It is virtually impossible to find an accurate breakdown of the Queen’s wealth. The Sunday Times Rich List puts her net fortune at £340 million; but while a significant portion of the income this produces is clearly wasted on antiques in whom only the most pretentious and over-privileged in our society would ever find value, much of it, like Balmoral Castle, takes the form of great historical treasures – and they would need to be paid for by the public whether or not it went through the monarchy first. This does not of course account for the fact that most of these sites are, at present, closed to the public, or for the lost revenue in tourism that has resulted – but we’ll generously glide over that.
Nevertheless, according to the Independent, the Queen’s burden on the taxpayer during the last financial year amounted to about £40 million direct from the Treasury, or:
1,713 new nurses per year.
It costs about £70,000 for a nurse’s three-year training course on the NHS. Today, following a variety of severe cuts and privatisation efforts, waiting times in hospitals are back a decade; and with finances comparable to the Queen’s budget, the number of new nurses trained per year could be restored to the level it was at before the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition began in 2010.
11,810 grants for students from low-income families per year.
In this year’s budget, Osborne announced he was cutting student grants from the budget – entirely. That means that students coming to university from low-income backgrounds will receive nothing to compensate for the lifestyles enjoyed by those with well-off parental sponsors. The Queen’s annual income could pay for thousands in need of the full £3,387 grant.
A fund for 4,500 severely disabled people to live per year.
The Independent Living Fund – before it was obscenely obliterated this year – provided 18,000 several disabled people with the money required to enjoy a very basic standard of living, perhaps in mobility or care at home: life for disabled people – on average, and not even in the worst case – costs an enormous £550 per month more than it does for non-handicapped people. Even if one callously sets aside the disproportionate number of deaths since 2010 from Ian Duncan-Smith’s decision, essentially, to force disabled people to work, a commitment on the size of the Queen’s salary could allow for about a quarter of the ILF to be restored.
1,600 new teachers per year.
At a time in which there is a 10 percent shortfall in the number of teachers needed in the education system, one is an awe at Osborne’s obsession with pay freezes in those sectors where applicants are most desperately needed. Classes are growing and standards are in decline. Not that this would at all discourage the royal family, whose private tutoring is now being adopted by the upper middle-class in their quest to avoid shortcomings in their children’s schooling. The annual salary for a new teacher is £25,000 – which is often returned to the exchequer through tax, even for trainees.
Settling 1,500 Syrian refugees per year.
Any number less than the tens of thousands who ought to be settled in Britain is an utter disgrace. Still, the immediate cost of settling someone in Britain would probably amount to roughly £25,000 – which is to say nothing of the number, as Germany have somewhat cynically appreciated, who would contribute to the economy in the long-run through bolstered production and tax revenue. I don’t find at all tasteful to think in this way about human refugees – refugees, in this case, from a war that our government has done appalling little to stop. But the size of the Queen’s budget does underlie how utterly ridiculous is the Conservatives’ logic on the matter.
Is any of this in itself enough to justify deposing the monarchy? Not really – it’s pennies, and all of the above changes could be made to the treasury for what would amount to a tiny cost on the national budget. Besides, the entire point of social democracy is so ordinary people will not be dependent on the generous handouts of philanthropists and well-meaning churchgoers. But ask yourself – why do the Tories slice away at the NHS, as though it staff were moldy outgrowths, but make an elderly lady – who has never been held accountable to anyone – untouchable?
There is a reason that Elizabeth of House Windsor is romanticised for the glamour she has never deserved. The reflexive defence of her wealth under some ‘patriotic’ delusion stands for everything vested in this country’s tolerance for extreme fortunes which could never legitimately be earned by anyone, the same country that allows cynical scapegoats to be made of the vulnerable, forever fantasising about welfare abuse while billions of income silently disappears from the tax books. And in the case of Her Majesty, it is one worse: it is the fortunate of an unaccountable, unelected, hereditary snob wrought from a past most nations have long since set aside with the toys of their childhood.
In my dreams, Britain’s longest reigning monarch will be its last.
Of all the parodies of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, the most ridiculous is the attempt to scare it away with the corpse of Michael Foot. It begins with the infamous ‘suicide manifesto’ of 1983; moving left as the country moved right, Labour’s crushing defeat in that year is invariably cited as hard proof of the British electorate’s instinctive hatred of socialism. However moral and correct a Labour under Corbyn would be, so the argument from ‘pragmatism’ follows, its achievements would amount to nothing more than an indefinite party of protest. If you wish to understand the future, take a glance at the past.
To put it politely – this is not how history works. Even discounting the nationalist euphoria surrounding the Falklands – a miraculous war which Foot himself had supported – as well as the SDP’s brutal and essentially narcissistic hacking of the Labour Party into two, the anti-socialism that motored working class Toryism in the 1980s has long been spent; it only really exists now as a ghost to beat down those for whom the reality of accelerating inequality and deprivation has thoroughly discredited any economic orthodoxies that once promised the opposite.
Foot’s ‘suicide note’ landed in the midst of counter-revolution. Following a decade of economic stagnation, Margaret Thatcher’s answer to administrative incompetence was not to reconstruct and democratise the state’s services, but to slash and privatise. Trade unions were bullied into submission; industrial warfare was not to be pacified, but defeated. Only with collective bargaining rights under siege and the market freed from the shackles of the public interest, so Thatcher promised, could people seize upon profit and advance their lot in life.
The ultimate goal of Thatcherism was, however, to break apart the collective working class by exploiting momentary panic; betrayal was inevitable. The middle-class have monopolised access to housing and higher education, depressing the opportunities of the very individuals whose vulnerability Thatcher had pledged to secure. As a result, the hopes invested in her politics of aspiration have decayed into cynicism and despair; UKIP’s myopic campaign against immigration rides largely on the residual anger of an old working class Toryism, aged, demoralised and disenchanted. If the antidote is to have any chance of success, it will have to be socialist and class-based.
But it’s so much bigger than UKIP. The vast majority of people today either chose not to vote for Thatcher or were not alive to do so; and with a smaller turnout at the 2001 election than for the better part of a century, it’s not a coincidence that so much of the white working class stopped voting once Labour decided that ‘we are all middle class’, as John Prescott loftily had his party’s rapprochement with neoliberal Britain. While having few of the policies to show for it, Ed Miliband’s leadership was, it’s true, something of a reach to the left; but with his entire campaign still underwritten by the propriety of austerity, Miliband’s Labour amounted to nothing more than some slightly naïve paternalism. Aspiring to govern for everyone, he inspired no one.
Believing that the right is guaranteed to endure will only ensure that it does. For Liz Kendall – the Blairite extreme with whose politics Cooper and Burnham incoherently flirt – the electorate, ‘the British public’, is just that classless and mentally impenetrable mass with whom debate is futile; its politics immutable, the pinnacle of democratic decency is not to argue and discuss but to accept uncritically the political centre as a diluted and arbitrarily nuanced vision of economic orthodoxy as it stands. In practice, this sends Labour into a futile chase after the Tory vote, inexorably retreating rightwards and cocooned away from the millions of people, especially young, either in desperate search of an escape from austerity or, in its absence, embracing whatever hollow comforts are offered by the nationalists of the day.
The British working class isn’t ‘instinctively’ anything – the right has been successful because it has waged determined and efficient campaigns for decades while the left has sat lost in a state of dismay. The working class has continued to fragment, but the entrenchment of social inequality and poverty has, in other ways, made it more physically tangible than in decades. Whether or not a Labour under Corbyn can recollect the shards of the labour movement won’t be known until it’s tried; but to throw aside the batten before the race has even begun is as disabling as it is dangerous, for both Labour and the country at large.
If the maximalists and ultra-nationalist Israeli occupiers of Palestine are the enemy, then so too is Hamas. There will never be peace until religious fanaticism is purged from the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; and it has to be fought, unconditionally, now. Focusing all of our political energies on forcing the IDF into a unilateral retreat will damn Gaza into becoming the sovereign playground of thugs and theocrats. No one who wants peace, no one motivated by any platitude for social justice, can allow that to happen.
Politicians lie. David Cameron does it, regularly; should his claim that NHS waiting times have halved since 2010 be taken as a sacred pledge to Marx and to medical socialism? No? Would it even if it had been true? Political parties have spent decades courting the trust of their electorate only to collapse under their own vapidity.
So why, when its leader Khaled Mashal wistfully imagined that he’d one day ‘possibly give a long-term truce with Israel’, did Hamas suddenly become the ardent opponent of war in the Levant? As ever in his struggle to exchange myth for myth, Mehdi Hasan captures – indeed embodies – that dollhouse marriage of gullibility and intellectual dishonesty perfectly:
2) Israel wants a ceasefire but Hamas doesn’t
Al Jazeera: “Meshaal said Hamas wants the ‘aggression to stop tomorrow, today, or even this minute. But [Israel must] lift the blockade with guarantees and not as a promise for future negotiations’. He added ‘we will not shut the door in the face of any humanitarian ceasefire backed by a real aid programme’.” Jerusalem Post: “One day after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire accepted by Israel, but rejected by Hamas, fell through, the terrorist organization proposed a 10-year end to hostilities in return for its conditions being met by Israel, Channel 2 reported Wednesday.. Hamas’s conditions were the release of re-arrested Palestinian prisoners who were let go in the Schalit deal, the opening of Gaza-Israel border crossings in order to allow citizens and goods to pass through, and international supervision of the Gazan seaport in place of the current Israeli blockade.” BBC: “Israel’s security cabinet has rejected a week-long Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry ‘as it stands’.”
Genocide, in other words, is simply the awkward and slightly embarrassing mistress of a noble peacenik. Meshaal has forgotten why he wanted all the Jews dead, and so should we.
Well now. As one of diplomacy’s little rules, if an organisation rises to prominence citing the apocalyptic fantasies of a seventh-century epileptic charging that ‘Muslims fight Jews and kill them’ because ‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it’, which, instead of scuppering, it reinforces by firing hundreds rockets at Israeli civilians during peacetime while disseminating—
—ahem, somewhat questionable television for nurslings, then its cries for peace, bread and land should probably be interrogated a little more intelligently.
To this, of course, it is glibly argued that Hamas can be put to one side. They are a red herring in a war in which power lies almost exclusively in Bibi’s court. ‘As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression,’ began Avi Shlaim in 2009,
but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, “crying and shooting”.
To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak – terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.
Leaving aside the implicit – and rather obscene – requirement that Hamas kill a few more Israelis to prove themselves, here it is. Iron Dome can smash all their rockets in a breath. Whatever the ‘not entirely innocent’ organisation might mean, or want, or do, is entirely ancillary to the acquisition of Palestinian self-determination; if we only bite our lips and share in their essential hatred of the Israeli occupation, and in the meanwhile let them be, then freedom will come to the territories and Hamas wither and die.
I’ll admit this much: puritans and vainglory won’t save the world. Socialism in Palestine is a fantasy, and not all bargains with those who would make better enemies have to end in Faustian triumphs for the Devil. The fiscally incompetent Louis XVI did not bring despotism to the American Revolution; instead, irony doomed him to a nationalist revolution that first took his head and then beat back the rest of Europe under the banners of fraternity. And what of the Irish – did the German Empire’s support for the Easter Rising undo their fight withthe British? Who could seriously denounce the Finns had they managed to fend off the Soviet empire with Nazi arms? Terrible regimes may lift a people off the ground – but it is only the people who will choose their destination.
The difference here isn’t simply that Hamas rule Gaza. It is that they exist to deny its freedom. True, it was once elected, as though that in itself vindicates any crime; but then it seized power in a violent coup, claimed direct control of all state services (except, ironically, banking), barred anyone not appointed in the name of a mosque backing Hamas from many professions, amongst them teachers, smashed the labour movement and silenced the opposition. This is how it always happens: flicking through Oswald Mosley’s autobiography the other day, I came across a passage – just before he promises to improve upon the legacy of Caesarism and Bonapartism – in which he states ‘writers cannot both be fascists and reactionaries’ because ‘fascism… can be described as revolutionary but not reactionary’. No doubt he believed that imagined golden ages could be restored to their full health, that it is no paradox to look for liberation in the past against the shackles from modernity; all the same, he would never have recognised the delusion until after many thousands or millions had been bloodied and murdered in its name, and probably not even then.
I typically have a great deal of respect for Shlaim, who is wonderfully moral when denouncing an occupation that has condemned two parties to martial servitude since 1967. But he has thoroughly miscalculated one crucial fact. The first people on whom Hamas declared war was their electorate: it is Gaza, and not Israel, whose peace they will deny, and they will remain even if they are granted a state to call their own. And by the time their intentions are understood it would be too late.
This is why it so terribly unsettling – though I won’t say ‘tragic’ just yet – that Western clemency towards Hamas climaxes just as its domestic support hits a nadir. A month after polling is released revealing 88 percent denouncing Hamas for the Palestinian Authority, during which interim period Fatah and Egypt demand the Islamists leave, their alliances with Assad and Iran battered over (though admittedly surviving despite) Syria, John Kerry calls for a ceasefire in which the party who have spent their eight years of unilateral power pelting home-cooked rockets at Israeli citizens (of which almost one hundred fell on the day before Operation Protective Edge even began) is presented as Gaza’s only legitimate representative on the international state. It simultaneously proposed that Hamas receive a chunk of some $50 billion humanitarian aid to the Territories, aid which could be spent very fruitfully on the tunnels Israel has spent weeks trying to destroy. A deal needs to be made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, immediately, and all support given to whatever remains of the secular national movement in Gaza.
The fact that those remains are insufferably dilute does not make despair inevitable. For one, there is probably at least a patter of reality to the claim that Yasser Arafat’s corruption led some Gazans into Hamas’ embrace; granting the PLO decades of international and domestic consensus as the singular voice of the Palestinian Arabs, allowing an estimated $400 million to fall into its private pockets, will do that. The Camp David discussions in 2000, showing general antipathy towards Palestinian claims in Jerusalem, may have deserved to fail – but Ehud Barak’s broader proposal, which he then updated with significant concessions a few months later, showed insight into the sincerity of the Israeli left and could well have bought the Arabs a state of their own. If an alternative secular movement can be built in Fatah to carry Palestinian nationhood, then rivalry (and by implication, shows of unity) would actually mean something in the fight against corruption and for self-determination.
In the West Bank, Fatah have shown that they do at least offer a democratic space from which a Palestinian state could evolve. Fatah are not fine lefties, but so are they far from authoritarian conspirators; their years of American training and aid comes from a shared (and very legitimate) fear of Islamist radicals. If they were simply a front for the US, they would have made peace by now. Sure, they have a front trade union federation in the GPWU – but so is there at least one autonomous leftist trade union federation, the PGFTU, who’ve managed to organise plenty of strikes against the PA. You think we need ‘grubby allies’ – a trade-off, expediency for peace? Take Fatah. History has admitted far worse foundations in the wars for peace, and for bids into the equality of nations.
Give Gaza what they deserve, and what every moralist claims to want for them: the dignity and autonomy to account for their own aspirations for themselves and for Israel. That means casting away the frivolous caricature of every Palestinian as a Hamas operative or willing fellow-traveler, an idea thoroughly embedded in the racism according to which populist leftists think the organisation’s questionable exploits irrelevant at best, and justifiable at worst. The right-wing press have made the same claim since the last intifada and they, for all their bitter protestations, cannot wait for Hamas to grab a track of land next to the Meditarranean and pronounce it a Caliphate. Nothing would give them greater pleasure than for all their racism to be countersigned by the left getting what they want and Israel rolling back into the Strip.
All religious nutjobs share a common cause, differing only in Gods and degree: Jewish Home, Shas – they want Eretz Israel cleansed of Arabs, and Hamas want all the Jews dead. It is time, right this moment, to side with all working people who oppose them. Only then will there be peace.