“(U.S. media) really thinks Kings and Queens have power over us. The truth is, we let them pretend to reign over us as long as they don’t ever touch the levers of power”
I was visiting Carefree, Arizona some years ago when an American friend, having just watched the movie “The King’s Speech”, asked me “Was he a good king (George VI)?”
This made me think that Americans have no idea what our constitutional monarchy does, and that probably applies to many of my fellow Britons too. Even more so after the massive international media convulsions following the death Of Queen Elizabeth II (QEII). Americans, or at least the blown-dry ignoramuses of U.S. network TV, really think Kings, Queens and Princes have power over us. You only have to picture the gormless threesome of Charles, William and Harry to understand how ridiculous that would be.
But the U.S. media thinks they are in charge in some way. That’s why they swarm all over London when there’s a birth, death or one of the family members gets into the newspapers. But they are powerless celebs. Famous for being famous. They have no political power. It’s a typically-British sham. The truth is, we let them pretend to reign over us, as our worn-out dirge of a national anthem says, as long as they don’t ever dare try to touch the levers of power.
In return for their silence they live in Buckingham Palace and pretend that they are really in control of the nation, but that’s just a façade.
As a citizen of Britain, the idea that a monarch could be rated as good, bad or indifferent had never occurred to me because I know that the role amounts to keeping mouths shut about politics and making speeches scripted by the government of the day. That’s the deal. If they venture into the political world they would find themselves in exile in double quick time. In return for their silence, we allow them to live in Buckingham Palace and pretend that they are really in control of the nation, but that’s just a façade.
It’s a British compromise based on our unwillingness to face reality if it embarrasses others. A couple of centuries ago we stopped allowing monarchs to rule over us and grabbed power for the people, but we didn’t want to humiliate the Kings, Queens and Princes by throwing them out. We conceded this elaborate charade of power for them so their feelings wouldn’t be hurt, while switching power to Parliament.
Sure, Charles, William (but no longer Harry) meet and greet foreign leaders and wine and dine them as though they are equals. They can open fetes, host gatherings for royal “honours” where they sometimes dare to ask “how far did you come?” But the speeches are written for them by the government. They have power over nothing. Think through all the years of QEII and you won’t find any examples of changes in politics because of her views. The arrangement includes so much ridiculous, outdated ritual that the ill-informed on the other side of the pond and some here might be forgiven for thinking they actually still wielded power.
Well-mannered empty gesture
For instance, the Prime Minister meets the King once a week to discuss policy and receive advice. But this is a well-mannered but empty gesture. As far as I know, in modern times, there has never been an example of a monarch influencing any policy outcome. Ever. If there was any such evidence there would be a political storm. At the opening of Parliament every year there’s a song and dance as the King is driven to Parliament in a horse-drawn coach and makes a speech outlining the government’s plans for the year, but it’s all scripted by civilians. And when a government is defeated in Parliament and has to call a general election, the routine calls for a visit to the Palace to seek permission, and then another visit from the winner of the election to be allowed to form a government. Kiss hands no less. It’s all just fake. Just pretence.
But establishment members in general and historians like Andrew Roberts in particular insist that our monarch is important and a big achiever. In an article in the Wall Street Journal some years ago “How The Queen Saved And Soothed Britain” Roberts put forward the preposterous notion, still held by insiders today, that as Britain shed its empire after World War II and became more of a bit player, this was achieved with “tranquility” and without internal dissensions, thanks to the Queen. Her efforts also helped us ride out the 30-year terrorist campaign because of her steadfastness throughout the “Troubles”.
“Acting within the confines of her strictly non-political role, the Queen has actually made an enormous difference in her long reign – all of it to the good,” Roberts said.
A classic oxymoron, no? Have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? Let’s face it, someone with no power can’t actually do anything. Challenged over this, the biggest con of all will be rolled out by the establishment, that Britain’s monarchy has “soft-power”. This is just soft soap wielded by those that gain from their close associations with the royal family. And the final desperate throw is that the monarchy pays for itself because it draws in foreign tourists. If true, nobody would visit France because there is no royal family to go with the national architectural treasures.
QEII clearly felt it better to retain the illusion of power and all the nice things her family benefitted from than actually standing up for British independence.
Every bill that Parliament passes has to have “royal assent” by way of the monarch’s signature before it becomes law. In theory, this could be a veto over Parliament, but has never been used. Can you imagine the storm if Royalty attempted to wield political power with a veto? Cries of “democracy is in peril” would echo. There were possible examples late last century when the European Act and the Maastricht Treaty were forced through Parliament. If there ever were issues of huge principle the monarch had a right to veto, it was transfers of power from our sovereign Parliament to Europe. But QEII clearly felt it better to retain the illusion of power and all the nice things her family benefitted from, than actually stand up for British independence.
So sure, let’s keep our monarchy if it just meets and greets, hosts a few pointless “honours” ceremonies, organises charities, and drops the pointless charades of power. We can then celebrate a buttress to our way of life with realism and respect restored, and for which we can be thankful for saving us from the resurrection of detested failures like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock, John Major and David Cameron, who might otherwise lord it over us as Presidents if the monarchy was abolished.