Death of a princess
THE DEATH OF PRINCESS DIANA in the early hours of the 31 st August 1997 and its aftermath have led to a number of propositions being aired in the Press, two of which are notable. First, it is argued that Princess Diana was in some way a radical/progressive figure, and second, following on from this, that the large number of people involved in the events surrounding the aftermath of her death were also in some way radical or progressive. This rather contradictory outpouring was a massive phenomenon and something socialists cannot ignore.
The claim that Princess Diana was a symbol for progressive or radical thinking seems to fall into three elements, although these points can and do overlap. First, it was her refusal to submit to her treatment by her husband and his family and her willingness to fight back, which was seen particularly as an inspiration to women and to provide an image for a new type of gender politics. This might be called the feminist argument for Diana. Second, it was suggested that she was in some sense different from the rest of the Royal Family in that she had the common touch and was the `People’s Princess’: ‘…the people everywhere, not just here in Britain, but everywhere, they kept faith with Princess Diana. They liked her, they loved her, they regarded here as one of the people. She was the People’s Princess.’ (Tony Blair, speaking on the day of her death). This might be called the democratic-populist argument for Diana. Third, it was stressed that she had worked hard for charitable and humanitarian causes, including the campaign against landmines, and for various charities notably those associated with children’s welfare, AIDS campaigns and leprosy. This might be called the humanitarian argument for Diana.
It is quite possible to concede that there could be elements of all of this in Diana, but any attempt to arrive at an overall assessment of her needs to take into account the many contradictions within the several images.
Diana the feminist?
The claim that Diana was an inspiration to women, whose life contained some commentary on gender politics seems to be the strongest argument. It was aired quite widely in the media, from Beatrix Campbell (on Channel 4’s ‘After Dark’ special, 14/9197), who argued that she had survived victimhood to realise her true selfidentity; to Suzanne Moore in the Independent: `Had she been born 20 years earlier she would have been expected to put up with her husband’s infidelity, to grin and bear it. In refusing to do so, she laid open the cynical workings of monarchy, patriarchy and hereditary privilege that had used her as little more than a brood mare. When the fairy tale fractured we saw another story altogether, one that many, particularly women, could relate to’ (Independent, 1/9/97); to Joan Smith in the Guardian: `Diana’s unhappy marriage charted a familiar course for millions of women and made them feel that, however disastrous their lives, they were not alone’ (Guardian, 2/9/97), although Smith was also willing to point to the tendency to overlook the faults of Princess Diana in all of this (Independent on Sunday, 14/9/97). Cosmopolitan editor, Mandi Norwood writing in the Express on Sunday ( 14/9/97) even went so far as to argue that: `Diana personified feminism, new feminism-a force of nature rather than a mere brand of politics’, and went on to argue that she, along with Mother Teresa, showed that ‘feminine’ values of kindness, compassion, radiance and good humour were `worth a lot’. This was rejected by Nicci Gerard (Observer 21/9/97) who also noted that she felt like `the personal had washed the political away’. Gerard presents a more hard-headed view of feminism than allowed for by the adulation of Diana, and highlights the criticisms of Joan Smith made by Beatrix Campbell who, she says, argued that there was a problem with `Smith’s insufficiently reverential attitude to Diana.’
The notion that Diana was progressive is contradicted by two crucial facts. First, in her public behaviour and pronouncements, it is just as easy to see her as a very conservative woman, more inspired by femininity than feminism. She could, for example, have taken the advice offered by a feminist campaign of the time of her wedding which urged `Don’t do it, Diana!’. Instead she married the man. That it ended in divorce is not surprising since they appeared to have little in common and clearly did not get on. Despite all this, she still chose to make very conservative statements relating to what she was fighting for in her famous Panorama interview: ‘I desperately wanted it to work; I desperately loved my husband, and I wanted to share everything together. I thought we were a good team’; `Once or twice, I’ve heard people say to me that, you know, “Diana’s out to destroy the monarchy”, which has bewildered me, because why would I want to destroy something that is my children’s future.’
If the claim is that she did eventually fight back against her husband and his family, then it seems important to note one key fact: Diana was an independently rich woman by that time (she left 40m in her will, of which only L17m came from the divorce settlement). Although her money did not always seem to make her happy, it did provide her with the material basis for fighting back. Struggling to come to terms with marital unhappiness in a 25-room apartment with a 17m divorce settlement is not something which is the common experience of women, yet it is something which manifestly affects their ability to deal with such a situation.
Second, her main weapon in confronting the Royal Family’s treatment of her was her ability to utilise her glamorous image through the media. This is also highly problematic since it is that glamour that feeds the fairytale romance myths which are a problem for women and not any kind of solution for their oppression. She projected that image across the world, a fiction which has a detrimental effect on many women: `Being a 5’10” size 10 is the ideal for a photogenic model and is thus the impossible image which every woman is taught to believe is perfection and which gazes out with assured arrogance and disdain from posters and hoardings the Western World over.’ (Diana Symons, 1984; also quoted in Nairn, 1994: 30). Surely the values which surround such romantic notions are those which feminism has struggled against since these values themselves cause untold misery to millions of women without the escape route of large sums of money. Nicci Gerrard (Observer, 21/9/97) summarised what she saw as a new and unwelcome trend as follows: `It has always been hard to say what feminism means, but now we have a new definition: it doesn’t mean believing in equality, it means believing in Diana.’ This seems to me a strange brand of feminism.
A variant of the ‘feminist’ argument was that the reaction to Diana’s death proves the victory of emotional response over rational argument. This was used as a stick to beat the left with, notably by Linda Grant in the Guardian (9/9/97). Linking the left with Puritanism, she argued that they were engaged in sneering because the princess wore designer dresses instead of a brown cardigan. She called this a form of misogyny, and went on to state that the problem for the left was that they have been terrified of feelings. The problem here is the suggestion that emotional responses by large numbers of people are, as such, superior to other responses. Consider the fact that on l9th August 1934 in a vote with a 95.7 per cent turnout, 90 per cent of voters endorsed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor and President of Germany. As Edgar Wilson argues: `The size of the crowds and the sincerity of their adulation of Hitler are undeniable, but that surely, is no argument for National Socialism’ (Wilson, 1989: 43). The question therefore is the content of the emotions. Linda Grant in her article states that: `if the left ignores public reaction to the death of the Princess of Wales, it does so at its peril’. Surely the peril of following every twist and turn of public opinion and therefore lapsing into undiluted populism has greater dangers, since in the 1930s in Germany, this would have meant idolising Hitler, rather than fighting him. Socialism is not unemotional but it cannot be based on pure emotion.
The plebeian princess?
The second view, of Diana as the `People’s Princess’, seems equally flawed. The notion that her informality, as contrasted to the Windsor’s stiffness, somehow embodies a new moral and political approach, ignores the fact that virtually all the Royal Family since Victoria have been seen to embody these new values. Prince Charles himself was talked of in these terms in 1969 at his Investiture. A Guardian editorial that day commented that: `Prince Charles himself appeared less at ease on a formal occasion than he has done on far more testing informal ones’ (quoted in Nairn, 1994:108). While Diana is seen as the latest in a long line of Royals who are informal, and who are therefore seen as the embodiment of ‘modernisation’ (a word bandied about almost ceaselessly in the weeks following her death), this modernisation is something of a tradition as Tom Nairn makes clear in his study of the Royals: `the liberal accent here consisted in a useful delusion regularly reiterated since Victoria came to the throne in 1837. She, George V, Edward III, George VI and Queen Elizabeth have all in turn been envisioned as `fresh and positive’ influences who would help to shake the dust out of old customs and ‘modernise’ the institution with their personal, common touch.’ (Nairn, 1994:107).
The careful construction of a popular monarchy is itself a modern creation. What the present modernisers seek to modernise is in fact a modern invention. The pageantry of British monarchy: `is a product of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries’. (Hobsbawm, 1983: 1). In his study of this invention, David Cannadine (1983) points out that it was only when Queen Victoria was made Empress of India in 1877 that royal ceremonials really became socially important and well-staged. The purpose of the popularisation was to project an image of the British Empire as a great family, united under the patronage of the Royal head of family. In this attempt phrases now seen as new to Diana have been frequently used. The wedding of Princess Mary to Viscount Lascelles in 1922 was described as the `National Wedding’ and the `People’s Wedding’ (Cannadine, 1983: 151). The idea that the `People’s Princess’ somehow represents the modernisation of the stuffy old traditions of the monarchy is ludicrous: continuity suggests itself as a more appropriate term to describe the recent phenomena.
Talk of ‘modernisation’ helps to present the Royal Family as responsive to popular demand, and therefore to act as a conservative bulwark against more fundamental reform. In his introduction to the second edition of his book, Tom Nairn makes the point that this can be seen as: `trying to inject a craintive populism into a system of hopelessly starched hierarchy, the aim being (as ever) to make the latter more acceptable without changing things too much’ (Nairn, 1994: ix). What all the talk of the modernisers portrays as tradition (for instance, `The nation unites against tradition’, the Observer, 7/9/97) is in fact a set of modern inventions, designed to shore up the popularity of the Royal Family. Historically this has been the purpose and end-result of calls for modernisation, and there is no reason to suppose that it will be any different this time.
In terms of trying to link this to debates about democracy, some commentators have perceived a latter-day working out of arguments of old, the Windsors being high Tories, while the Spencer family are Whigs. One of the main theoreticians of the English Revolution, John Locke, provided in his Two Treatises on Government (first published 1689), a number of ideas important in considering this ‘crisis’. Locke provides a justification for a right of resistance to unjust authority, which clearly was important in the context of the aftermath of the Civil War, in developing the theory of constitutional monarchy. Locke was also concerned to develop a theory of property that allowed for a notion of private property. He argued that the right to property rested in using one’s labour together with one’s property. The problem with this is that it can provide a notion of an inalienable right to property for those who work for others. This Locke clearly wished to prevent since he himself was Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and therefore profited from slavery (and the work of others).
The notion that the right to property derives from working with one’s property, as well as radical notions about democracy, were present in the English Civil War in the form of the ideologies of the Levellers and the Diggers. However these ideas were not ones Locke would have approved of: `He neither expected, nor, as far as we know, would he even, have desired, a realisation in his day of the radical programmes for extending the right to vote put forward by the Levellers in the English Civil War or by the Chartist movement a century and a half after him’ (Dunn, 1984: 33). Locke moved towards a more radical position concerning resistance only after the threat to property rights posed by the Levelers and the Diggers had been dealt with, and his final notion of property right still entailed the possibility of labour being alienated, that is of how employers and owners could profit from the work of others.
This shows how radical ideas for the bourgeoisie do not provide freedom for all. The willingness of the English bourgeoisie to acquiesce in the restoration of the monarchy was equally related to their fear of the rise of the lower orders, the Levellers and the Diggers, destroyed by the force of Cromwell’s New Model Army. It remained for Marx to take up elements of the notion that the right to property rests on one’s own labour and thereby arrive at the notion that those who do no labour live by exploiting others. There is in this sense a link between Locke and Marx, but also a crucial difference: Locke was no Marx, just as the Floral Revolution was no English Civil War.
It is the intellectual inheritors of the tradition of Locke who view the present events as presaging a crisis for the monarchy. The attempt to see some sort of division between the Whigs and the Tories is an attempt to dredge up historical divisions which have long since lost their original meaning, and which were overcome after the events of 1688. The suggested spat is reminiscent of nothing as much as Marx’s writings on Louis Bonaparte. Marx analyses in detail the divisions within the French bourgeoisie at the time, but he also reminds us of its fundamental unity. Orleanists and Legitimists feuded with each other, but when faced with a threat to their rule, they united as two wings of the bourgeoisie: `They do their real business as the party of Order, that is, under a social, not under a political title; as representatives of the bourgeois world-order, not as knights of errant princesses; as a bourgeois class against other classes, not as royalists versus the republicans’ (Marx, 1852 [1968:118]). Of course, there are divisions among the bourgeoisie, but when push comes to shove, they unite. Monarchy re-emerged in the period after the Civil War because the Whigs fell back on the aristocracy and the monarchy when frightened by the demands of the radical working mass, as expressed by the Levellers and the Diggers. This threat was dealt with by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army.
Who now defends the monarchy when it is criticised over its reaction to the death of Diana? Tony Blair with his New Model Army, New Labour. Tom Nairn has talked of the `Labour Party’s Royal Socialism’. Diana’s death is clearly an instance of this, except of course one would never catch Tony Blair talking of socialism. Nairn also argued that the key reason the modern monarchy has survived is that it has managed, with the help of political leaders, Labour as well as Conservative, to avoid any serious consideration being given to the alternatives to monarchy.
The popularity of the monarchy is also of key importance for its most important role, that of binding together the disparate ethnic populations of the UK into a nonethnically-based British nationality. This central role in the construction of what Benedict Anderson (1991) has called an `imagined community’ is its most important function and the future might therefore be seen to be predicted in the words of Tom Nairn: `Narrow vested interests in Royalty pall before this wider acceptance and enthusiasm. Manipulation from above has mattered far less than the lack of opposition from below. It is the absence of Republicanism, of a nationalpopular will to do other than go on sustaining an identity through such selfconsciously ‘archaic’ images which counts most’ (ibid: 10). Anderson (1991) argues that although dynasties (i.e. monarchs) were one way of creating the unity required for the notion of a nation to emerge, they were undermined by the decline of notions of hierarchy. He argues that another crucial factor was the development of print capitalism which required that common language markets be created which were large enough to exploit. Although in many countries, the end of the dynastic period meant the end of monarchy (notably in the period after the First World War), this did not occur in the UK. However there was the famous ‘modernisation’ whereby the family name of the British monarchy was changed from Hanover-Saxe-CoburgGotha to Windsor to deflect anti-German feeling. Clearly the fact that Britain was on the winning side in the First World War had some role to play in the family’s survival, as did the modernisation of their name. The end result was their ability to act as the embodiment of a nationalism which appeared to be non-ethnically-based, and thus offended less the diverse ethnic groups which make up the UK. This forms an important element in the transition of nationalism from a radical to a very conservative doctrine.
Eric Hobsbawm (1992) argues that the type of nationalism embodied by the French Revolution was not based on any notion of ethnic lineage, since in order to become a French Citizen one did not even have to speak French but only to express a willingness to learn. This notion allowed choice in nationality and was linked to the development of notions of citizenship rights. Nairn (1994) argues that in the case of England, there has been a version of this type of nationalism which emerged with the Puritans around the time of the English Civil War: `Thus, there has been a moral, liberating kind of nationalism which was (and is) in humanity’s general interest. It started in England, then moved on to America and France: the Revolutions of 1776 and 1789 were fuller expressions of the same emancipatory movement’ (ibid: 133). Both Nairn and Hobsbawm have traced the development of nationalist ideology away from this radical position. Hobsbawm argues that the need to get the population to fight in wars was the basis for the move of nationalism away from a concern with citizenship to a concern with patriotism. Nairn argues that it was the conservative reaction in Britain to the French Revolution and the consequent fear of radical movements which created the basis for monarchical nationalism: `The resultant Royal-conservative identity “pervaded the entire population” all right, and forged the basis of a successful “unified culture” on the crucial political plane … A workable Royal-National “We” was put in place and could later be reanimated and-when the material development of communications permitted-successfully inflated into the mass hypnosis of lateVictorian or Imperialist times’ (ibid: 135).
Drawing together these several strands, we can see the emphasis on mass communications and right-wing fear of radical reform leading to the development of the `popular monarchy’. The Diana phenomenon, as I have shown, is entirely in line with this, also attested by the centrality of the mass media to her popularity. The Floral Revolution is merely the latest expression of these conservative sentiments, and not at all a radical reaction. It is part of the traditional forces ensuring that the British monarchy `has been the instrument of the plutocratic establishment of Britain, which has been successfully deployed to legitimise an unjust and inequitable social structure’ (Wilson, 1989: 58). In Britain this populist monarchy is at the heart of: ‘a world where national identity inevitably took precedence over the many other historical forms of allegiance or communal feeling … The Crown alone could provide a compensatory symbolic focus and give a phony yet concrete and imaginable sense of equality-of belonging within a traditional State-family, of a community putting both gender and class “in their place”.’ (Nairn, 1994: 129,136). Ralph Miliband makes a similar point when he argues that: `The unifying and socially emollient role of the British monarchy, for instance, has long been recognised and understood, never more so than since the coming into being of “popular politics”.’ (Miliband, 1973:189). Socialists have to continue fighting both the populism and the popularity of the monarchy. This institution underlies British nationalism and undermines attempts to achieve substantial reform of class and other inequalities. Socialists should certainly not be fooled by the oldest trick in the book, namely the modernisation of the monarchy.
Diana the philanthropist?
The third argument for Diana rests on her charitable work and her humanitarian image. It is clear that Diana did involve herself in charity work, and while it is better she did so than not, this itself needs to be placed in context. Andrew Adonis (New Statesman, 5/9/97) made the extremely valid point that in involving herself with charitable work, Princess Diana was in no way breaking the mould, but following in a long line of the philanthropic royal. The tradition goes back to Queen Victoria, and was presumably part of the campaign to try to increase the popularity of the monarchy. Its role today, in a time of concern over the future of the welfare state has to be questioned and Adonis makes the point very well: `the Royal Family’s role is increasingly Victorian. As the welfare state-in particular, the idea of universal state provision-declines and the superrich grow larger and more dominant as a class, so the idea of charity as the beneficence of rich to poor is being reinvented.’ (ibid: 8). The demand for the Welfare State was based on the rejection of this voluntary paternalism, it rested on the idea of people’s right to certain entitlements. Today charity is becoming a substitute for it, and therefore complicit in the destruction of the welfare state.
In her article savaging the left for a puritanical approach to Princess Diana, Linda Grant argues that: `without effective public relations, charitable and voluntary organisations are not going to be listened to’ (Guardian, 9/9/97). She is therefore trying to make Diana’s contribution new in this sense. There is a problem with this and it was highlighted in an earlier article in Capital & Class on the Live Aid phenomenon. Robert Allen ( 1986) pointed out that Live Aid was, at the time, the latest manifestation of a presumably new and modern approach, lauded by Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques. However, Allen shows that a problem exists in drawing up the consumer culture as the basis of contemporary popular culture: `it has the characteristics of many consumer products, and in particular a short shelf-life’ (ibid: 34). The campaign therefore relied on marketing of a concept, and Allen warns that it is important not to confuse this with real political change. He goes on to point out how Live Aid was quickly dropped in favour of the more patriotic `Hands Across America’ campaign by the American media, and how this short-term attention span undermined the efforts of Bob Geldof to refocus Live Aid around more long-term projects which received little public attention: `The product he [Geldof] would really like to market, long-term development, has not proved so sellable’ (ibid: 35). This problem, which arises when charities decide that PR and marketing are a key element in their work, is also clearly true in the case of the causes espoused by Princess Diana. Already there have been criticisms of some of the tactics used in relation to her work on landmines. Finally, as with Live Aid, the amount of money raised pales in comparison with the needs, but the `effective PR and marketing’ does at least make it appear that someone is doing something, thus letting others with more substantial resources off the hook.
Even if we allow that the work for charity is a moral good, surely we need to consider the causes of the need for charity. Why do we need charity at a time when there is greater affluence in the world than ever before? Charities exist because of need, much of which is created by the inequalities generated by the capitalist system, and the class inequalities and exploitation the system needs to survive. The Royal Family stands at the pinnacle of this class system, and its wealth is linked to the creation of poverty and need. The `Diana as humanitarian’ analysis forgets that she was part of the problem that causes the needs the charities try to cater for. In order to be effective for charity, she needed to remain glamorous and stylish and a royal in all but name, and therefore perpetuate the system which caused the problems she campaigned against. This is a contradiction lived by every charity which seeks to raise money by PR. Charitable organisations themselves face the dilemma that, in making PR actions by the rich and famous central to their appeal, they rely on the perpetuation of a system of inequality that is the cause of the ills they seek to redress. For example, Diana, as Princess of Wales, between 1981 and 1993, received income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which until 1993/4 was tax free.
Philanthropy seeks to deny that there are fundamental conflicts of interest between human beings, and therefore fails to develop an analysis of the structures of oppression and exploitation. The key question is the origin and mechanism of reproduction of these phenomena, a question Diana could not answer because it would involve recognition that she was part of the problem. This point was made eloquently in a letter from Paul Laverty, printed in the Independent on Sunday of 14/9/97: `When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask “why” they have no food they call me a communist.’ These are the words of Dom Helder Camara, a one-time Archbishop in northeast Brazil for over 20 years. Both Mother Teresa and Princess Diana did indeed have much in common. That dangerous word ‘why’ was never on their lips. Perhaps this explains in part their iconic stature. Both are sweet, sincere, but most of all, safe, and in the long term utterly irrelevant to the 35,000 innocents who die each day because we live in a world which violently rejects any notion of sharing wealth in a more equitable manner. I don’t doubt that the world needs compassion. But it needs justice more than charity and perhaps for every embrace it needs the question `why?’.
Probably the most notable humanitarian contribution Diana made was her intervention in the campaign against landmines. While entirely laudable, and certainly when she was attacked by Tory politicians for being ‘political’ it was clear which side socialists were on, this humanitarian gesture needs to be placed on the scales along with other events in her life. In February 1992, she and Prince Charles went on a tour to India, the real purpose of which became obscured by the focus on the presumed marital difficulties. In his biography of Prince Charles, Jonathan Dimbleby (1994) makes the following comment: `It mattered not that the Prince (and the Princess) had been about their public duties with tireless humour and charm, and that their visit had helped to promote a 1.5 billion arms deal’ (ibid: 591 ). Becoming involved in a tour of India to secure a 1.5 bn arms deal is not the act of a sweet person. Diana’s involvement with charity work was not unique, and her PR approach to charity work was problematic.
Finally, there has also been Gordon Brown’s decision that the VAT receipts on the Elton John record `Candle in the Wind 1997′ would be donated to charity. The message here seems to be `Tax: Bad; Charity: Good’. This is not a message socialists should accept. Of course, it really depends on what the money is spent on, but the basis of socialism does rely on collective democratic control of societal expenditure and therefore tax is a moral good. Since VAT is a regressive tax, the poor will contribute more than the rich to this charity, which seems rather an uncharitable outcome.
A floral revolution?
If there are questions to be asked of all of these claims to Diana’s status as a radical, these equally apply to claims about the movements that arose after her death. Martin Jacques (Observer, 7/9197) called this mass phenomenon `The Floral Revolution’, arguing that it epitomised what he called a new politics. Since it clearly did involve a lot of people, it is important to test this claim by looking at the composition, aims and motives of this movement, if movement it was.
The question of the motives of those involved in this movement remain confused. Participants themselves often seemed to have little clear idea as to why they were there. Three people interviewed by the Independent on 2/9/97 came up with the following: ‘I didn’t realise until she died how much she did really.. . I’ve never really been interested in the Royal Family. I don’t particularly admire them’ (22 year-old student); ‘I don’t know why I’m here. It’s not me at all, I don’t know why I’m so affected’ (30 year-old music industry worker); and `I’ve got no time for the Royals, I’ve never laid flowers anywhere and I’ve never signed a book of condolences, but I’ve taken time off work and I’d do it again, and again, and again’ (39 year-old advertising agency worker). There is little solid evidence of what this movement wants, and this lack of a clear aim must place a question mark at least over its description as a movement.
It is therefore somewhat difficult to arrive at any realistic overall assessment of the social and political nature of the people involved. Precisely because of the manufacturing of the notion of a nation united, such information appears to have been deemed unnecessary. Eventually some figures and pointers began to emerge which allow us to make some sense of who the mourners were. A survey of those waiting to sign the books of condolence in St. James’ Palace showed that the people in the queues were `the women of middle Britain’: 80% were women and 20% men (Observer, 7/19/97). The survey also found that 56% were middle class and 44% working class. The authors argue that this means that the working class are under-represented. (There was no reference to a ruling class, reflecting the lack of recognition of this category by newspapers and pollsters). When the survey further looked at which newspapers the mourners read, there was a distinct non-correspondence with the UK generally. While the Times accounts for only 5.5% of the daily circulation of newspapers, 16% of mourners read that paper, and while the Mail has only 16% of daily circulation, 27% of the mourners read that newspaper. Mirror readers were underrepresented, but Guardian readers were over-represented. The three most popular newspapers read by mourners were rightwing papers (Mail, Sun, Times) and it is that group of people who therefore seem to be over-represented among the mourners.
Middle class, overwhelmingly middle aged and largely right wing, all these are clear social indicators of those of a conservative frame of mind. When the group were asked about the effect of Diana’s death on the monarchy, 68 per cent thought it would weaken it, 13 per cent thought it would strengthen it, and 15 per cent said they thought it would make no difference. Radicals would presumably be happy about this, while conservatives would be worried. Both groups could legitimately put themselves in the camp of thinking it will weaken the monarchy (whether rightly or wrongly) but the overall figure masks this important difference.
Some further evidence did emerge in two opinion polls presented a week later in the Sunday Times and Observer of 14/9/97. The Observer’s ICM poll pointed to the decline in popularity of the Queen and Prince Charles. When asked to mark them out of 10, only 10 per cent and 5 per cent gave them top marks respectively, as compared to figures in 1981 when they were given top marks by 71 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. While this does indeed show a clear fall in the popularity of these two, when asked about whether they wish to see a republic a total of only 12 per cent opted for this future, and 86 per cent wished to keep the monarchy. An earlier ICM poll for the Observer at the end of 1993 found that two-thirds of people wished Britain to continue as a monarchy. Tom Nairn (1994) used this survey to overturn his entire analysis about the popularity of the monarchy.
The strength of republican feeling seems to me wildly exaggerated. Certainly people were fed up with the monarchy’s cost, but that is not the same as being fed up with the institution. However if this represented a low point for the monarchy it is clear that pro-monarchy feeling has increased between 1993 and 1997. In 1969 (the year of Prince Charles investiture) 16 per cent favoured abolition of the monarchy and by May 1994 that had fallen to 12 per cent (quoted in Dimbleby, 1994: 671). So from 12 per cent in 1969, the proportion favouring republicanism rose to 33 per cent in 1993, fell to 12 per cent in 1994 and rose to 14 per cent in 1997. This does not strike me as evidence of any ‘revolution’ and while Tom Nairn might have been right to notice the rise in antimonarchical sentiment in 1993, his shadowy Republican majority had clearly evaporated by 1994 and has hardly returned today. The Queen herself noted that 1992 had been an `Annus Horribilis’ and this was the spur to wheel out the old modernisation chestnut through the expedient of agreeing to pay income tax (although keeping an exemption from inheritance tax), a concession that seemed to do the trick. A similar set of moves is clearly evident in the wake of the Diana episode. An attempt to regain popularity has been launched through the proposal to remove the Civil List and in return allow the Royal Family to keep the revenue from the Crown Estates.
All the evidence is that the movement dubbed the `Floral Revolution’ has not the slightest whiff of Republican sentiment, and its radicalism is restricted to maybe wanting Prince William to succeed to the throne rather than Prince Charles. It should therefore be interpreted as evidence of residual monarchical sentiment, though perhaps more in the middle than the working class. This sentiment has been helped by the media coverage, and insofar as it affects the working class it is one aspect of contradictory consciousness: pulled towards a symbol of nationalism and national unity at the expense of democratic class-based sentiments. It is also clear that the mood of the nation remains largely monarchist, despite various papers and columnists attempts to portray the movement as somehow opening the floodgates for republicanism. Diana’s death has allowed space for the monarchy to reassert its popularity, and far from weakening the monarchy, it will probably end up strengthening it.
That there was a degree of fantasy in all of this brings us finally to the role of the media. The question of whether the media reported the truth is clearly an important issue that runs throughout this whole affair. In the week after the car crash, the papers were littered with the phrases every one or all or the nation with the clear implication that the emotional outpourings were something evident in every single person. This is not true. In the letters pages of the broadsheets during the week after the car crash people are writing in to state that they feel no grief, or do not share the emotions attributed to them in the statements in the Press, almost every day. The hype about the size of the funeral crowd was another example of media exaggeration. First it was expected to be 1 million in London, then 2 million and finally 6 million. Actual figures after the funeral were hard to come by, but in the Observer a week later a figure of 2 million was given. The figures on the TV viewing of the funeral show that 59 per cent of the population watched the funeral. Well, I might just be old-fashioned, but I thought there was a distinction between 100 per cent and 59 per cent. It is undeniable that many watched and were involved, but the notion of one nation united (in grief, against tradition, in a floral revolution, in support of the little princess) is simply not true.
Interestingly enough, the magic figure of 59 per cent was also mentioned in the Sunday Telegraph of 14/9/97 in a different context. In an article looking at research on whether men and women feel it is a good thing for men to be present at the birth of their children, it was reported that 59 per cent of women said that the men had been supportive. The rather surprising headline was `Fathers more hindrance than help at births’, the justification for this being the statement in the first paragraph that almost half the men are more of a hindrance than a help. The proportions are exactly the same as for TV’s coverage of Diana’s death, but in one case we are presented with a view of a nation united (i.e. the 100 per cent view) and in the second we are presented with the fathers are more of a hindrance view (i.e. the 0 per cent view). They are both good examples of distortion of the truth.
Why the media should be so concerned seems to me to be linked more with the notion of Diana as a commodity, and a very important commodity. It is not surprising that the media have reacted to the death of Diana with such grief and sadness since they have lost the best selling commodity they ever had. She herself recognised this in her Panorama interview: `You see yourself as a good product that sits on a shelf and sells well, and people make a lot of money out of you.’ Which people exactly? The Independent of 1/9/97 contained the following estimates of the influence of the Diana Brand. The Sunday Mirror, the first to print photos of her with Dodi Al-Fayed, sold an extra 250,000 copies that day and the Sun sold an extra 175,000 copies when it printed similar pictures. Altogether, it is estimated that the pictures of her with Dodi sold an extra 750,000 newspapers. A magazine with her on the front cover would expect to see circulation leap by 30-40% and in 1994 Audi reported that after she had been seen driving an Audi Cabriolet, sales virtually doubled. Majesty magazine estimated that Princess Diana generated 14.5 million pounds worth of free publicity for products she was seen with. This is big business and the loss of that commodity no doubt made many a capitalist sad with grief at the loss of the great money-earner.
What seems to me most frightening about the behaviour of the media and the crowds around the funeral of Princess Diana and its aftermath was a growing social intolerance. Joan Smith (Independent on Sunday, 14/9/97) pointed to the way in which `keep quiet’ was a clear message to those who did not share the emotions of the masses. Christopher Dunkley in the FT (10/9/97) argued that it was quite right to reflect the feelings of the people who were grieving: ‘though at least 51 million out of a population of 56 million or so neither laid flowers nor lined the funeral route. What was extraordinary and worrying was the way in which, in a remarkably short time, it became impermissible to express on television disagreement with, or even the mildest dissent from, the keening chorus which insisted that “She was queen of all our hearts”.’ (ibid: 29). He also goes on to link this `mood which is close to mindlessness’ to the situation in Germany in the 1930s.
Some faced an even greater intolerance. A Sardinian tourist was sentenced to a week in prison for stealing a teddy bear, finally reduced to a fine. On leaving court, the defendant was punched by a 43-year old who declared he had done it for Britain. Two Slovakian women were sentenced to 28 days in prison for the same crime, with the judge making explicit reference to `public outrage’. The best comment on this was a letter sent to various newspapers which stated that the author would in future be very wary of picking up crisp packets or other rubbish in case the same fate befell him. The communitarian ideas contained in Etzioni’s (1995) Spirit of Community are said to have influenced Tony Blair. They involve a call for the remoralisation of society. Some notion of the intolerant undertones of this can be gauged from the above examples. This phenomenon is not something to be welcomed, particularly when it seems to involve the media construction of `moral panic’ threatening all ‘others’ with silence or rough treatment.
In conclusion, there was conflict and tension surrounding Diana’s funeral because she was very successful in appropriating the role of the popular charity worker, while being detached (at least formally from the Royal Family). However these tensions never seriously threatened the monarchy making nonsense of the claim of a `Floral Revolution’. In the aftermath there is clear evidence of the continuing popularity of the monarchy, and those members of the Royal Family who were seen as the villains of the piece are now the ones crying loudest for modernisation. They will no doubt reap some of the benefits of the renewed popularity of this institution.
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Copyright Conference of Socialist Economists Spring 1998
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