|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Of greed and privilege
QUEEN ELIZABETH II’s golden jubilee year is ending with Britain’s royal family plunged into yet another crisis. The outpouring of sympathy that accompanied the Queen Mother’s funeral earlier in the year and the lavish jubilee celebrations have faded from view.
Lurid revelations and serious criminal allegations have followed the collapse on 1 November of a court case brought by the Crown Prosecution Service against Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell. The prosecution said that Burrell had stolen more than 300 items belonging to Princess Diana, as well as a number owned by princes William and Harry.
During the twelve days in court – which will cost Britain’s workers £1.5 million – the tabloid press engaged in a feeding frenzy, rushing to be the first to publish a series of salacious stories. (Rupert Murdoch’s News International offered nearly £1 million for the story, although Burrell opted for a £300,000 contract with the Daily Mirror. Its editor, Piers Morgan, claimed increased sales of 1.4 million for the week-long exclusive.)
We learned that Burrell smuggled Princess Diana’s lovers into Kensington Palace in the boot of his car and bought ‘soft porn’ for the young princes. Infighting and inter-family rivalries within the aristocracy were detailed. Princess Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale (aka McCrocodile), evidently filled her car so full of her recently-deceased sister’s clothes that she could not see out of the rear-view mirror! Her brother, Earl Spencer, after delivering a vitriolic attack on media exploitation, charges visitors £10.50 each to visit Princess Diana’s grave.
There have been further insights into Prince Charles’s extravagant lifestyle. As head of an 85-strong court, he has four valets to help him dress (changing clothes five times a day), a servant to squeeze his toothpaste and one who even held the specimen bottle when he gave a urine sample. His personal consultant, Michael Fawcett, earned the nickname Fawcett the Fence as he went around selling unwanted gifts on the prince’s behalf, earning as much as £100,000 a year tax free.
These and many other ‘revelations’ are a continuation of a long line of scandals that have been steadily undermining the carefully crafted myth that the modern, royal ‘House of Windsor’ is a moral example for its subjects to look up to and emulate. The royals have long been viewed by many as an upmarket soap opera based around a severely dysfunctional family of inbred parasites.
The latest developments, however, are potentially far more damaging to the monarchy, which forms part of the capitalist state apparatus. It has been maintained by the ruling class as a reserve weapon against mass working-class and socialist opposition to capitalism and would be used in a time of social upheaval to attempt to rally the forces of reaction.
The trial collapsed after it was revealed that the queen had suddenly remembered that Burrell had, in fact, informed her that he was taking the items away for safe-keeping. The police had charged Burrell with theft in January. So it had taken Queen Elizabeth a full ten months to come forward. Their meeting lasted between two and three hours – depending on who is telling the truth. As most audiences with the sovereign are over in a matter of minutes, this was clearly an extraordinary – some might say memorable – event.
Usually this would lead to charges of withholding vital information, obstructing the course of justice and wasting police time. In any case, the logical place to test that ‘new’ evidence would be in open court.
Whereas the attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, was consulted on whether the trial should continue, the senior defence counsel, Lord Carlile, was not informed of the development, even though it was crucial to the case. Article 6 of the European Convention’s Human Rights Act, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, includes the right to "examine or have examined witnesses against him [the defendant] and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him". There is no provision for exemptions for royalty.
In the end, a backroom deal was struck between the judiciary, crown and government which circumvented normal legal channels. At a press conference on 4 November, Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, said that the queen had acted "entirely properly throughout". He opposes any constitutional changes, believing that the queen should remain above the law. Just as he leapt to the defence of the beleaguered royals in the face of fierce criticism after Princess Diana’s death, and played a key role in stage managing the Queen Mother’s funeral, he remains the staunchest defender of this reactionary institution. MPs who wanted to debate the issue were blocked by the Speaker at the House of Commons, drawing on a rule outlawing criticism of the sovereign in parliament.
Prince Charles directly benefited from the trial’s collapse, at least in the short term. Firstly, the defence was about to begin and was widely expected to call Hasnat Khan – one of Princess Diana’s lovers familiar with Burrell’s car boot. Burrell was also due to take the stand. He was ready to raise the issue of a cover-up of an alleged male rape of one of Prince Charles’s servants, George Smith, by a senior member of his staff. Under privilege in the witness box, Burrell could have named the currently anonymous alleged rapist.
Apparently, Prince Charles had dismissed the rape allegations as ‘downstairs gossip’. But Smith, who kept silent for years, has come forward. He has waived his right to anonymity, which is allowed to alleged victims of sexual assault, telling the Mail on Sunday (10 November) that he had been "brutally raped" by "one of Prince Charles’s most valued members of staff".
Smith says that this took place in 1989 but that there was no investigation until 1996 and that was by the palace not the police. He also says that the same person tried to assault him a second time while on tour with Prince Charles in Egypt. Intriguingly, Princess Diana had taped these allegations and, although the whereabouts of the tape is unknown, its existence was confirmed by various court witnesses.
Smith also claims that he saw another incident which involved a member of the royal family and a palace servant that, if made public, would cause ‘irreparable’ damage to the monarchy.
The spotlight is now on Prince Charles, the heir to the throne. A courtier remarked: "I can remember Diana dying. That was a terrible tragedy, but this is far worse. The reputational damage it will do is immense. More will come out. It’s a complete fucking mess. And it is about as likely to be over by Christmas as was the first world war". (The Observer, 10 November)
This crisis directly involves the queen – usually so careful to keep herself above scandal – as well as her heir. They and other leading figures are at the epicentre of serious legal allegations which will further undermine the British monarchy. The lie that the House of Windsor is a model family has long been exposed. Recent events have shown that it is prepared to stop at nothing to hold onto its privileges, wealth and prestige, which are maintained at our expense.
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