Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Keir Starmer's Monarchy Fetish

Flummery is never an attractive feature in a politician, least of all one leading the Labour Party. But Keir Starmer is a Sir, so genuflecting to and giving the Queen a toadying tribute is to be expected. Like over half of Britons, my interest in the Jubilee is nil: I'll be working through it like millions of others. For shameless politicians, it's a chance to burnish one's patriotic creds. Something would have been amiss if the obsequiously loyal Leader of the Opposition hadn't said a few words.

Starmer's piece doesn't require much commentary. There are no party political points here. It could have been written by Boris Johnson, or pretty much any mainstream politician of the last 50 years. But Starmer's chosen venue for this unthreatening and banal piece, The Telegraph, suggests he's still fixed on buttering up the right wing press. Or at the very least wants to show their readers that he represents no threat to them whatsoever. On that point, I'm sure readers would agree. But is there anything else?

There are a couple of brief points I want to make. If there is a "Starmerism", it's characterised less by its protagonist's ideas (or the lack thereof) than an attitude: authoritarian statism. If you insist on locating this in the broad church of Labour ideas, it's incipient in Fabian doctrine. There's not much separating the idea that politics is, properly speaking, a matter for elections and the rest of the time it's a specialist, technocratic activity versus enlightened (and mostly self-appointed) representatives of the people who know best and for whom accountability and democracy get in the way. This is how Starmer has treated his party since becoming leader, and there isn't any reason to believe he wouldn't carry this into office with him. But Starmer's habit, his statecraft-in-waiting, is mostly coincident with Fabianism. Early on Starmer decided that climbing the greasy pole was what he wanted to do, and as shown in excruciating detail by Oliver Eagleton in his The Starmer Project, it's been characterised by sucking up to, preserving, and extending the authority of the state.

In this context, Starmer's pean to the Queen and monarchy is consistent with the entirety of his career. Since becoming Labour leader, his criticisms of the Tories on Covid were and are tepid, alternating between tailing them (and therefore tacitly supporting the greatest public health catastrophe in over a century) and following the public. I.e. Only calling for something when the polls and the focus groups were very definitely in favour. And so we see the worship of authority continue here. Heaping praise heaped on the Queen for being the head of a stable institution. Her "constant presence" acting as an anchor in a turbulent world, like all strong institutions should. What Starmer is doing is annexing the monarchy to his overall project of restoring faith and reverence in authority which he hopes to be the ultimate recipient of.

But there's another interesting aspect of Starmer's piece on the monarchy often evoked by establishment scribblers and politicians but rarely commented on: the Queen's efficacy. Here, Starmer talks about how the Queen "has guided us through turbulent times". Has she? "She has shown us that integrity, hard work and selflessness are the antidote to pessimism." Really? "Just as the Queen has led us through the past 70 years, all that she has taught us – about duty, tolerance, humility and responsibility – will continue to guide us into this next era." Pardon? There's even a subtle-ish nod to the royalist axiom that constitutional monarchy has kept the terrorism of political extremism at bay. These are symptoms of fetishising the monarchy. Not in the conventional sense of worship or adulation, thought plenty of that is gruesomely on show, but more in the Marxist sense: of objects (commodities, though in this case, an apparatus of state) acting as if it's endowed with agency and a life of its own.

The Queen and her institution does have room for manoeuvre, but this is tightly circumscribed by the constitution and its substantive (though not formal) subordination to parliament. We know the Queen has protected her family overtly, such as Prince Andrew's pay offs to Virginia Giuffre, and more discreetly lobbying for tax and other arrangements to shield her wealth. She has acted at governments' behests as an overblown diplomat, but as a quite limited, stultified character has remained within the parameters pre-ordained for her. Which is, effectively, to wear the state's baubles and provide it with a vener of mystical and ancient legitimacy. Therefore the Queen has done none of the things Starmer claims for her. There's been no "guidance". No lessons or teachings. And as someone whose long life has been flitting between palaces dripping in luxury, it's obscene to ascribe "humility" to her. But Starmer, as a would-be Prime Minister is utterly uninterested in upsetting the apple cart, and therefore has to fetishise the Queen. Constitutionally, the monarchy is sclerotic. It simply is and abides. And for this, the Windsors are handsomely rewarded. But no establishment politician can utter these words. One has to ascribe actions and achievements to where there are none, especially if a party leader is bent on maintaining the status quo.

Back in 1997, Tony Blair arguably saved the monarchy after their flat-footed blank reaction to the death of Princess Diana. A quarter of a century on, should this most peculiar and indefensible of set ups find itself facing crisis it can rely on Labour's shining knight to ride to its rescue.


Robert Dyson said...

I find the Queen a somewhat pathetic figure now. I know there is the wealth and comfort but I don't think I would want that at the price of being the quiet rubber stamp, the bird in the gilded cage. Ironically, had we a dynamic Parliament and government focused on improving the lot of the many, the monarch could be a more majestic figure. PM Johnson and son Andrew have exposed the reality. Also, I do think that in the present arrangement the batton should have been passed on to Charles; there is something cruel about this hanging on. I do not want a sudden change but now is the time for the monarchy to fade away.

Alan Story said...

Good piece Phil. Shared on my FB page and tagged ten leftie friends. Will spread in Facebook groups later today.

Old Trot said...

Good analysis by Phil here on both the utter PR, constant propaganda fed fantasy that is both the UK monarchy, and the current , rather dim, horse-obsessed , Queen, and the craven creature that is Keir Starmer. As he does, I also think every serious socialist needs to read Oliver Eagleton's 'The Starmer Project' , to grasp just how much of a self-serving, utterly cynical, long-time, deep state agent Starmer is . Even his lightly 'radical' politico activist and liberal Lefty lawyer past can now be seen as merely a calculated early stage of his cynical career planning. As for the detail provided on his work for the UK state in Northern Ireland, and close ties to the US State Department ! A pity that the masses of former Corbyn supporters who bought into his 'Ten Pledges' bullshit didn't know then what we know now.

In passing - a HUGE weakness of Oliver Eagleton's analysis in The Starmer Project , as with most of the ex and still remaining Labour 'Left', is his amnesia about the Corbynite LEFT's full embrace of the suicidal Remain and Second Referendum policy betrayal of our 2017 Manifesto promise at both the 2018 and 2019 Conferences, As a delegate to the 2018 Party Conference I can assure Eagleton that it wasn't necessary for the Starmerites to 'pack out' his EU session speech ' with Remainers to applaud him. In fact the overwhelming bulk of Delegates were rabid Remainers - only too keen to applaud Starmer's vapid Lib Dem/Guardianista style tripe about the neoliberal EU as a benign and progressive force for good - practically a form of 'workers internationalism' in action ! The crap Left Liberal naive politics of what passes for the 'socialist Left' in the modern Labour Party, is what delivered both our 2019 defeat, and the victory of Starmer and his NuLabour puppetmasters. A traditional socialist theory armed Left , and a genuinely socialist PLP Socialist Campaign Group of MPs (rather than the self-serving opportunists like McDonnell and Abbot et al) , would never have fallen into the Remain, 2nd Referendum bear trap so blatantly dug by the Peoples Vote fraudsters . Such is the tragedy of the political degeneration of the Labour Left, and indeed the wider UK Left, today .

Jim Denham said...

Corbyn and his immediate circle did *not* "fully embrace" the remain cause at the 2018 conference or afterwards:

In 2017, Labour’s commitment to “respect” the referendum had been completely opportunist and dishonest. In reality, everyone knew the “respect” position was a cover, and if Labour stuck to its “six tests” (remember them?) then it could support no Brexit deal. Millions of Liberal, Green, Plaid and other Remain voters — especially youth — rallied to Labour.

The point at which Labour’s standing in the polls collapsed was in early 2019, when Corbyn (urged on by Stalinist advisers close to the CPB and Morning Star) abandoned the position of the vast majority of the membership — clear opposition to Brexit and support for a second referendum — and attempted to impose his pro-Brexit position on the party, leaving us with an incoherent non-policy that pleased no-one.