|Volume 52 Number 13, June 4, 2022||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Queen's Platinum Jubilee:
Sovereignty must lie with the people
The Queen is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee to mark 70 years since her reign began. What is the significance of having such a personage in a modern age and a modern society?
Two years ago, in April 2020, when the country had been plunged into lockdown, as "Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland" and "Head of State of the entire British Commonwealth of Nations", Elizabeth II gave her special address "to the nation and to her subjects" articulating her "We're all in this together" message, enjoining us all to trust her and trust the powers-that-be to do what is right for us on our behalf. The message of it was clear: that we, the people, should not act ourselves but rather leave decision-making to those in power. It gave some hint of the knowledge and awareness of the real power of the people's voice and that they must not use it. Now we are supposed to celebrate with Her Majesty her long reign over us.
All this points to the political arrangements that have existed in Britain for nearly 400 years now since the restoration of Charles II in 1660, and indeed, it could be argued, since the beheading of Charles I in 1649. This arrangement, the brainchild of Thomas Hobbes and Oliver Cromwell, brought into being a new conception. Taking up the model of the state put forward by Hobbes in his work The Leviathan, Charles II was made King in a new mode. He was not simply a monarch by birth, but was made a symbol, an Artificial Person of State, representing a Covenant or agreement enacted between the ruling elites, the people and the state itself. This Covenant Thesis as created, and which still guides and rules our political arrangements in the British Parliament and state in the current day, requires that we, the people, hand over our right to speak, our voice, to representatives to speak on our behalf. In so doing, the people who make up the polity enter into a Covenant with the state and with the Person of State, where they are trusted to rule and to make all decisions on the people's behalf. That is to say, the right to decide is handed over by this Covenant.
Even at the time of Hobbes and Cromwell, this political arrangement they imposed was deeply self-serving of the rich and the ruling elites. Hobbes's own jaundiced view of human beings was that they were not much better than animals and were governed only by fear and self-interest. So in his view, the role of the state was to impose rule and order. In contrast to this, there were many political movements during the early 1600s, including the Levellers, the Diggers, and Apprentices who were committed to and actively discussing the need for popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance. Indeed, the Levellers were prominent in the famous Putney Debates organised by Cromwell's Army in 1647, which discussed the make-up of a possible new constitution for Britain, of universal suffrage and the importance of giving voice to all men.
However, in a modern world we need modern arrangements that give voice to the people and enable the people to be the deciders of what happens in society. Now, as a person, Queen Elizabeth is clearly a person of duty who has performed her role well as the living embodiment of the Artificial Person of State. Indeed, commentators are quick to say that the Royal prerogative power is never used by monarchy directly. They suggest that the monarchy is a benign institution with no self-interest of its own and that it continues to serve its role in maintaining its adherence to Covenant thesis.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. It has a filthy rich self-interest which is parasitic to the extreme and clashes with the interests of the society it parasitises. Whilst there is wealth attached to the Crown that is in fact owned by the state as such, the Queen and her family are some of the richest individual people in the world in their own right. Prince Charles, for example, received approximately £20.3 million in 2020/21 from his Royal Duchy in Cornwall alone, and his personal net worth is estimated this year at £80 million or so.
When Prince Charles stood in for the ageing and increasingly infirm Queen to read the Queen's Speech, setting out the government's legislative agenda for the new session of Parliament, the image of him sat on his golden throne where he talked about Levelling Up [Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill] and restoring "the balance of power between the legislature and the courts by introducing a Bill of Rights" [Bill of Rights], he looked and sounded simply incongruous. And it all smacked of privilege and entitlement.
It should be noted that the Monarch's extended power has been used in spectacular form in the furthest reaches of the British Empire and Commonwealth. On November 11, 1975, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, using his power as the representative of the monarch in Australia, Queen Elizabeth II, dismissed the legally and popularly elected government of Gough Whitlam and appointed the opposition leader, Malcolm Fraser, to form a "caretaker" government. This was a truly shocking act for the people of Australia and revealed precisely how the Monarch can and will intervene to protect the interests of the British State at home and abroad.
The Queen's message on her jubilee is similar to that of her speech at the beginning of the pandemic: "We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return." After more than two years of a worldwide pandemic and all the difficulties faced by the people, those in power and in government, have further entrenched the divisions in society while the people are forced to fend for themselves. And, as Workers' Weekly wrote in 2020: "[T]he fact is that the Queen has presided over it all to hide from the people where the decision-making power lies. She is the stand-in for the fictitious person of state which represents the rule of the high and mighty against the rule of the alleged 'mob'. The Royal We is not you and I, it is not the people, her alleged subjects, those who are ruled over."
It is high time the majority of citizens wield the decision-making power, not the vested interests represented by the Crown. By speaking in our own name we can find out who we are and what we need and how we think we can get it. The only way forward is one which takes account of the ensemble of human relations, and to what they are revealing which is that the people cannot afford to entrust their fate to the self-serving ruling class.