The notion of the royal family as symbols of duty or sacrifice to the nation is “a lie” and is at the center of a deeply unequal Britain, a senior Labor MP has claimed, defying Keir Starmer’s order for his party to remain silent ahead of the Queen’s funeral on Monday .
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South and former shadow cabinet minister, said the arrest of anti-monarchy protesters and the condemnation of others who disagreed showed that the royal succession was “as much about coercion as consent”.
In an article for The Guardian, which is likely to anger Starmer’s office, Lewis said his initial reaction to the idea of people queuing for hours to walk past the Queen’s casket was “one of confusion followed by a touch of despair”. .
In an attempt to extrapolate lessons from the phenomenon for those, like him, seeking a transition to a republic, Lewis argued that media interviews with the bereaved often revealed a key motivation was “the need to feel part of something more than themselves self”.
The “fundamental truth” about the monarchy, he argued, was its role as a national distraction. “It is a spectacle raised to exemplify virtues that should be typical of public life and public behavior. Posing as exceptional behavior allows the likes of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and the economic elite they represent to break and exploit the rules to their own advantage and for their very narrow class interests – of which the monarchy is an integral part.”
While the late queen ruled 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 the royal family makes on our behalf, we should not pretend that reality is anything but a lie,” he argued.
“That is not what monarchy is. It may be a symbolic way for us to acknowledge other people’s sacrifice and commitment to society – but the monarchy itself risks nothing and suffers nothing, except that the lives of the royal family become celebrity gossip. Through it all, it remains the backbone of a power structure that traces its roots back to feudalism.”
This disparity is reflected in the continued dominance of those who attended private schools in government and industry, Lewis said, adding that constitutional reform, including the role of the monarchy, “is something that should be vigorously aired, not shut down or even temporarily suppressed .”.
Guidance circulated to Labor MPs earlier this week told them to “suspend all campaigning and party activity” beyond case management and advisory operations, and make no comments to the media beyond paying tribute to the Queen.
The advice drew criticism from some Labor MPs and shadow ministers, and has been ignored by some, including in updates to voters about the government’s support for energy bills, with some continues to provide commentary on political issues.
Labour’s annual conference, which takes place in Liverpool, will be held as planned from a week on Saturday, with the Conservative party conference in Birmingham starting a week later. However, the Liberal Democrats’ event, which was due to start in Brighton this weekend, has been cancelled.