Wednesday, 31 October 2007

On the Monarchy, Republicanism, and Why it's Fundamentally Personal

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Over on Devil's Kitchen an interesting argument about The Monarchy has kicked in, primarily between DK and Peter Risdon of Freeborn John blog...

They've both taken pretty classic-traditionalist angles on the issue: Risdon has gone for the historical and philosophical justification of republicanism, DK has gone for a utilitarian argument for the monarchy (if it were stronger and if it did its job better), as a voice of reason when politics gets out of control. Problem is, no-one in the debate ever wants to deal with issues of personality, and when you're talking about a figure who will be in a position of influence for decades the tone of their leadership is vitally important. As happens so often in ugly arguments about politics: it's all about the people.

The amusing thing is that DK's argument (a monarch who vetoes actions she considers unconstitutional) is pretty much exactly how Britain's political system is ideally supposed to run, and the single biggest factor in preventing it being that way is the actions of that harridan herself, Queen Elizabeth II. When you put personality in there, and have them in charge for decades, the settlement becomes a matter of temprament.

Or, as I put it in The Devil's comments thread (somewhat over-enthusiastically, and it has been edited).

Nice argument Mr Devil... And it made sense - in the 18th century...

Read old Tom Paine's Common Sense (I'm sure you have), and you'll see this is pretty much precisely the system described as being the operative/ideal one in Britain at the time. The problem is we have to put up with whatever monarchs we get, and The Saxe-Coburgs are all vermin. Back in Tom Paine's day he was railing against the House Of Hanover, a likeable bunch with solid urbanist-democratic credentials... Liz here on the other hand has managed to repeatedly, and unquestionably, neglect the responsibilities she has to intervene in the political system... The problem with your ideal is that it doesn't allow for work-shy, parasitic, deference-obsessed cowards like Elizabeth II.

The fact that she's had the throne for 50 years has hidden the insidious influence of the harridan from the historic eye. She has, on numerous occasions, abdicated major constitutional responsibilities where her role was for consultation... and allowed them to reside in the hands of her constitutional enemy, the Machiavellian PM.

Some examples:

WWI was declared by the king, it is only a recent innovation for it to be declared by parliament.

The UK National Government of '31 - '40 was formed by Ramsay Macdonald under the guidance and suggestion of The King.

The Leader Of The Conservative Party was chosen by the Queen up until Ted Heath.

The Dismissal crisis in Australia was caused by exactly the type of Royal privilege influence you describe, problem was she had her eye off the ball completely and allowed her governor to make a complete pig's ear of the whole business, so she'll never be able to do it again.

And before you say this is politics, not her... Any of these would have been affected by the tone of a different leader.. Her hands-off non-managerial style has led each of these occasions to be treated as a relic, rather than a duty. See, she doesn't actually give two shits about the constitution, and has neglected her job on this every single time that a situation has arisen where she has to... I personally would say The David Kelly affair was a key time for a third party to take the reigns... But the woman prefers to dote on her offspring, follow through her tedious hand waving meet-and-greet responsibilities, and demand that her money and deference is maintained.

I have absolutely no faith that any member of the verminous Saxe-Coburg Clan would be capable of doing the job any better...

Now the old Devil, much as I love him, decided to respond to this by strawmaning me for using the name Saxe-Coburg as opposed to Windsor (a village, not a family), and dismissing me for favouring the EU for exactly the job he's described... But I stand by it... The problem with The Monarchy, is we have to deal with the bastards as people. And some of them just wont die.


Charles Pooter said...

I agree with you about our current Monarch and it is amusing how small-c conservatives and other traditionalists are so loathe to criticise her on these grounds.

Her son will be even worse. Unlike her, he may well intervene in politics, but it will be on such issues as vegetable rights.

Of course, being a Euro-sceptic, I believe one of her derelictions has been allowing the loss of sovereignty to the EU. You muddied the waters on DK by mentioning your Euro-love and he rightly savaged you for it! But you are right about QEII.

Devil's Kitchen said...


As I pointed out in the first part of my comment, I did deal with this in the follow-up post (which I wrote before I read your comment).

One of the points that I made was that my proposed system would require the monarch to scrutinise and understand what they were signing, lest they unwittingly signed their own abdication warrant, as it were.

In many ways, the safeguard here is selfishness and greed: the monarch does not wish to lose their privileged status and thus must do, at the very least, the bare minimum of work, i.e. checking what the hell they are actually signing.

It's not perfect and you may wish to, say, do away with the referendum and just force abdication on any monarch who signs laws counter to the Constitution, but you can see where I'm coming from, no?


Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Cheers for wandering over DK, good to see you.

So, having read the follow up post, where to begin. How about here:

"The only way in which the monarchy is strengthened is through binding them to protect the interests of the people."

No the way to strengthen the Monarch is to have a voice that people will actually listen to... It has nothing to do with democratic mandates (do you really, honestly believe power comes from the people?), and everything to do with commanding personalities.

The problem with both sides of this debate (in the wider sense) is many seem to refuse, point blank, to consider it in the context of "There is no alternative to the Saxe-Coburgs as monarchs of Britains, and they are really bad at the job".

Lets take your proposed referendum and abdication situation... Suppose that the Monarch was a fundamentally ineffectual individual who was intellectually incapable following up her constitutional role. However, she had a pleasant school marmish manner, and people felt respectful and fond of her, despite her failings...

Now, suggest that the next in line was a total incompetent, a Goon-show obsessed, new age religion following, vegetable rights advocate, who the country had no respect for... Your proposed Referendum would be in effect a choice between these two, for a position of genuine power. The people would never choose the latter, and we are stuck with the former despite their constitutional failings. This linear choice is always binary, and will naturally antagonise the next in line since you will be evicting their parent.

In fact, further.. Every major succession-based constitutional crisis (how about Jacobite ism when the Jacobites were mainly Tory, and the Hanoverians mainly Whig, or the War of the Roses) has come down to the personality of the prospective monarchs, and the fact that they will have genuine influence. The problem is these aren't some monarch ideal DK, these are people with foibles and personalities, and the Saxe-Coburgs... The only choice we have... Should not be given such power.

Giving them some pseudo-democratic mandate wont make one person any better at their job... It just means they will be shit it while another pile of paper is added to the constitution.

Peter Risdon said...

I'm doing something else as well, albeit longwindedly. There's a radical English political tradition that I feel has been usurped by the left. I want it back.

Charles Pooter said...

I think elements of both the left and the right can rightly lay a claim to the English radical tradition embodied in such radicals as the levellers, diggers, ranters, quakers etc.

Peter Risdon said...

Yes, but the right doesn't generally make that claim - and the conservative right can't easily do so. In the original (French Assembly) sense of the term, Libertarianism isn't right wing at all. Nor is it left wing. But it is radical.

Charles Pooter said...

Another point occurs to me. DK is always banging on about strengthening ties with the commonwealth. This is something I agree with. But surely some of the blame for these ties loosening in the first place can be put at the door of QEII, her antecedents and her progeny.

It is true that she is the Queen of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island. But she is also the Queen of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis; Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji. Her ancestors were the Emperors of the whole of India (including what is now Pakistan).

...And yet where does she choose to spend the vast majority of her time: Slough and Scotland. This is a provincial Monarch and provincial family with a provincial outlook. Where is the Queen's palace in Adelaide? Why no stately home for Charles in Wellington? Why doesn't the Princess Royal spend six months of the year in Bridgetown? Oh sure, they deign to jet off and meet their lowly foreign subjects every now and again, but they may as well be flying to Mars for all they know or care about the lives of these people.

This is just another aspect of the neglect and dereliction of duty which is typical of Elizabeth and of her entire House.

Peter Risdon said...

I'm really glad you said that, Charles. Though I'm a republican, I despise the way this tupperware dynasty behave towards their responsibilities. Anne is good with Scotland, but where's the Wales at the Welsh rugby games? The chinless dauphin-of-all-faiths is too busy... no, I won't speculate. And William ponces around with the English team though he knows full well he'll be Prince of Wales. It's a contemptuous attitude. When you then get to people like the Fijiians... well, Brenda isn't worthy.