Who'd be a princess?

Elizabeth II may be the last royal woman not to be subjected to rampant sexist scrutiny.

The Diamond Jubilee: it’s monarchist mentality gone mad, and there are many who, like us, have pointed out the absolute pointlessness of celebrating a hereditary right to loads and loads of dosh. As royal-loving holidays go, there are worse (when attempting to explain to a foreigner why we burn effigies of a militant protestor to usher in November, you realise just how terrifying tradition can be) but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge the more sinister subtext of marking Liz II’s sixty-year rule. Sure, she’s a little less bloodthirsty than Elizabeth I, but she still operates within that system of ‘good breeding’; of sexist ascension rules; of ascension rules, full stop; and of class inequality.

The existence of a royal family is, essentially, a logical no-brainer: it just shouldn’t exist in any supposedly enlightened society. We no longer live in a country that believes in the God-given right to wear a really camp crown, and even though a few archaic laws technically still stand, we hardly enshrine that right in politics any longer. There is literally no argument, apart from that heinous little ugly sod who keeps getting carted around by the right - ‘tradition’ - to keep the royal family in place.

Speaking disparagingly of Her Maj is still seen by many as ‘not done’. We acknowledge that anyone holding down a job for 60 years and doing that job with poise and professionalism is something to be admired. It’s just a shame that there was never an interview. There is a national affection for the Queen that is perhaps surprising - unlike her offspring, she has largely escaped censure by betraying few opinions during her sixty year reign. We suspect that this may well be her secret to avoiding large-scale massacre by tabloid: like all good women who came of age in the fifties, she is most often seen and not heard.

The problem is that no one takes the royal family seriously anymore - just check out Zoo magazine’s tasteful ‘Diamond Boobilee’ cover - and that is why they have to go. Only a few metres down the road from your straight-laced, cucumber-sandwich-filled street party, we can guarantee that you will find some twentysomething exhibitionist in a Union Jack mankini, suggestively licking frosting from the fruitcake off his fingers while balancing on a gaudy throne and proclaiming: ‘I’m the real Queen around here!’ Even if you don’t live in Brick Lane, you’ll definitely come across the Sex Pistols style bunting (or ‘cunting’, as it is termed) that has been selling just as well as its serious counterparts, draped across a table of slightly warm Strongbow and a load of enthusiastic hipsters in tea dresses. The monarchy in modern times, where heirs and heiresses like the venerable Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have cashed in on cashing in by celebrifying their heredity-given status, is little more than another sarky comment in the irony-laden mire of modern culture.

We should bear celebrity reporting in mind when we conduct our ironic celebrations over the rest of the bank holiday. Enough controversy surrounded the death of Princess Diana to let us know that the media had thought of her as fair game for borderline illegal harassment, yet now she is forever enshrined by amnesiac tabloids as the British Queen of Hearts. The enormous outpouring of grief at her death could indicate that we as a nation were sympathetic to her shoddy treatment, not only by her husband but also by the papers. In picking over the details of her divorce, her private life, her inner thoughts, perhaps those readers felt complicit.

Although the entire royal family are subjected to this to some degree, it’s always the young women who bear the brunt of it. Nowadays, the cult of Pippa Middleton, or P-Middy’s, rear end - whose Ass Appreciation Society has 241,220 likes on Facebook and counting, as well as a current admonition to enjoy ‘dat ass’ at the Jubilee celebrations - has been blown well out of proportion (no pun intended). Zara Phillips, meanwhile, became a national receptacle for crowing schadenfreude and faux sympathy following her husband’s tabloid antics, while Fergie and Sophie Wessex ‘married in’ and paid the price, and Eugenie and Beatrice couldn’t even have a Jaegerbomb at Fresher’s Week without some eager paparazzo ‘conveniently’ emerging, Stasi-like, from the men’s room with a pocket cam.

Kate Middleton has now been swallowed up by this media whale, which consumes her every movement with increasing fervour and subjects her to a dehumanising ‘baby countdown’ where the words ‘breeding’ and ‘pedigree’ are all too often applied. She is fashion icon, Stepford wife and, most importantly, womb-in-waiting. It’s impossible to know how long it will be before the adulation swerves to backlash, but the media treatment of Charlene, Princess of Monaco, following her ‘failure’ to provide an heir is not promising. We can only hope the Duchess escapes the same fate.

It is often said that every little girl dreams of being a princess. Feeding your little girl to the media’s increasingly dangerous machine, which currently churns out nothing but generic tits and female ‘emotional breakdowns’, backgrounded by male stoicism and at the worst mischievous laddishness, seems like a fate worse than death nowadays. If she does bear fruit, as international insistence dictates, how will Kate feel about throwing her young into this arena? We (the royal we) can only imagine.

Yet Elizabeth, despite being the first British monarch to have her image and her words beamed instantaneously across the globe, has, by some miracle, succeeded in escaping the usual hyping up of diets, love lives, fashion, and figures - everything that in these celebrity-driven times seems to signify womanhood. This is undoubtedly something of an achievement, and perhaps our one real reason to celebrate the Jubilee is that she has remained remarkably unscathed in the face of rampant sexist scrutiny. She may be the last royal woman who does.

Royal women: The Queen with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Photo: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.