From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Queen and I
To play the king
The crisis in the monarchy has started to produce a number of best sellers which consider the establishment of a republic.
Sue Townsend – best known for Adrian Mole – describes in The Queen and I how the royals would cope in a republic. The Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Charles, Di, and the corgi are all forced to live on the dole on a West Midlands council estate.
The result is at times very funny. The ludicrousness of the scroungers being forced to give up their life of luxury combined with an insight into how ordinary people get by on run down council estates produces some moments of hilarity. My own favourite is when the Queen, forced to get an emergency dole payment, walks the corgi six miles only to find the dole office shut. There is little royalist fever when the royals’ money is spent on schools and jobs.
Michael Dobbs, author of the brilliant House of Cards, has turned out a sequel. Francis Urquhart, the new Tory prime minister, comes into conflict with King Charles the Third. As in House of Cards, Dobbs is brilliant at describing the ruthlessness inside the Tory Party, the attempt to manipulate the media, the use of spin doctors by political strategists. He shows how opinion polls can be manipulated at will. The stories ring very true from someone who used to work at Tory Central Office.
Although the books are very different they have common themes. The monarchy is portrayed as an institution under threat, ordinary people are shown as disillusioned with royalty. The description of the monarchy’s wealth, decadence and uselessness are a breath of fresh air compared to the sycophancy found in so much popular writing. However they also have a common weakness.
They portray the royals as Spitting Image characters. So the Queen Mother is pictured as a gambling drunk. The Queen is shown as an ordinary person who could adapt to life in a council estate eventually and is really no different from any OAP .Charles is portrayed as an eccentric left wing environmentalist. The effect is to create an image of the royals as somehow in opposition to the Tories.
In the Townsend book the royals refuse to back royalist counter-revolution and end up preferring life as ordinary poor citizens. In Dobbs’s book Charles comes out in support of the homeless and attempts to frustrate Urquhart’s right wing plans. I suspect the truth is different.
If threatened with being forced to leave Buckingham Palace they and their supporters would get very nasty indeed. One only has to look at the Charles and Di separation to get a taste of how unpleasant the royals can be.
Finally both books, despite being very good and readable, have been overtaken by events. Both echo a pessimism of any left wing shift taking place. The poll tax is no more because the sort of people in Townsend’s council estate didn’t pay it. The royal family is falling apart partly because of the bitterness millions of people feel towards a bunch who asked for £60 million towards the upkeep of Windsor Castle. It won’t require either Dobbs’s Tory prime minister or Townsend’s manipulation of subliminal television images to get rid of the royals.
Last updated: 28 February 2017