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A Pathetic Defense of the Monarchy
Peter Kellow writes
The Diamond jubilee is having the effect of inducing more and more people to ask the question of whether it is really a good idea to have a mediaeval monarchy as head of state.
One thing is for sure, if last year’s royal wedding is anything to go by, the celebration and constant media coverage will be an excellent recruiting campaign for the Democrat Republican Party. A lot of people realise the rottenness of our monarchical system but maybe do not think too much about it most of the time. But having royal pomp and privilege endlessly stuffed down their faces for a big RoyalFest makes them think about it. It makes them realise that they are republicans at heart and that they want to go out and do something about it. Joining the party is the first step.
No doubt because of this year’s jubilee there was a question from the audience on BBC’s Question Time this week asking if it was time to retire the monarchy. The panel hardly rose to the question with any dignity. Prior to this question was one concerning the government’s proposal for paying public employers less than the normal rate in the more deprived parts of the country and this was aired in a full debate with excellent contributions from the audience. The discussion of the constitutional issue of how we should appoint our head of state was by contrast shallow, ill-considered, one-sided and ignorant.
You can hear a sound recording of the discussion here
The discussion illustrated the fact that even professional politicians have no real interest in the constitution and no understanding of the subject. Of the five panelists only one declared being in favour of a republic and she was an author and not a particularly political person. The other four were wholehearted in favour of retaining the mediaeval head of state but the reasons they gave for their support were dominated by the matter of tourism and how the monarchy benefits that industry and how the monarchy is good/superb/magnificent value for money - although no one actually specified what she did that returns such excellent value. If a fundamental feature of our constitution and our society is be judged mostly on its effect on tourism one can only despair at the level of debate.
The questioner, himself a monarchist, put forward the tired argument that he did not want to see a President Blair or the like, revealing his ignorance of the fact that under a republic, with a proper Separation of Power, the president has far less power than the current office of UK Prime Minister. It goes without saying that no one corrected him on this fundamental error.
Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna MP, on the panel, responded by telling us how he had met the queen this week. He had clearly been seduced by the wealth and fantasy surrounding the monarch and showed us how the experience had reduced him to an embarrassingly fawning subject with no mind of his own on the matter of hereditary privilege. He declared that the queen had done a superb job. He said, mustering as much conviction as he could, that he was a “default monarchist” as he “did not know what to put in its place”. He did point out that having praised the monarchy on his Twitter page he had been “showered with abuse” but clearly this reception of his views had caused him no pause for any deeper reflection on the issue.
David Davis, back bench conservative MP, said he wholeheartedly supported the monarchy and the best defense of it was given by Harold Wilson when he was prime minister in the 1960’s when he said that what stops Britain becoming a dictatorship is that the PM has to go on his knees to someone every week. If the PM feels the need to go on his knees to anyone you would think it would be better to privately go on their knees to the electorate that gave them their authority and whose solemn duty it is to serve. The belief that groveling to wealth and hereditary privilege is good for the polity could only be held by someone of a profoundly undemocratic mindset
Coalition Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP, once admired for his rectitude, but now a man looking increasingly uncomfortable in his own skin as he grins and supports policies that everyone in the country knows he disagrees with, could do no better than citing the clichéd saying that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. His inability to recognize the enormous inadequacies of our political system that has landed the country in debt for ever, fails to deliver justice for any but a tiny superrich elite and whose politicians ripped us off with endemic fiddling, beggars belief. To say that all is well and not “broke” shows a detached apathy confirming that his sellout is complete.
Melissa Kite, a Spectator columnist, who failed to shine during any of the programme’s discussions, had nothing but compliance to add. It made you wonder how it is that such stodgy and conventional mind could have any readership. On the subject of the monarchy she said that it gave the nation a “fabulous identity” and was a special magnet for tourists again reducing the matter of one of our great offices of state to a calculation of tourist revenue.
The only bit of fresh air came from novelist, Marina Lewycka, who when directly asked by the chairman, David Dimbleby, if she was a republican, after of long pause, did say: “yes”. However, she claimed to be, what Diane Abbot MP has called, a “post-queen” republican, meaning we should await the present monarch’s death before ushering in the republic.
It would be lovely to be able to report that the audience came forward with some alternative, if not actually outright republic, views but this cannot be. A direct invitation from the chairman to ask for republicans in the audience to speak produced only one young man who also claimed to be a post-queen republican – a republican, yes, but not yet.
Full marks, however, must go to the chairman, David Dimbleby, (interestingly still unknighted for his services to broadcasting) for attempting to tease out republican opinion from the panel and audience - even if it was with little result. He had no fear of the "r" word unlike many in broadcasting
One member of the audience made the point that we already had too many politicians and so we should not have another one as head of state. His distrust of politicians is understandable but the idea this can be addressed with appointment by virtue of birth is hardly the answer.
The whole discussion was depressing for its triviality, lack of real commitment, ignorance of constitutionalism and sickening kowtowing to inherited privilege. Practically the only person in the room to declare their republicanism was a novelist of Ukrainian origin.
It is curious fact that, when I talk to friends and colleagues, who are quite a cross-section, I never find anyone who, when it comes down to it, is not a republican. So how is it that so many politicians and people in the media claim to be monarchists. How was it that no member of the audience at Grimsby on Question Time questioned the status quo (assuming they weren't edited out).
The only answer I can think of is that the issue is simply not seen as important, as if it is just a technical matter having a mediaeval head of state and has no bearing on the politics we see in this country. Of course, the queen does not seem to be doing anything very much of an obviously political nature herself and may even in her private moments have personal doubts about what the current system is doing to her “subjects”.
The only comment in the last few years from her, that we know about, was when she asked why economists did not see the great crisis coming. This was a perfectly fair question, of course, but one to which she received no answer from any one - whether standing up or on their knees.
Perhaps the really surprising lesson from the Question Time debate came from the gentlemen who argued that the heriditary principle was good because anything was better than elected politicians. I had never heard this argument used to defend the monarchy before but it demonstrates just how deep is the distrust of the democratic process as it is. His comment was loudly applauded
It seems that many people just do not see the great harm that the very existence of the monarchy does to our democracy and to society. If they stop to think about it a lot of people don’t strongly favour the monarchy and in their hearts are really republicans. No one in the Question Time debate put forward anything but lazy justifications for its continuation. There are royal fanatics, to be sure, but amongst very many there is no passionate love of monarchy - only a passive acceptance.
But, maybe, it is not seen as really making a lot of difference by many people.
In this they are far from the truth. It must be the task of the DRP and others to raise the level of debate. If that happens, the division of opinion in a future Question time could look very different.
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