Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne four years before I was born. For those who grew up under the sway of the British imperial system, her stoic face was a constant tenor through the decades of seismic cultural shifts in Britain and the post-Second World War world. Like the glue we licked behind her miniature visage on our first and second-class stamps, the Queen was foremost an archetypal matron holding it all together. Her face alone, rarely breaking beyond a careful smile, imprinted duty, a stiff upper lip, and the stilted deflection, diverting “real speak” to the engrained platitudes that shape, and often imprison, the nation’s psyche.
I am not immune from the sense of belonging to this strange, emotionally stunted tribe. I still have my letter from Prince Charles in a Kensington Palace embossed envelope thanking me kindly for a copy of my first published poetry book. I still have my special tea cups with monarchy portraits and the memory of my sweet, East End (of London) working-class grandparents, with the Queen’s congratulatory letter on their 60th wedding anniversary hanging proudly over their central mantel place.
I have watched royal weddings at odd hours from different continents and kept an eye on the shenanigans of the Queen’s tumultuous household, mirroring the nation’s implosion of the nuclear family. And I am an avid viewer of The Crown.
On Facebook, I posted the June ’22 Jubilee video of the Queen’s tea party with Paddington Bear to prickly comments about Paddington Bear being an immigrant (from Peru) and “look how badly Britain is treating its immigrants.” While painfully true, I still marvelled at the translucent vulnerability in the Queen’s eyes as she sat, so near death, opposite this beloved bear, enjoying marmalade sandwiches.
Essentially, this staid woman invokes respect. She called forth double rainbows at her death. She embodied the “Keep Calm and Carry On” branding of my mother’s generation forged by German Blitz bombers, flying twenty miles long and twenty miles wide up the River Thames to unleash their devastation on London. During that whole time, the Queen refused to leave the Capital.
But… and, this “but” is as deep and wide as the brutal plunder and oppression of the British Empire, which aches for acknowledgement and reparation for its centuries of devastating colonialism. All of which were underwritten by the Monarchy. So, while the government and Monarchy rush the nation to swear allegiance to a new King, I feel we should resist and instead engage this spell breaker of the Queen’s death with some serious questions.
Not so fast with the sixteenth-century pageantry and assumptions that we are all onboard. Yesterday, a man who unwittingly got caught up in a procession in Oxford to proclaim the new King spontaneously called out, “who elected him?” He later said he doubted anyone heard him. Even so, he was promptly handcuffed, arrested and charged under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022, a fascistic Brexit “law” criminalizing the public’s democratic right to protest. Paul Powlesland, a young Barrister, held up a blank piece of paper at Parliament Square. A police officer confirmed that if he wrote “Not My King,” he would be arrested under the same act. Here he explains how that moment shifted him to Republicanism.
Under the Monarchy’s gaze, Britain has endured twelve years of Thatcherite policies with her “there is no such thing as a society” austerity, which has sprouted food banks in most towns and cities across the country. The Tory government’s Brexit ideology, headed by the right-wing billionaire media, has crushed businesses. The UK has shifted from the world’s fifth largest economy to “emerging market economy” status in just a few senseless years. Tories, abandoning workers’ rights with alacrity, have left Britain at the mercy of unprotected corporate plunder.
Currently, while the UK is officially under wraps for ten days of mourning, the Tory government is losing no time ripping up the Paris Agreement and its obligations. One of the first acts of yet another (the third since Brexit) just installed prime minister, Liz “rip out solar and wind installations” Truss, lifted the hard-won fight to ban fracking while transferring £130Bn for fossil fuels. To add insult to injury, throughout the summer, Tories did nothing to stop massive flows of untreated raw sewage from being released into pristine rivers and across coastlines, closing beaches and horrifying the public.
Still, they continue ripping the country apart. Liz Truss’s encore is installing Jacob Rees-Mogg, a supercilious, top-hatted climate denialist with an affected upper-class accent, as Secretary of State for Energy, Business, and Industrial Strategy. Rees-Mogg advocates for extracting every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea and adaptation to climate change. Just ask Pakistan’s 33 million climate-displaced people how that is going for them.
With the “Sunlit Uplands” Brexit promise of the Tories failing so badly, Britain has yet to acknowledge it suffered a coup by an oligarchic, fossil-fuel-serving ruling, criminal class. Their lackeys are the graduates from upper-class public (private in the US) schools, who make up 74% of the current government or just 2% representation of the entire population. From a progressive forward-looking nation, the UK has devolved at dizzying speed into a nostalgic, backwards-falling country immersed in its mythic distortion of “greatness.” The reality is that Britain is now a glorified Petri dish for oligarchs to experiment with how far they can push a nation into hunger-games-type feudalism to maintain and grow their immense wealth and power.
Given this demoralising context, I would vote for the Monarchy to be dismantled or downsized. Monarchy and its liege, the Tory party, are the lynchpin that sustains an outdated and oppressive class system with its deeply inequitable distribution of land, resources, and opportunities. The struggle to move from under the British class system is a theme running through my own life in tandem with surviving the violence of my Irish father, who grew up in extreme poverty in the Dublin slums. Primarily, I trace my father’s destructive effect on our family to the impact of British colonialism with its constructed famine, workhouses, and unrelenting generational oppression.
Even after decades of self-awareness and healing work, I’m struck by how perniciously, and stubbornly class conditioning is wired into the psyche. The “who do you think you are?” dismissal. For example, millionaire Lord Alan Sugar, tweeted to a young man, who is economically struggling but had the temerity, in Sugar’s mind, to criticize his luxury yacht, “Shut your bloody mouth, you jealous scum,”
For the Monarchy to work, it has to veil the brutal mechanisms that enable its survival, which includes even brutalising its own. Prince Harry said he “had no one to turn to, even in his own family,” when his bi-racial wife, Meghan Markle, was pushed to the edge of suicide by the British establishment and the feral racism running through British society. In the end, the relentless hounding of the UK’s treacherous Tabloid press drove them from England.
While the Monarchy aims to bond British citizens to itself through nostalgia, charitable works, good press, and tradition, what we see in the actions of Liz Truss, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Lord Sugar is the more accurate face of the British ruling class. A class of colonisers now plundering Britain itself, all the while using the death of the Queen to force-feed an archaic national narrative that is creating a dangerous void into which an authoritarian police state is already emerging.
In my view, we don’t need a new King, and he won’t help us. Charles won’t even stand up for his son, Harry. However, the Monarchy and its Tory liege will not implode by itself. Instead, we should withdraw sentimental allegiance (including my teacups!) and build a thriving, equitable, reinvigorated progressive democracy based on proportional representation. A system informed by local Citizen Assemblies that has some chance of meeting the enormity of the poly-crises we face. We are doomed if we fail, choosing instead to be dragged along by a system entirely ill-equipped to meet our new terrifying realities.
Already an inspiring counter-movement is fast-unfolding in the UK that is in open rebellion, which is different and perhaps cuts deeper than Extinction Rebellion. Trade Union leaders have been massively organising working-class engagement through the Enough is Enough and Don’t Pay campaigns. Hundreds of thousands have signed up, are turning up for rallies, and have pledged not to pay bills. People literally can’t afford the cost of living due to the enormous price hikes the Tories inflicted, leaving little choice between freezing, starving or not paying.
If the Queen’s death symbolizes the end of an era, it can also initiate the beginning of a new reshaping of the power dynamics in Britain. Increasingly, the planet is run to fit the agenda of oligarchs, fossil-fuel moguls and media robber barons. It’s the same old story. At some point, the peasants will have had enough and start strategizing how to storm the castle. That time is now.
In the UK, there is tremendous potential in the two primary rebellions, Workers Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion aligning with organizations focused on an equitable, inclusive, sustainable vision for the future. Do we want a society with people reduced to living on charitable donations, like food banks from the government or patronage from the Monarchy? What if, instead, people have a fair share, are recipients of moral reparations and have equal opportunities to empower themselves and each other in mutually collaborative ways?
Neither do we need an endless show of torturous royal duty that precludes deeper national inquiry. Suppose we want to express loyalty meaningfully rather than pay obeisance to a distant, billionaire Monarchy. What could be a wiser Queen to serve than Grandmother Earth? She produces everything we need and use, day in and day out. For myself, I acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II’s dutiful life, but I vote for Queen Earth.
Mary Thanissara, 9/13/22