The notion of the royal family as symbols of duty or sacrifice to the nation is “a lie” and is at the centre of a deeply unequal UK, a senior Labour MP has argued, breaching Keir Starmer’s order to his party to stay silent before the Queen’s funeral on Monday.
Clive Lewis, the Norwich South MP and former shadow cabinet minister, said the arrest of anti-monarchy protesters and the condemnation of others who dissented showed that the royal succession “is as much about coercion as consent”.
In an article for the Guardian, which is likely to infuriate Starmer’s office, Lewis said his initial response to the idea of people queueing for many hours to file past the Queen’s coffin was “one of bemusement followed by a touch of despair”.
Seeking to extrapolate lessons from the phenomenon for those, like him, who seek a transition to a republic, Lewis argued that media interviews with the mourners often showed a key motivation was the “need to feel part of something more than themselves”.
The “fundamental truth” about the monarchy, he argued, was its role as a national distraction. “It is a spectacle exalted for exemplifying virtues that should be typical in public life and public behaviour. Casting such behaviour as exceptional allows the likes of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and the economic elites they represent to break and exploit the rules for their own benefit and that of their very narrow class interest – of which the monarchy is an integral part.”
While the late Queen reigned over a period of public services being sold to private companies, and environmental degradation, the royal family enjoyed unique tax advantages, , Lewis wrote. King Charles will not have to pay inheritance tax on any of his mother’s assets.
“So while republicans should respect the language of ‘duty’ and ‘sacrifice’ monarchists have so forcefully claimed that the royal family makes on our behalf, we should not pretend that the reality is anything other than a lie,” he argued.
“That is not what monarchy is. It may provide a symbolic way for us to recognise other people’s sacrifice and commitment to society – but the monarchy itself risks nothing and does not suffer, save for having the lives of the royal family become the stuff of celebrity gossip. Through it all, it remains the backbone of a power structure that traces its roots back to feudalism.”
This inequality was reflected in the continued dominance of those who went to private schools in government and industry, Lewis said, adding that constitutional reform, including the role of the monarchy, “is something to be vigorously aired, not shut down or even temporarily suppressed”.
Guidance circulated to Labour MPs earlier this week told them to “suspend all campaigning and party activity” beyond casework and advice surgeries, and make no comment to the media beyond giving tributes to the Queen.
The advice prompted criticism from some Labour MPs and shadow ministers, and has been ignored by some, including in updates to constituents about the government’s support for energy bills, with some still offering comment on political issues.
Labour’s annual conference, taking place in Liverpool, will be held as planned from a week on Saturday, with the Conservative party gathering in Birmingham going ahead a week later. However, the Liberal Democrats’ event, scheduled to begin in Brighton this weekend, has been cancelled.
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