The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy by Tom Nairn - review by Francis Wheen

Francis Wheen

Off With Their Heads

The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy


Radius 402 pp £8.95/£25

During the Abdication crisis of 1936, Edward VIII decided to retaliate against the Baldwin government by 'planting' his point of view - including his opinion of certain ministers - in a newspaper. The politician he chose as a go-between in this operation was John Strachey, a left-wing socialist. And the publication he selected was The Week, a radical scandal-sheet edited by the Communist Claud Cockburn.

The surprising thing about this little story is that it isn't in the least surprising. The British Left and British Royalty have been conducting a strange love affair for more than half a century. Witness the reaction when a delegate at the 1923 Labour Party conference politely proposed 'that the royal family is no longer necessary as part of the British constitution, and that the Labour Party is therefore asked to state definitely its view on this matter'. On behalf of the National Executive, George Lansbury urged conference to vote against the resolution. He had sat behind two princes at a football match and he could assure the comrades that 'they were just ordinary common people like themselves'. The motion was duly defeated. It has never been revived at a Labour conference from that day to this.

One could argue, indeed, that Labour is now the Royal Party. When Norman Tebbit admonishes the Prince of Wales, Neil Kinnock springs to the boy's defence. The Queen can’t abide Mrs Thatcher, but everyone knows that she just loved the fawning milords Wilson and Callaghan. Even Ken Livingstone, having ostentatiously boycotted the royal wedding in 1981, invited Her Majesty to open the Thames Barrier in 1984. 'I have always believed that the Queen is a very nice person indeed, ' Red Ken said after the ceremony. 'Today confirms that view.'

As Tom Nairn points out, Livingstone had no basis whatsoever for this observation in the normal sense of the words. How can one judge that any one is 'a very nice person indeed ' merely from a handshake and an exchange of formal pleasantries? But when it comes to royalty

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