Voices: Abolishing the monarchy is an important step towards building a fairer society

·5-min read

Our public sphere is being stifled. Multiple arrests for the mildest of public protests against King Charles’s accession; wall-to-wall positive media coverage with barely a single republican viewpoint; parliament adjourned at a time of desperate worry for working-class families; major sporting events cancelled, and even kids’ football halted.

It is clear that there are many people throughout the country mourning the Queen’s death. It is right that they are afforded opportunities to do so. But there is also a sizeable section of the population – including a large and growing number of young people – who do not believe in hereditary privilege, don’t consent to King Charles’s accession, and want a different kind of political system. We deserve to have our voices heard.

We are in the middle of a crisis – not just of living costs, but of inequality. Energy bills are squeezing families’ budgets, as energy corporations rake in billions in profit. Wages are squeezed by growing inflation as billionaires get richer by the day. The accession of a very wealthy aristocrat to monarch, with parliament adjourned at a time when solutions to the cost of living crisis are desperately needed, is a feature of this crisis, not an interruption of it.

Being a king, atop an unequal and unjust economic system, means you have your own rules. Charles III, for example, will pay no inheritance tax on his mother’s private wealth, whereas the public have to pay 40 per cent on anything inherited over a £325,000 threshold.

The monarch is also immune from dozens more laws: King Charles will be exempt from having to comply with various workers’ rights, health and safety, and pensions legislation, while the police are effectively barred from entering his private estate to investigate crimes without the crown’s permission. Shockingly, royal household employees are unable to raise sexual and racial discrimination complaints.

This story is one we know well – because it’s not exclusive to the royal family. For the past 40 years, we have lived under an economic system that has given increasing power to the wealthy at the expense of working people. The welfare state has been vandalised, housing has become prohibitively expensive, workers’ rights have been eroded – and the rich have got richer because of it.

The news that dozens of King Charles’s staff have been made redundant, in the middle of an incredibly busy work period and a cost of living crisis, reflects an experience that will be familiar to many workers across the country. A spokesperson for Clarence House, the King’s London residence for nearly 20 years, said they were “working urgently to identify alternative roles for the greatest possible number of staff”.

In this context, the monarchical regime and its basis in hereditary privilege must be up for debate. The monarchy’s role in British colonialism is a good place to start. August marked the 75th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, when a British civil servant carved up the territory after spending 10 weeks in the region. More than a million people died as a result.

As Pakistanis struggle with the reality of climate collapse, it’s clear that the legacy of empire is an ongoing disaster for many. The unimaginable wealth of the royal family is built on the forced transfer of wealth and resources from the global South to Britain’s coffers. Our country needs to help build a new system that delivers justice for all – but this can only happen if historic wrongs are recognised as part of our national story.

Just as silence reigns when it comes to Britain’s colonial past, we are also told that silence is the only respectful mode amid the death of one monarch and the accession of another – even in a time of deep national crisis. There is a tone that needs to be struck when some are mourning, but it is wrong to suspend politics entirely.

Parliament has been adjourned, and Keir Starmer has told Labour MPs that the only media-related activity they can perform is paying tribute to the Queen in their local paper. The impending rise in bills in October: silence. The shooting of an unarmed Black man in London: silence. These issues cannot wait. People in this country desperately need a government that is taking decisive action to help them – not a self-imposed recess, however respectful the intention.

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There are some who have bravely decided to put forward their republican beliefs, by standing with placards or by shouting slogans at official events. They have either been quickly moved on, or arrested by police. My party’s leader, a human rights lawyer no less, questioned the “respect” of the protesters and refused to criticise the heavy-handed policing. With dissent criminalised, his disregard for the democratic right to protest at a time of deep economic and political turmoil is deeply concerning.

But there is a wider point here, too. The way protesters have been treated, and the way that Prince Andrew’s reputation is carefully being restored, is indicative of the deep inequality in our country. You’ll get arrested for shouting “Andrew, you’re a sick old man,” but receive the full protection of the British state if you’re a prince and American prosecutors want to question you about child sex offences.

Which brings us back to the most important principle in the argument for reviving the republican movement. Our country suffers greatly from inequality – that is, from ordinary people getting shafted while the rich and powerful get away with whatever they want. It follows naturally from this that no one person should possess the divine right to represent our nation as its head of state.

Democracy matters. Without it, there is no accountability and no justice. In our political institutions, in our workplaces, there must be mechanisms by which we can hold powerful people to account, and have our voices heard. These are the principles that must define our country, and our world.

Sonali Bhattacharyya is a representative on Momentum’s executive and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter