Opinion: Should the Queen speak out on the Belfast flag issue?

Queen Elizabeth IIThe pictures of the Queen joining the Cabinet meeting were charming. They conveyed a reassuring image of a stable democracy with a historic back-stop. Almost always we want the democratic element to prevail, but there are perhaps very limited issues and occasions when the monarchy can make a difference. The Queen inviting Harold Macmillan to form a government rather than Rab Butler in 1957 is the occasion often quoted. It did actually make a political difference, since Harold Wilson was later reported as having feared that Rab Butler may well have won the 1964 election.

Northern Ireland may be another occasion when the monarchy could make a difference. We are witnessing renewed conflict in Northern Ireland over the decision to fly the Union flag less frequently at Belfast City Hall. I wonder what the effect would be if the Queen herself were to make a speech calling on so called ‘loyalists’ to desist from violent protest? It would call the bluff of those who make much of their ‘loyalty’ to the Crown, were the Crown itself to require them to behave considerately. And I imagine such a move would have the full support of the democratically elected government.

* Geoff Crocker is a professional economist writing on technology at http://www.philosophyoftechnology.com and on basic income at www.ubi.org. His recent book ‘Basic Income and Sovereign Money – the alternative to economic crisis and austerity policy’ was recommended by Martin Wolf in the FT 2020 summer reading list.

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  • Frank Furter 31st Dec '12 - 10:43am

    By convention the Queen can only speak in public after the advice and consent of her government. I would not expect that her government would advise her to do this, nor would they consent. Why not? In the first place, she would be addressing and criticising only one section of the population. I know very little about the local details of Northern Irish politics, but I am careful not to accuse only one side of acting without consideration. But, secondly, the law of unintended consequences will certainly apply; calling the loyalists bluff might result in a very great destabilisation of a society which appears – despite all the occasional setbacks – to be making some progress.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Dec '12 - 12:00pm

    There should be no place for a monarchy within a democracy and we definitely shouldn’t romanticise it.

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Dec '12 - 2:05pm

    Peter, that is true, I was just venting my frustrations.

  • Paul in Twickenham 31st Dec '12 - 3:00pm

    To assume that “The Queen” would have any impact on the street protests is to fall into the mistake of taking symbols too literally. It’s rather like suggesting that The Troubles were the result of a disagreement about transubstantiation or the doctrine of justification and that the whole thing could have been cleared up by a inter-faith summit.

    These signifiers (Catholic, Protestant, Republican, Loyalist) are just indicators of cultural and social position. They don’t mean anything in themselves. If the queen was to walk through Donegall Square swinging her handbag at the demonstrators it wouldn’t make any difference.

    This is about identity and culture. I don’t believe that anything The Queen might or might not say would make a difference, but it would be interesting to see it put to the test…

  • Geoff,

    in your article you note “there are perhaps very limited issues and occasions when the monarchy can make a difference.”.

    I would agree but do not think the present trouble in Northern Ireland is one of these occassions, for the reasons that Paul in Twickenham has spelled out above.

    Frank Furter comments “By convention the Queen can only speak in public after the advice and consent of her government. I would not expect that her government would advise her to do this, nor would they consent” I thik Frank has called this right. Constitutional monarchy in the United Kingdom is based on this principle of staying above the fray of adversarial politics and maintaining a strict regime of impartiallity.

    There was some furrowing of the Brows at the time of her Siver Jubilee n 1977, when the Queen reminded politicians of the benefits of the Union, a comment widely interpreted as a criticism of devolution. Speaking as part of her 2002 Golden Jubilee celebrations in Scotland, she took a rare step on to the political stage, when she praised the work carried out by the parliament and paid tribute to the role devolution had played in strengthening the Union.

    The Queens visit to the Irish Republic last year and to Northern Ireland as part of her Diamond Jubiliee celebrations were a recognition of the improvements in British-Irish relations since the Good Friday peace deal was signed in 1998. It is these kind of State Visits by monarchy, interacting with the leading politicians in Ireland, where the Palace can best play a role in easing tensions.

  • markfairclough 31st Dec '12 - 5:13pm

    i,ll say the unforgivable , the Queen should speak out in favour of the flag

  • A bizarely simplistic view, remember the Queen is the head of state so teh laws are technically her laws, how often do you thing the Loyalists were thinking about over the troubles.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jan '13 - 1:30pm

    The paranoia and self-interest would probably find a way. Oi! The Queen’s a prisoner acting under duress, we have to ignore/rescue her! Oi! The Queen has lost her mind, we have to replace her! Oi! We fly the flag to save the monarchy!

  • markfairclough 2nd Jan '13 - 10:38pm

    funny thing is my former MP was a LABOUR secretary of state forNORTHERN IRELAND & very much pro unionist

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