Friday, 29 April 2011

You don't have to be a republican to find the Royal Wedding offensive

Today billions of people worldwide will be watching the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton .  It’s indisputably an historic event as the likely future head of the British state, William Windsor, marries his future Queen Consort.  The blanket, unquestioning media coverage will no doubt grate with republicans - who wish to see an end to the British monarchy - but it should also sit uneasily with a much wider audience.  The wedding is a celebration of all that is wrong with Britain today; a lack of democracy, support for despotic regimes and inherited privilege.  

Alarmingly the wedding endorses the flouting of human rights offenders.  As is protocol for such events, several representatives from nations that regularly flout the human rights of their subjects will be in attendance at Westminster Abbey.  We don’t only sell arms to dictators, we also invite them and their contemporaries to Royal Weddings.  Its like Greenpeace inviting former BP head Tony Hayward to its Christmas party.  At the eleventh hour the Syrian ambassador has had his invitation withdrawn due to the ongoing state sponsored violence taking place in Syria, but representatives from Bahrain and other Middle East governments will still be in attendance to fly the flag for despotism.

The Royal Wedding is not an official state event and as such there are no official rules or conventions on who should be invited.  Therefore extending an invitation to representatives of unsavoury regimes is indefensible.  The counter argument to this is that the wedding should avoid becoming politicised or influenced by current affairs.  But the guest list has been openly politicised already; former Prime Ministers have been invited based upon partisan association.  Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both former labour Prime Ministers have not received an invitation; unlike former Conservative PMs Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

The monarchy is anti-democratic.  The current Queen and future King of Great Britain have no democratic mandate to be Head of State, having been neither elected nor appointed by the people that they supposedly represent.  In fact, numerous despots from around the globe such as Robert Mugabe and Colonel Gaddaffi can at least claim that a portion of their populations have voted for them at some point.  It’s a terribly poor mandate with little or no legitimacy, but its more than the  British monarchy can claim.

The British monarch may have limited actual power, but they are still the head of the British state and play a central role in its constitution.  It seems contradictory that a nation can claim to be democratic and conduct military operations overseas to ‘spread’ democracy yet persists in having an unelected head of state.  It’s incredibly hypocritical; any organisation that has as its head a person that goes against its fundamental principles should not be taken seriously. 

The Royal Wedding is anti-meritocratic.  William Windsor will be the next king of Great Britain because of his parentage, not his achievements, qualifications or suitability for the role.  The medieval concept of hereditary power runs contrary to the notion that Britain is, ostensibly, a meritocratic nation.  The Royal Wedding is ultimately a celebration of privilege and how by marrying Prince William, Kate Middleton and any future children stand to inherit incredible opportunity for generations to come.

The wedding is also anti-meritocratic for its propagation of the myth that Kate Middleton is ‘normal’ or ‘one of us’.  I won’t attempt to define what ‘normal’ actually means in modern Britain, but it’s worth considering the educational history of Kate Middleton.  Those born to parents in professional occupations are 60% more likely to go to university in the UK.  Kate Middleton attended private school, something only done so by 7% of the British population.  This in turn increased the chances of attending prestigious university such as St Andrews which takes approximately 40% of its intake from private schools. Those attending state school therefore face a significant challenge in winning a place at universities such as St Andrews and having the opportunity to romp around with a prince.   

Kate Middleton hasn’t had a proper job since 2006, other than working for her millionaire parents' mail order company.  A good life for those that can get it, though again, not particularly meritocratic.  The idea that she is normal, and therefore it could happen to you or your friends or family, is not only laughable but damaging.  It reinforces the sexist message that the only true way for women to achieve social mobility is by marrying a prince, or more latterly, a wealthy footballer.

The wedding has sadly also overshadowed the ongoing debate on electoral reform.  Admittedly electoral reform is a dry subject compared to the glamour of a wedding, yet the former is infinitely more important as it is a chance to make Britain more democratic. That such a frivolous spectacle should find greater traction with the British people is not only sad, but reveals the worrying prevalence of deference in Britain.  We’re prepared to celebrate the marriage of our ‘betters’, yet when offered more democratic control over government we’re simply not interested.

The most spurious claim in defence of the wedding and the Royal family is their supposed economic benefit;  they attract tourists providing a major boost to our economy.  There is a clear economic benefit from such occasions and the Monarchy in general, but the same can be said of the legalisation of Heroin.  Just because something makes money, doesn’t make it right.  Strangely, the palace of Versailles still attracts thousands of tourists each year, despite the fact that France has been a republic for the best of part of the last 220 years following the beheading of its monarchy. 

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