(A version of this blog was also published by the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)
I saw some Republican demonstrators interviewed on TV during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. One of their startling opening gambits to explain their position was: “The Parliament at Westminster has too much power.”
And they were arguing in favour of more politicians!
People often mis-read my political views. One example is that I am a very strong supporter of the monarchy.
Writing this blog I am on a hiding to nothing because, as long as it is, it does not give me enough space.
But, at school, I studied British Constitution for ‘A’ Level. The result is that I am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. I also think Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, was a neo-Fascistic prat who seriously damaged Britain’s constitutional set-up, but that is another matter.
When people say, “Oh, we should elect the Head of State,” I think, “Jesus! Are you out of your mind? Do you realise you are arguing that what we need is more scumbag politicians?”
Britain has stumbled into a State where we have a Head of State with lots of theoretical power and no practical power.
The Queen does not actually make the important appointments, does not make laws, cannot in practice prevent laws from being passed by Parliament and has no actual practical constitutional power. But she is the ultimate safeguard against dictatorship and tyranny.
If a mad Prime Minister and/or a truly extremist government got into power and started passing laws which the vast majority of people then found repulsive – the example always used at school was a law that all red-headed men should be executed – what would happen? They could not be voted out by the electorate until the next General Election: perhaps four years away.
The only certain way to actually overthrow a government effectively anywhere (beyond the uncertainties of civil war) is for the government’s Army to overthrow it and you then have a situation where the Army is the government and has to appoint one of its own as Head of State.
In Britain, the Army is not the government’s Army; it is, in theory, the monarch’s Army. As is the Air Force, the Navy, the Police and the Civil Service.
The Prime Minister is not the Head of State. He/she is not even the head of the government. In theory. the Prime Minister is just that – primus inter pares – first among equals – only one of the monarch’s many ministers.
The result of this is that, if the Army overthrew an out-of-control government, it would do so in the name of the on-going monarchy and would not have to name one of its own officers as temporary Head of State. That sounds an unimportant distinction. But it would be re-asserting the monarch’s supremacy from a Prime Minister who had temporarily taken control, not overthrowing its own head. That makes it much easier to re-establish a new civilian government.
And this is not necessarily a theoretical point.
The myth about the monarchy is that it is somehow costly.
Compared to what?
Compared to a President?
The Queen receives no actual salary; the monarch’s costs are paid. Does anyone believe the same or higher expenses would be not incurred by a President? Plus some inflated annual salary and pension. All those flash state meals, all those flash ceremonials. They would still happen. Their costs would still happen. And, if there were no Diamond Jubilee, there would (quite reasonably) be some other State mega shindigs to bolster the patriotic spirit (but with less glitz and glamour because a politician in a suit would be at the centre of it).
Then there is the extended Royal Family – for which the taxpayer does not pay salaries. In effect, we get the Queen and a collection of subsidiary clones who trundle round the country as representatives. The London TV news last night carried pictures of Princess Alexandra (currently 40th in line to the throne and she’s free) at some street party.
So what’s the alternative?
Another morally-compromised politician.
By definition, anyone running to get public votes to be a temporary President will be a politician.
Un-enthusiastic voters would shamble out to decide whether they prefer to have President Tony Blair or President William Haig or President Edwina Currie for 4 years, at the end of which time some other lacklustre or tired or up-his-own-arse former, failed or self-important politician would get to extend their money-making life for a few more years.
And then you have the continuity which you do not get from an elected Head of State. The Queen has 60 years knowledge of the innermost workings of Britain. This is not insignificant.
She knows not what people think happened but what actually happened behind-the-scenes in the UK for the whole of the last 60 years – and why. She read the same red boxes her Prime Ministers did for the last 60 years. She – and, indeed, Prince Charles – know more about the inner workings of Britain than any temporary Prime Minister does. More than members of the Cabinet, more than MPs, more than current top civil servants. The top civil servants may have been civil servants for years, but they only hold the top posts – with real knowledge of what is happening – for a few years.
What you get from a continuing monarchy above and beyond the political system is continuity.
Who wants another politician in another now political role for another four years and what is he/she going to do anyway? Fight with Parliament? Counter-balance or emasculate the Prime Minister? Or do nothing and just go to meals with people wearing a suit and with a background of political back-stabbing over several years?
What improvement on the current system would an elected Head of State make?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
When the very young 18-year-old Queen Victoria ascended the throne, she was mentored by Lord Melbourne. When the 26-year-old Queen Elizabeth II unexpectedly ascended the throne on the death of her father who had, himself, unexpectedly become King, Winston Churchill mentored her with knowledge going back beyond the First World War. But those politicians soon faded away. Their knowledge, though, continued through the monarch and continued to be built-on.
At the end of the movie Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer’s character, at the point of death, says:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
The same thing happens when politicians and civil servants leave office. They leave the papers behind. But, when another similar emergency situation suddenly arises without warning, who knows where to really find out how it was handled before?
As I said, I saw some Republican demonstrators interviewed during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. One of their startling opening gambits to explain their position was: “The Parliament at Westminster has too much power.”
I am not sure I agree with that, but it is certainly no argument for replacing the monarchy.
Do we really want ANOTHER up-his-or-her-own-arse elected politician?
Do we really want President Tony Blair or President William Haig or President Simon Cowell?
No, we want a theoretical Head of State separated from the sleaze of the Westminster sewer.
We want what we have: a Head of State with no practical powers and major theoretical powers which are a safeguard against political tyranny and a family which has (whether wanker Republicans like it or not) widespread public respect and continuity of knowledge.