I must apologise for the absence of my regular column for MEMO. This was largely due to a sense of overwhelming grief and loss throughout the just ended mourning period in Britain. However, please don’t think for one moment that I was grieving over the demise of Elizabeth II, although I’ve never wished the late Mrs Windsor and her family ill will despite their enormous, suspiciously-earned wealth and privileged existence.
What I am grieving for is the increasing erosion of democracy and the freedom of speech that is supposed to go with it here in the United Kingdom. Operating through British police forces and the mainstream media, the state has frittered away all sense of objectivity and perspective in recent days; the Establishment set out to groom its citizens for the blind acceptance and continuation of an institution that is well past its sell-by date. And it succeeded, by all accounts. I am talking about the monarchy, of course, for which our democratic rights, freedoms and liberties are being sacrificed.
With the complicity of a cabal of so-called liberal intellectuals, the Royal Family, and the British State, the working classes have been groomed to conform and accept some grave injustices buried within legislation, government-speak and the normalisation of censorship. These are the early signs of the sort of totalitarianism that flourished in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany, and haunted George Orwell so much that he gave us advanced warning in the pages of his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which is as relevant today as it was when first published in 1948.
Am I being paranoid? I think not. Consider Orwell’s warning about propaganda and censorship: “There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified — still one cannot feel that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function.”
At the moment, “our side” is expected to give unconditional support to all things royal and uphold the monarchy and all that it represents, including an ugly colonial past and the post-colonial influence that binds together the 56 member states of the Commonwealth. In the wall-to-wall media coverage of the monarchy over the past ten days, millions have been spent on projecting the historic importance of the armed forces, harking back to an imperialist, colonialist past which has all but disappeared, although its toxic legacy lives on.
“Our side” is told by the government, through a complicit and compliant media, what to think and how to act, and how to react to news and events at home and overseas. In Ukraine, for example, we were persuaded here in Britain to give our unconditional support to the Ukrainians. I’ve no doubt that most of us are horrified when we hear that the invading Russian troops have bombed civilians, hospitals and schools. As human beings, that is a perfectly normal reaction, and yet we are expected to be selective in our feelings and remain silent when Israel carries out the same sort of war crimes in Gaza every time it unleashes its deadly arsenal on the civilian population in the besieged territory.
I fear that such double standards will become even more brazen under Prime Minister Liz Truss. Her allegiance to the apartheid state of Israel was in evidence at the beginning of the year when, as foreign secretary, she initiated free trade talks and praised it as a “freedom-loving democracy”, despite the damning reports by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israel’s own B’Tselem.
Truss was elected to lead the Conservative Party, and thus in today’s parliament become prime minister of the United Kingdom, by the party membership, less than one per cent of the population. Just days later, we were told to accept the accession of the Prince of Wales — and that’s another long story — as King Charles III. Nobody, not even the Tories, elected him. When his mother died, he immediately and without question became the head state. The Queen is dead; long live the King!Plans for the death of Elizabeth II and smooth handover to the new king have been years in the making. She was 96, after all. Her demise was withheld from the public until a very slick media machine operation could kick in and the mother of all funerals could begin. The nation was groomed to grieve by 24/7 coverage on TV, radio and online, and print media. There was no escape from the obsequious presenters, clad in mourning black, subdued images and the ringing of bells. The military played its part with bayonets fixed and flags flying at every opportunity. From the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles Cathedral; Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall; Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey and on to Windsor, the list of regiments and services on parade is long, including the Royal Navy and Royal Marines; the Brigade of Guards and Household Cavalry; the Royal Air Force; the Royal Regiment of Scotland; the Brigade of Gurkhas; the Rifles; the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery; the Honourable Artillery Company, and even the Intelligence Corps. Plus a large contingent from the Commonwealth. Elizabeth II, we were told ad infinitum, was the commander in chief, after all, and British troops in particular swear allegiance to the sovereign, not to the government of the day.
We sat and watched as hecklers and republican campaigners had their right to free speech taken away by heavy-handed policing. Only royalists, apparently, were allowed to express their feelings, emotions and opinions over the demise of Queen Elizabeth. A woman in Edinburgh was arrested and charged with a breach of the peace for waving a rather vulgar sign expressing disdain for imperialism and calling for the monarchy to be abolished. The mainstream media and state broadcaster the BBC chose to gloss over this censorship, as they did with another arrest in Edinburgh, this time of a 22-year-old man who was charged for heckling the disgraced Prince Andrew. Meanwhile, in Oxford, a heckler was arrested for shouting “Who elected him?” during an accession proclamation for King Charles III. In London, a lawyer was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of paper, on which he planned to write “Not my king”. In all, around 70 dissenters were arrested.
Despite this, we were told many times that the United Kingdom has never been so united. That’s a lie, but media commentators and royal sycophants continued to tell us what we could clearly see; and then tell us basically how we should be feeling about it. Any dissent was airbrushed seamlessly from our screens. Big Brother had a narrative to push and was not going to be prevented from doing so. Orwell must be turning in his grave.
I spent Sunday afternoon taking part in a broadcast at the Eagle Inn in Coatbridge with a 100-strong group of raucous, independent-minded Scottish republicans. Those sycophantic royalists, meanwhile, were still insisting that Britain was fully behind the monarchy.
Britain’s “thought police” are on the march. Thousands of people are arrested every year for expressing opinions judged to be offensive, but who decides what that means? This should concern every one of us, especially the pro-Palestine groups and those involved in the entirely peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The new, un-democratically-elected British Prime Minister has already voiced her support for anti-BDS legislation. Truss pledged before her victory in the Tory leadership campaign that she will deliver on a Bill “to end local councils bringing in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policies that target Israel.”
Supporters of Palestine and its people face a hard winter of discontent which I fear will continue next year when Charles III is expected to be crowned. With unprecedented energy bills and the modern equivalent of wartime rationing I predict more draconian laws which will crush our right to free speech even further.
The fight for Palestinian justice and freedom will continue elsewhere, but I think that we might have a struggle on our hands just to shout “free Palestine” or “justice for Gaza” here in Britain. We haven’t yet reached the stage where people are being forcibly disappeared — although the situation of Julian Assange should be ringing alarm bells — but we are already experiencing no-platforming in universities and colleges, while academics are being hounded out of their jobs simply because they stand with the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle for freedom from Israel’s brutal military occupation.
In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the state and intellectual elite suppress facts and laws which contradict their views. Sinister party intellectual O’Brien boasts: “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull…”
In 2022 we are being told to accept a new monarch while the Prime Minister of tiny Antigua and Barbuda is, like other Commonwealth leaders, pushing for a referendum on a republic within three years. There’s every likelihood that Ireland will be united very soon and Scotland will gain its independence, despite the Scottish Government’s cack-handed attempts to hold a referendum next year. In Wales, there are also stirrings of independence. The kingdom may not be united much longer.
As we doff our caps to King Charles III and the Establishment, no matter how reluctantly or enthusiastically, we can’t pretend that all is well on the streets of Britain; one of the richest countries in the world is heading for an unprecedented financial crisis. It is outrageous with such wealth in the country that so many people now rely on food banks, and have to pay exorbitant rents and ever higher energy bills, but still have to be happy that the state spent millions of pounds on the late Queen’s funeral. This, remember, in a world where those in power try to convince us of the benefits of zero-hours contracts, punitive welfare sanctions and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Working men and women must work harder for longer hours and less pay, and be happy about it.
The mere existence of the monarchy legitimises the power imbalances that we are forced to endure, and promotes the idea that this is normal. Well, it’s not. I refuse to fall in line with any more of this pomp and ceremony, whether in Buckingham Palace or the Palace of Westminster. Neither I nor anyone else elected King Charles and more than 99 per cent of us had no say in who our current prime minister is. The slow Sovietisation of Britain must stop, and full freedom of speech and democracy along with all of our civil rights must be restored. These rights include the freedom to call out injustice everywhere, not least in the settler-colonial Zionist state known as Israel. The British Crown benefited from the suffering of millions under slavery, colonialism and imperialism. It has no place in the 21st century.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.