Our royal correspondent, Dave Kellaway, draws a couple of lessons from the current fuss about a recipient of public money the right adores.
“I think she writes great books, but I think what she’s said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong. “What I’ve seen of Princess Kate at public events, at the Olympics and elsewhere is this is someone who’s bright, who’s engaging, who’s a fantastic ambassador for Britain. We should be proud of that, rather than make these rather misguided remarks.”
“These are pretty offensive remarks. I don’t agree with them. Kate Middleton is doing a brilliant job in a difficult role. She’s a huge asset to the country. She deserves our support.”
“Kate does a fantastic job for the country but he hasn’t read the article so he doesn’t want to comment on it.”
“Hilary Mantel did not attack K. Middleton. She offered feminist critique of monarchism.”
“BBC News devoted a discussion to whether a pregnant woman could safely put on a turn of speed while wearing high heels. It is sad to think that intelligent people could devote themselves to this topic with earnest furrowings of the brow, but that’s what discourse about royals comes to : a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken”
“an astonishing and venomous attack”
Before reading further see if you can do our quiz.
Match the above statements to the following people: a) Hilary Mantel, b) Nick Clegg, c) David Cameron, d) Beatrix Campbell and e) Daily Mail f) Ed Miliband. Answers below.
A two week old speech by Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel has caused an uproar in the press and provoked reaction from many politicians. The author of the Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies about the Tudor politician Thomas Cromwell probably underestimated the cretinous and kneejerk expressions of monarchism that her rather cerebral talk to the left-leaning London Review of Books would stir up.
The reaction of Ed Miliband (yes he is statement number 2 – even worse than Clegg!) says all you need to know about New Labour, or should that be One Nation, Labour’s attitude to the monarchy. He accepts the ridiculous argument that Mantel’s relatively mild attack on the media’s construction and continual reproduction of the monarchist narrative… is offensive. Offensive to whom Ed? Surely a lot of Labour’s voters, while not being republican are offended by the gross wealth and privilege of the royal family compared to the experience of the vast majority in austerity Britain. And what is all this about a difficult job? How difficult is it to go around and visit places, say a few positive words, shake some hands and smile. I’m sure we could easily organise an X factor style contest if we really needed somebody to do it. Or perhaps we could all just organise a rota for such a role. Then there is this idea of an ‘asset’ to the ‘country’. Does this mean working people benefit from some sort of economic surplus or growth generated by the royal family? In any case this idea of an undifferentiated country, just like the One Nation rubbish fails to understand that we may live in a defined geographical space but Kate and all the rest of them really do live in another country. Somewhere where people never experience unemployment, job insecurity, hours or benefits cuts and is never likely to eat adulterated processed food or visit a food bank.
If you take a look at the Mantel article (at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n04/hilary-mantel/royal-bodies ) she does not even come out against the monarchy but merely wonders aloud whether it is a ‘suitable institution for a grown up nation’. Her main focus is on the relationship of the press and us all to the monarchy and how it has been reprogrammed in modern times to provide ongoing entertainment which can veer from the sycophantic (Diana) to the vitriolic (some criticism of Harry or Camilla). It is also true, as Bea Campbell points out, that the media presentation of Kate Middleton does undermine feminist ideas as the emphasis is so much on her appearance and as a future mother. At a time when the austerity offensive is particularly hard for women the championing of traditional roles where women have to hold together the family at home can weaken the possibility of building a fightback.
Clearly the monarchy does fulfil a very useful role in reproducing capitalist hegemony. Its very nature says conservatism, continuity and stability. The soap opera gives a false sense of a family that is synonymous with ideas of nationhood. Links with the military are embodied physically with Harry and William doing a form of ‘controlled’ active service in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In a crisis that threatened capitalist power itself the ‘firm’ could be a useful recourse, standing apparently over and above the sordid ground of politics, representing the ‘interests’ of the nation. Indeed the formal powers of the monarchy include the right to dissolve parliament and to command the army. None of this is alluded to in Mantel’s piece. For socialists it may not be a period where the priority is to raise the issue of the monarchy but recognising its pernicious role and the need to discuss it in terms of programme and strategy is important.
Answers: 1. David Cameron 2. Ed Miliband 3. Nick Clegg 4. Beatrix Campbell 5. Hilary Mantel 6.Daily Mail