In 1917, King George changed the name of the British royal family from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which was German, to the super-English-sounding “Windsor”.
It was an early example of public relations at work; during the Great War, it was imperative for not only the royal family but the wider British establishment to be positioned as in complete solidarity with its subjects across the Empire.
This is because on the battlefront, German generals were describing the British forces as “lions led by donkeys” – in other words, competent, brave working-class soldiers at the command of a useless, clumsy upper-class leadership. Indeed, a million people from across the empire died fighting for “King and country”.
Just over a century later, the British establishment has got so adept at using the monarchy to justify Britain’s rigged systems of wealth and power, that we can all be forgiven for falling for mega PR stunts like last weekend.
The woke black reverend was great, for sure. As was Stand by Me. But was the wedding so significant that the ten leading UK newspapers were justified in printing a combined 282 pages on the royal wedding on Sunday alone?
Given the inquiry into Grenfell has started this week, absolutely not. There wasn’t a single front page for Grenfell on Monday though, if we needed any indication of who our press’ allegiances are with. We won’t even get 28.2 of pages investigating the likes of Celotex – or the fact that it was somehow legal to clad the building in the equivalent of 30,000 litres of petrol – throughout the entire length of what will most likely be another drawn-out, overly-complicated establishment whitewash.
This contrast points to the real hybridity of British society – there are two Britain’s and they are formed along deep class lines more than anything else. For all the talk of an inclusive royal wedding, it is worth remembering that none of the cherry-picked black and brown guests have nothing in common with our “little paki friends” – as Harry would say (let’s conveniently forget about that, though) – and other working-class people, of all ethnicities, from places like Grenfell.
We also saw the oppressive side of identity politics at the weekend. Liberal Britain celebrated what was essentially just a carefully chosen mixture of wealthy, multi-racial famous people, as if it was some triumph of justice for minority communities across the UK. Though it’s doubtful that, however much a copper likes the idea of Meghan Markle as a royal, it will make him think twice about stop and searching the next “suspicious looking” black lad for a £20 bag of weed in his pocket.
Given the royal family share a close bond with their Saudi counterparts, it’s worth comparing the build-up, coverage and aftermath of the royal wedding with Prince Salman’s recent global PR tour. Remember a few months ago when we were flooded with images and headlines of the great progressive reformer, who will liberate Saudi women? Well, turns out it was bullshit; just last week ten Saudi women’s rights campaigners were arrested and branded “traitors” and Amnesty International certainly weren’t fooled by any of the lavish PR.
Yet most of Hollywood so was down with “Prince Charming”, as was Macron, the liberal media and of course our very own government – who handily sold his army billions of pounds of weapons to use on starving people with cholera in the world’s largest famine, Yemen.
Both the “reforming Prince” and the royal wedding are two elaborate campaigns designed to give off the illusion of radical change. Do you seriously think for a minute that Meghan wasn’t vetted by PR guy after PR guy, making sure she ticked all the boxes in, as the Shelbys might say, “the company’s” carefully managed relationship with the general public?
The real objective is to delay fundamental change, of course – indefinitely, if possible. As soon as the royal family loses its legitimacy in the eyes of the British people – as it very nearly did in the years after Diana’s death – then we start to ask deep questions about our society and our history.
Is it in any sense just that the royals can be bankrolled by the taxpayer, while sitting on £12 billion worth of inherited land; or that a member of the aristocracy can easily avoid paying a penny’s tax on £8.2 billion of passed down wealth – while wages haven’t risen in a decade, all because of a global financial crisis caused by casino capitalism?
The royal family is the cornerstone of everything that’s wrong and backwards about Britain. Yet its symbolic value is huge; only for a royal wedding would most people be okay with homeless people and their possessions kicked out of Windsor, to make way for people draped in union jacks to camp out instead.
It’s time to be honest about the royals. We believe the fiction that, since some unspecified point in the past, we stopped serving them and they started serving us. It couldn’t be further from reality – the royals are the fine-tuned, stage-managed mascots of British inequality, neoliberalism and neo-imperialism.
Some people said the taxpayer shouldn’t have spend a penny on the wedding, others said it should have been pay-per-view. I’d go a very large – but essential – step further, and get rid of the monarchy entirely. Without hands-down the best bit of public relations of all time – the British (or is it German?) royal family – at their disposal, our establishments’ house of cards might come crashing down.