Blanking any mental images derived from Blackadder, I am invited by the organisation ‘Republic’ that campaigns for an elected head of state for our country, to write to my MP concerning Charles Windsor’s charity, The Prince’s Foundation.
Whatever this foundation’s merits might be, it is hard for a mere subject of His Majesty to believe it might have been implicated in a ‘cash for honours’ style of scam. This one benefits a Saudi billionaire who wanted UK citizenship – and an honorary gong.
Though we may all celebrate Saudi women gaining the right to drive, the despotic nature of this state remains evident. There have been allegations of its border guards gunning down migrant workers crossing from Yemen. Dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, which he had entered to sort out paperwork for his marriage. Saudi officials said the journalist was killed in a ‘rogue operation’ by a team of agents sent to persuade him to return to the kingdom, while Turkish officials said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government. The Saudi regime has struggled to distance itself from this act.
Cash for honours
Back in 2006, it became clear that accepting cash (or indeed favours) for honours is something for which conventual politicians and fellow travellers had been hauled over the coals. Yet, following an 18-month investigation, the Metropolitan Police have decided on no further action over ‘The Prince’s Foundation’ affair. What conclusion can we draw from this?
There has been no real legal action in the UK relating to allegations by Virginia Roberts against Andrew Windsor. The latter’s brother had furthermore also accepted millions of euros in cash from an extremely wealthy former Qatari politician; no action was taken again, perhaps on the grounds that it was stated to be for charity. The motives of the Sheik involved can only be guessed. The cash was apparently contained in a suitcase, a holdall, and best of all, Fortnum & Mason carrier bags.
Among the lower orders, such apparently sleazy activity make Neil Hamilton’s Cash for Questions fiasco seem trivial (he was apparently paid thousands in brown envelopes), but it did ruin his political career. Where royalty is concerned, should a different standard apply?
So, in our fine democracy, there is one rule for the rich and famous, and another for royalty.
Is the Metropolitan Police too pre-occupied with dealing with errant police officers and with harassment of ethnic minority Londoners? They have a lot on their minds, too much to worry about a few possibly questionable charitable donations. We may dig further.
Divine Right, Kings and executions…
Historians of the 17th Century point out just how ‘transformative’ this period was. In England of 1600, the monarch could claim ‘The Divine Right of Kings’.
This meant that the monarch could rule without reference to earthly powers, what with the Star Chamber being stacked with obedient lawyers doing the monarch’s bidding. Although the the relations between Parliament, the Crown and the legal profession were more complicated. Monarchs who claimed this ‘Divine Right’ included a Frenchman called Louis XIV, and one James Charles Stuart (aka King James I of England and VI of Scotland).
There was also the English Revolution in the mid-17th Century which turned the world upside down and brought matters of constitution and national government to a head. Sadly, some commentators refer to it more as a ‘half-turn’ than as a revolution – very English and quite unlike what was happening in certain continental countries.
In 1649, the unfortunate Charles Stuart (aka Charles I) of England was executed as a traitor and this was sanctioned by Parliament. While nobody would suggest execution as a way of ending a monarchy, surely, his latter-day namesake should realise that the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ had vanished, probably by 1690! The modern British state was emerging.
Charles Windsor might do well to realise this and appreciate that he is a “constitutional monarch”, a bizarre concept deriving from the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9. Whatever this means, he is locked into a system that should limit his personal power.
Currently, no ruler would dare to claim any ‘Divine Right’. He or she outwardly reigns through some constitutional processes and should be answerable to both the law and civil authorities, where the latter are doing their job. Even Saudi Arabia manages both a constitution and through it, an Islamic form of the Divine Right of Kings – although there is no mention of women’s right to drive cars.
Yet here in the UK, our monarch appears unaccountable. We may well ask to whom, in Heaven or on Earth, are this man and his family answerable? We may well ask about this unaccountable, unelected and unappointed monarch, who appears to make little contribution to the lives of his people, what (on Earth) is he for?
Questioning the need for monarchy
Monarchist arguments for retention remain unclear in practical terms. Symbolism is harder to debate, but those who could bear to sit through (as Private Eye puts it) the coronation, the “man in hat sits on chair” event could be excused for confusing some of it with a Monty Python sketch.
Monarchs may sign legislation the Government asks them to, although this has involved shutting down a democratically elected Parliament when it proves inconvenient. They therefore guarantee nothing to you or to me, in terms either of our representation or of the protection of our rights. Ceremonial functions, soft influence, or the role of ‘Head of State’ – these are all things which could be delegated to other democratically accountable or professionalised agencies.
In practice, the Church of England is governed by its own General Synod (its parliament); presided over by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Does it need a ‘governor’ when it has its own fine headgear options?
Questioning the purpose of monarchy leads us immediately to wider issues of reform.
Along with a democratically elected head of state, a modern upper chamber (maybe called a ‘senate’) would be constituted to improve such matters as Parliamentary scrutiny in the public interest. Reflection on the legislation passed by the governmental executive is no bad thing, and longer-term political experience can be useful. The House of Lords does this, but it needs a serious upgrade. There remain several hereditary peers (I am not sure whether they are there by dint of divine providence or DNA), and faith leaders should better reflect a diverse, modern Britain.
When out and about, I nervously encounter members of the Wiltshire Constabulary. I fear that I might be arrested for my treasonable utterances and turned over to the Met. Once I have a dungeon number, I will let West England Bylines know it, so some kind person may send me a cake with a file inside, in the hope that I can escape from the Tower of London.
Sadly, I expect there is more chance of a ‘traitor’ being dealt with like this, than our largest police force investigating allegations made against the royal family. BTW, I did dutifully write to my MP pointing some of this out, it will be interesting to see how supportive the reply will be – if I get a response at all, that is.
(Editor’s note: the views expressed here are those of the author)