Sunday 11 April 2021

Off With Their Heads


After The Guardian asked its readers to “share your tributes and memories of the Duke of Edinburgh, I blogged this:I am proud to say I turned down an invitation to meet him and his wife. In 1994, and as a Director of War Child, I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace for NGOs involved in the Bosnian war. We were operating a mobile bakery to feed hungry families in Mostar and delivering insulin for diabetic children in Sarajevo. Others at War Child didn't share my Republican values and did attend. When the Duke asked them what War Child was doing he was told about the bakery. He quipped, "I bet they steal the bread." He was then told about the insulin deliveries to Sarajevo and added, "I bet they steal that as well."


That was all I wanted to say, but then a friend sent me this in response to my words, “Just think if he’d lived to 100. We’d have had all this and then repeated when he died. Every cloud.” 


Social media were now full of “We are North Korea” comments and the BBC had to issue a special complaints form after so much public anger over the corporation pulling its TV schedules for Friday 9 April.


The media and politicians, from Boris Johnson to Sir Keir Starmer, went into overdrive to explain away the Prince’s racist, sexist and other abusive comments as ‘gaffes’, as off-the-cuff’, and as ‘well-intended’. 


The obsequious, forelock-tugging, was  now on the defensive and the door has been opened to those of us who are opposed to the ‘cap-doffing’ offered up to the remaining vestiges of feudalism in this country. That stretches from the royal family to the unelected House of Lords, to wealth and land ownership.


It is time to resurrect the Commonwealth of Britain Bill first introduced to Parliament 30 years ago by Tony Benn and seconded by Jeremy Corbyn. It proposed a “democratic, federal and secular Commonwealth of Britain”. The monarchy would be abolished, the Royal Family pensioned off, the honours system disbanded, and the Crown Estates nationalised. Supremacy would rest in two democratically elected chambers.


Off with their heads’ has a royal origin, since it was made by the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll's ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’. She went on to say, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 


I used to think a Republic was an impossible thing both before and after breakfast, but after the last few days I am not so sure. Tony Benn’s Bill needs to return. 


It will be difficult since the only person who has come closest to having his head removed is Benn’s seconder and the official Opposition is led by the ennobled. But perhaps it’s an impossible thing we have to believe in if we want to see who won Masterchef.