In 1894 Keir Hardie, leader of the Independent Labour Party, wrote:
“the life of one Welsh miner is of greater commercial and moral value to the British nation than the whole Royal crowd put together, from the Royal Great-Grand- Mama to this puling Royal Great-Grandchild.”
This was in reference to the birth of King Edward VIII, an event which was celebrated in the United Kingdom as a glorious moment for national unity. Hardie’s comments in the Commons regarding the birth caused outrage which punched a hole in the air of sycophantic loyalism that arose around this “national” event. Fast forward to 2012 and the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband says:
“The Queen’s reign is a golden thread that links people across the country and across the generations: united in the respect and genuine affection for Her Majesty. And in the reverence she has inspired in people across this country, across the Commonwealth, and across the world.”
What a change. Perhaps most controversially would be the line:
“She exemplifies a care for the common good of all to which we can all aspire.“
How we are all expected to aspire to a care for the common good in a position which is hereditary and unelected, I don’t know, but the republican voice of the Labour Party has been in a complete lockdown during this Jubilee.
The Labour Party has always had a tradition of republicanism running through it – unsurprising, since it’s always had a tradition of Socialism as well. Tony Benn’s Commonwealth of Britain Bill in 1991 has been one of the few attempts in modern times to do away with the Monarchy. And the list of Labour MPs (past and present) who have mumbled their way through the oath to the Queen has become as much part of Parliamentary tradition as the oath itself. But Labour has never managed to advocate an official policy of Republicanism in its history, even at its Socialist height in 1945, although there has often been a marked tension between Labour and the Monarchy whenever they have been handed the reins of power.
It’s true that none of the big three mainstream political parties follow a policy of Republicanism. The Green party does and is, as such, the main standard-bearer. This is key, of course – Republicanism is seen generally as political suicide. The baffling support for the Monarchy (or at least for the Queen) means that no party in right mind, in these days of soundbites and media manipulation, would ever criticise the Monarchy if it ever wanted any chance of electoral success.
Well, we hardly expect principles in politics, nowadays, do we?
The lack of dissent on the part of Labour MPs over the Diamond Jubilee has been shocking; social mobility is completely stifled – in no small part thanks to having an innate system of privilege still established in this country. The Labour Party was created as a counterbalance to heritage and aristocracy and yet it has never established an official policy towards the Monarchy, in spite of pressure from Republicans in its own ranks. It would also be true to point out that the Monarchy is more popular than it ever has been – almost 70% of the country in favour according to a Guardian poll – and so for Labour to pick this time to take another stand would seem pretty ill-timed. But with the revelations that long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations, the clear moral argument against a celebration of wealth and privilege is clear – in our nation, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
In this sense, it is possible to see the jubilee as a form of social masochism and for Labour, the supposed party of fairness and egalitarianism, to jump right in with the whip is doing nothing to address to address the economic hypocrisy at play here. Even the party’s traditional Republican wing, whether it be Roy Hattersley, Dennis Skinner, Tony Benn et al, have been absent; the party has firmly towed the monarchy line.
It is 2012. The monarchy is so much more of an anachronism now than it was when the Labour Party was first created. Once all the joys and festivities over this mass fetishisation of inherited wealth are over, dissenting voices must again arise with Labour’s ranks – Republicanism, which is old hat to most of the world, should not be confined to the far-left and, er…Rupert Murdoch.