Death of a salesman?

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The Queen’s husband has died, not far off his 100th birthday. As a republican my first thought was ‘Oh, yes… So what?’ This is an event that has no impact whatsoever on my life or the life of anyone else I can think of. I have no objection to commemorating the Duke’s personal achievements but to suggest that this is an event of major constitutional significance is childish.

Nevertheless, we can be sure that it will be instrumentalised by the Establishment as a means of diverting attention – particularly important in the run-up to the local elections – from the government’s criminally inept handling of the Covid crisis (over 140,000 deaths, remember?). This is precisely what happened in 1936 at the time of the abdication ‘crisis’, when the departure of the petulant, Hitler-admiring Edward VIII was a golden opportunity to divert attention from the fact that millions of people were unemployed. Similarly, the recent Adoration of Major Tom for raising a hefty sum of money for the NHS was spun as a personal triumph for an admittedly wonderful old man, rather than an indictment of the criminal underfunding of the NHS.

The official reaction to the Prince’s death was predictable but the nation seems to be growing tired of this: Deadline reports a massive slump in viewing  figures for BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 when they rather unwisely opted for wall-to-wall coverage of the Prince’s death, at the cost of suppressing a number of genuinely  popular programmes. Germany’s ARD had a half-hour programme about (not a tribute to) the Prince which at least had the merit of proving that he could indeed speak German.

Can it get any worse? Well, Politico’s reports the Sunday Telegraph’s Chris Hope saying that Johnson is under pressure to sanction the construction of a £190 million successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia as a lasting memorial to the Duke of Edinburgh. (I’m not making this up). Why not ask the Pope to canonise him? That would be cheaper… and would chime with the fake religiosity of the ruling class.

Several days on and the ‘tributes’ are still pouring in. Prince Edward, whoever he is, claims the Duke was the ‘grandfather of the nation’ (which reflects an ignorance of basic genealogy), but we are now reaching the stage of “the Prince I didn’t know either”.

So, does it matter that he has died? To his family, yes, of course, and we should not intrude on private grief. The fact that he had a bad relationship with his eldest child appears to be well-documented, but no business of mine or yours. Similarly, the fact that he appears to have been the only member of the royal family who treated Princess Diana as a human being is deserving of sympathy. He may, indeed, have been keen on technical innovation – although this is not immediately apparent if you have ever been on a guided tour of Sandringham – but he was never in a position to put that interest into practice. He was staggeringly well-read, unlike most of the royals (I still remember an interview of Princess Anne’s first husband, Capt. Mark Phillips with a photo of him in his ‘library’. a room totally devoid of books, but with a copy of The Field on a coffee table). The Prince is alleged to have done a sterling job as an ambassador for British industry, but of course there is no way of verifying – or disproving – this claim.

Let’s get to the point. The Prince undertook a record number of public engagements, although he was prone to gaffes with his humorous (or racist, if you like) remarks – but nothing on the scale of Johnson’s ‘sottises’(Ed: French for nonsense). Again, so what? Readers with a long memory will recall the time he told workers to work hard (“pull your finger out”) to increase productivity, failing to understand that poor productivity is a result of poor management.

One achievement for which he does deserve credit was to create the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, which ensured that thousands of young people engaged in socially useful activities. But is this enough to justify the paid mourners?

Nevertheless, it is time to ask: whither (a favourite word at West England Bylines) the monarchy? Does it serve a useful purpose? Should it serve any purpose at all? Apart from opening Parliament, the Queen’s constitutional duties appear confined to giving the royal assent to any act of parliament – no monarch has refused since Queen Anne (died 1714). And why are we infantile ‘subjects’ of the Queen and not adult British citizens?

In response to the comment that the British public always turn out for a royal visit, the late Willie Hamilton (Labour MP for Fife) said:

“They’ll turn out to see a troupe of monkeys strolling down the street”.

We would be better off with a non-hereditary head of state. A president would be significantly cheaper to run, saving us an estimated £67 million on the royal family and the estimated £21 million the Prince of Wales receives, for no obvious reason, from the Duchy of Cornwall. A president would be just as good as the queen at opening and unveiling things. A president’s family (if any) would remain in the background or engage in paid employment.

So how to elect a president? It could be done by the public at large but this runs the risk of electing a discredited politician; so, bad idea. Alternatively it could be via an electoral college composed of representatives of the regions, say, employing a set of criteria such as ‘proven public service’ or ‘pre-eminence’ in a particular field. I’m sure that an acceptable way of electing a president can be worked out and agreed.

Ed: The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West England Bylines.

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