system has existed since time immemorial and will continue ever more – alongside its hereditary monarchs.’


In reality, the chief function of monarchy is not simply the nation’s enslavement to an ideology of a royalist-based patriotism. It is, rather, the Great Distraction – away from where the true levers of power are located within the structure of the crown. The crown not only governs the county and determines so much of our lives, but, moreover, in an epoch of its growing economic crisis, increasingly threatens our hard-won rights and liberties. The monarch ties the robber’s bundle precisely because the inherent danger to democracy of the unelected and unaccountable crown is concealed by the nation’s grandmother smiling sweetly.


Shelley’s was an acute observation. However, an enduring misconception concerning the crown and monarch goes some way to explain why republicanism is so weak. The left fails to distinguish between the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. This error produces a weak version of republicanism, one focused almost entirely on the queen and whether she ‘costs too much’ or arguing about how much of ‘our national income’ she generates through tourism.


The crown and the class it represents know they cannot put a price on the undoubted lift to the nation’s morale, brought low by an ever deepening recession, which the jubilee will bring. For, when the queen dispenses honours, waves, shakes hands, visits foreign countries or meets adoring crowds, she will distract both from the crisis that the crown is now presiding over, and, more importantly, our principal role in paying for it (and her!). Thus, as the crown’s leading player in this elaborate jubilee spectacle, the queen will once again execute her main role, which is to draw attention away from the power and nature of the crown itself, and the current fall in our living standards, by momentarily banishing the storm clouds of recession somewhere over the horizon.


No wonder Cameron, the crown’s current CEO, is smiling.
(A version of this article appeared in Chartist and a second version appeared in Weekly Worker:-


http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004855

 

 

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