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Royalty and the common man

Farzana Versey (Issues)
Filed on May 2, 2011

Two days after Kate Middleton and Prince William walked down tahe aisle, a group of workers took to the streets to celebrate the working class. Perhaps, there is no contradiction.

The working class pays the least amount of taxes and, therefore, can spare a few quid for monarchical whimsies. The real tussle of labour is with the capitalist.

The British monarchy is politically the most ceremonial. It has also stuck to its traditional roles; these give it rights without duty. Within the confines of palaces and horse stables, and the occasional outings in military zones and for social causes, it does not get in the way of the public. Therefore, the anti-monarchy voices are essentially of the intelligentsia. It is a teak-wood panelled clubby opposition mainly reiterating at regular intervals that the times they are a-changing, and like any vinyl record, it has some antique value. Rather charmingly it gets transposed with the antiquity of the object of protest. Karl Marx had foreseen this when he wrote, “The Tories in England had long imagined that they were enthusiastic about the monarchy, the church and beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about rent.”

There have been humongous amounts of opinion column debates confined to discussing the future queen’s middle class origins. The reason for such an obsessive and often intrusive nature of investigation is that not only was Ms. Middleton middle class until her formal engagement, she was also working class. It has little to do with her history that harks back to a coalminer, the pits, a flight attendant and air traffic manager, but her job profiles of choice did not reveal grand professional qualifications, although she did study well, holidayed well and led a nice little life in a red brick house with pretty siblings and parents who ran a neat business. Her ‘marrying well’ hits out at the idea not of the monarchy but of the middle class. It is worse than betrayal of the class; it is the travesty of demoting and then rising, skipping over the fence, so to speak. She also went ahead and invited a butcher, a postman and a shopkeeper from her village for the wedding.

Unlike politicians who swing to two extremes overtly, the changes in the monarchy are fairly subtle. The Queen remains the fulcrum and it is not without reason that she has refused to abdicate the throne. It is not about the British Empire anymore; that has been taken over by the House of Commons and its American-mimicked ideology. The Queen wants to keep alive the idea of the United Kingdom and that is the reason the pressure to be regal and proper has always been more on the future queens-to-be. Diana was a callow young girl who had to be spruced up. The baggage she collected along the way went against the tulle trail that followed her on her nuptials, but she managed to get a royal canonisation. The attempts of Mohamed Al Fayyad to erect a shrine at Harrods’s for her and his son Dodi appealed to the in-betweens the most. The middle class found that it went well with its Tory going Labour politics where the immigrant, the paparazzi and anti-monarchism can come together. It is also their ticket to upward mobility.

The working class has no such concerns. It is free of both democracy and monarchy. However, while the former uses it, the latter indulges it. May Day rallies have been against the capitalist movement and the targets are the politicians or the moneyed. Winston Churchill has not been spared and neither has McDonald’s. Why, one would wonder, attack an American franchise? Because the British middle class has become Americanised. The best traders in the world are now watching their mustard Englishness being squirted with coquettish ketchup.

The Americans, on their part, are quite besotted with the idea of ‘history’ and their own version of royalty. In an amusing piece, Vanity Fair was totally smitten with a scoop photograph that shows Kate Middleton to be a distant relative of Edward Kennedy. The clubbers will snort silently.

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer


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