Two days after Kate Middleton and Prince William walk down the aisle, a group of workers will take to the streets to celebrate the working class. If there is any contradiction it will be ignored. Or perhaps, there is no contradiction. The working class pays the least amount of taxes and therefore can spare a few quid for monarchical whimsies. The real tussle of labour is with the capitalist.
The British monarchy is politically the most ceremonial. It has also stuck to its religious and traditional roles; these give it rights without duty. Analyst and economist of the Victorian era, Walter Bagehot, had expressed it clearly: “The Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense and sagacity would want no others.”
Within the confines of palaces and horse stables, and the occasional outings in military zones and for social causes, it does not get in the way of the public. Therefore, the anti-monarchy voices are essentially of the intelligentsia. It is a teak-wood panelled clubby opposition mainly reiterating at regular intervals that the times they are a-changing, and like any vinyl record, it has some antique value. Rather charmingly it gets transposed with the antiquity of the object of protest. Karl Marx had foreseen this when he wrote, “The Tories in England had long imagined that they were enthusiastic about the monarchy, the church and beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about rent.”
There have been humongous amounts of opinion column debates confined to discussing the future queen’s middle class origins. One would have assumed that the middle class was a defunct species for Britons in the discourse. The reason for such an obsessive and often intrusive nature of investigation is that not only was Ms. Middleton middle class until her formal engagement, she was also working class. It has little to do with her history that harks back to a coalminer, the pits, a flight attendant and air traffic manager, but her job profiles of choice did not reveal grand professional qualifications, although she did study well, holidayed well and led a nice little life in a red brick house with pretty siblings and parents who ran a neat business. Her ‘marrying well’ hits out at the idea not of the monarchy but of the middle class. It is worse than betrayal of the class; it is the travesty of demoting and then rising, skipping over the fence, so to speak.
When she went shopping recently, she chose undergarments at the bargain section and just as easily moved to Calvin Klein for the next batch of smalls. She has also revealed that she got nightmares that on her wedding day she would be in the buff. It might well be the jitters, but it is also a rather trashy public statement to make. It is what would appeal to the lower end of the stalls. There is possibly no planned method, but then it is no madness either. It is an art that her mother-in-law, the late Princess Diana, had perfected – an Eva Peron-like persona. Eva, who addressed the poor, “the shirtless ones”, with the famous words, “I leave you my woman’s heart and I tell you once again that your companion Evita prefers to be Evita rather than the wife of the President…” She was not a politician, yet she knew that in an environment where self-esteem depended on how others viewed you, you had to have the masses on your side.
Diana worked the assembly line of causes to become the people’s princess. The people were not the intellectual class. They did not judge her and her foibles. She was way more popular than Prince Charles could ever be, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he talked to plants. Physical allure is one aspect, but it is the factor of benevolence that impresses upon naïve minds. They do not see it as a conflict situation. For them the monarchy is a fairytale – it is as imagined as it is real.
In the factories where they toil over making souvenirs, the kitsch goes well with the lack of aspiration forced upon the labour class that is given to believe they are the moving wheels of the economic carriage. The designers and sometimes tacky merchandisers redoubling as creators give them a blueprint but it is their hands that have shaped the mugs and plates and felt the heat of the kilns. While the formula is standard for the middle class minions of opportunity – the British flag, the royal emblem, the faces of the couple – for the working person each of these are symbolic of a comforting stability. Unlike politicians who swing to two extremes overtly, the changes in the monarchy are fairly subtle. The Queen remains the fulcrum and it is not without reason that she has refused to abdicate the throne. It is not about the British Empire anymore; that has been taken over by the House of Commons and its American-mimicked ideology. The Queen wants to keep alive the idea of the United Kingdom and that is the reason the pressure to be regal and proper has always been more on the future queens-to-be rather than any of the other princesses. Sarah Fergusson with her blazing red hair and toe being sucked by a millionaire moments were brushed off as specks of dust.
Diana was a callow young girl who had to be spruced up. The baggage she collected along the way went against the tulle trail that followed her on her nuptials, but she managed to get a royal canonisation. The attempts of Mohamed al Fayyad to erect a shrine at Harrods’s for her and his son Dodi appealed to the in-betweens the most. The middle class found that it went well with its Tory going Labour politics where the immigrant, the paparazzi and anti-monarchism can come together while shopping for scented candles and scones at a place that would never reach Bond Street. They would not want that; it is their destination when the chips are up and in the ‘Yes, Minister’ stance they employ it can be as often as they like to give that slight nod of their coiffured head as their proffer a limp handshake to simulate a foppishness they imagine is their ticket to upward mobility.
The working class has no such concerns. It is free of both democracy and monarchy. However, while the former uses it, the latter indulges it. May Day rallies have been against the capitalist movement and the targets are the politicians or the moneyed. Winston Churchill has not been spared and neither has McDonald’s. Why, one would wonder, attack an American franchise? Because the British middle class has become americanised. The best traders in the world are now watching their mustard Englishness being squirted with coquettish ketchup. There is only one way to go – fall in line.
The Americans, on their part, are quite besotted with the idea of ‘history’ and their own version of royalty is created in the Kennedy’s. In an amusing piece, Vanity Fair was so totally smitten with a scoop photograph that shows Kate Middleton to be a distant relative of Edward Kennedy. A portion from the piece of fruitcake is worth reproducing:
“Middleton has the athleticism of a Jack, the charm of a Teddy, the shiny hair of a Maria Shriver, and the enigmatic reticence of one of the lesser-known Kennedys—Rose, for example. The 29-year-old, Berkshire-born Middleton frequently takes hunting and skiing trips with William, and would feel right at home swimming and playing tennis in Hyannis Port, where the Kennedys have owned a waterfront compound since 1927. Sartorially, Middleton is partial to basic trench coats, extravagant hats, and classic A-line skirts—all hallmarks of Kennedy women. Additionally, Middleton shares a birth date—January 9—with the singer Joan Baez, who of course shares a first name with Joan Kennedy, the first wife of Teddy Kennedy.”
In her first eye-popping net dress at college, she would have been more Paris Hilton, but no one wants to go there. Not now, at least. She has gone through the motions, been trained like a filly and has reportedly been asked to watch clips of how Diana dealt with the paparazzi, the same paparazzi that have been held responsible for her accident and death.
Prince William seems incidental as Kate is the one being initiated. Her best career move yet is not her marriage, but her willingness to share ‘digs’ with Prince Harry. The clubbers will snort silently. This is just what the working class would do.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/