It might not have a name, birthday or sex, but I already am bound to it with unwavering fealty. By law.
The Duchess of Cambridge’s second child has predictably captured the indefatigable fascination of the British press. The Daily Mirror mourns her morning sickness and Will’s desire to comfort her: “KATE’S SO SICK… I NEED TO BE WITH HER NOW.” The Telegraph describes it as a shrewd backup plan: “Kate Middleton pregnant: the long history of producing a spare.” Even the supposedly socialist Guardian’s website has a feed for “LIVE UPDATES” on the enthralling details of the gestation.
When I signed up for British citizenship in 2006 I pledged my allegiance to this new royal, both in writing and in speech. “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors according to the law.”
Key words: Heirs and Successors. I am legally obliged to display devotion to all of them – including Harry, with his Vegas hot-tub orgies, Nazi costumes, quips about “little Paki friend[s]”, rehab trips and all.
When I first read my script for the citizenship ceremony I objected to the instruction that I “swear by Almighty God”, and was politely excused. Invoking the approval of a supreme being was optional. But pledging devotion to the monarchy was not.
I laughed… but I also cringed, for I am offended by everything about the monarchy and what it stands for.
My primary objection is not their financial cost to taxpayers (though spending any portion of the public coffer on poshies is indisputably questionable). It’s what the Royals represent and how they impact the British psyche. They lend credibility to the notion that some people are born superior to others. Their existence validates the class system, which is by far the most socially toxic and politically noxious aspect of life in the United Kingdom.
America’s intractable inherited curse is racism. Here it is classism. Social mobility is among the lowest in Europe, classist slurs are quotidian (such as the ubiquitous insult “chav”, applied to the ill-dressed denizens of public housing). Towns utterly devoid of the notion of ambition, where generations have subsisted off government benefits for decades, riddle the countryside.
While the self-made-millionaire is the hero of American rags-to-riches folklore, here anyone born “working class” will always be consigned to a lower societal rung. Alan Sugar (the East London-born host of the UK version of The Apprentice) may rank among the nation’s 100 wealthiest men, but he will always be grubby and crass to the upper class, whose grip on power is unshakable. Even the fact that London’s mayor Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron were both members of the coat-tailed, floppy-haired and famously violent Bullingdon Club still has not persuaded most British voters to protest their empowerment.
I have lived here for ten years, and even some of the smartest and most politically enlightened people I know will limply defend the monarchy, invoking economic arguments in their favour. “It’s good for tourism,” they mutter. Sigh.
As a foreigner (Canadian born and bred), I can assert: tourists don’t visit for the Queen. People come for the history, the landscape, the history, the museums and the arts. Italy, France and Germany attract visitors just fine without monarchs. Moreover, the economic argument is a myth. Of the top 50 U.K. tourist destinations, only one is remotely related to the royals: the Tower of London, more famous for its torture chambers than for its direct relationship to the monarchy.
I hold little animosity towards most royals as individuals. None of the bloodline chose their roles. Though travelling the world, living in castles and daily adulation sounds nice on paper, upon inspection, their lives are unenviable. The Queen looks supremely tired and bored; the weary look on her face betrays her fatigue. Who can blame her? After six decades, anyone would rather enjoy a rest in front of the telly than open parliament for the umpteenth time with another spoon-fed speech written by a Prime Minister’s advisor.
Lord knows Charles did not have a happy childhood (or first marriage). And there’s no doubt Harry and William would rather have had anonymous childhoods with the mother who loved them.
Rather than worship them, the Brits would do far better by questioning them with a referendum. After all, the last time anyone in Britain was given any say over their head of state was in 1689. I for one am envious of the Scots, who next week will be given the chance to vote on something that truly represents their values as a nation.
Undoubtedly a referendum on the monarchy would fail – most here are indisputably romantically attached to the institution. But tabling the idea would at least force people to question the concept at all.