Observations of an Ex pat – Constitutional tiff

Who said what when and to whom in the British Royal Family is dominating world headlines? Bullying, racism, misogyny, mental health…. They are all urgent and material topics, and it is important that the Queen – and by extension – the Royal Family reflect the concerns of the society at whose apex they stand.

But there is a wider constitutional issue at stake. And it is complicated by the role of the monarchy; the obtuseness of the unwritten British constitution; the British class system; and the problems of investing a part of the constitution in a physical person.

The row between Harry and Meaghan in self-imposed exile in Los Angeles and the rest of the Royal Family in Britain threatens the institution of the monarchy which plays a much larger role in British, Commonwealth and world affairs than most people realise.

If people think this is an overstatement, then I suggest they cast their minds back to the days of Princess Diana – the divorce, death and funeral. Stock in the monarchy plummeted. There was serious discussion of the crown skipping a generation to prevent Prince Charles acceding to the throne. Republicanism hit a new high. It is rising again. It will rise with each succeeding new barrage from the Sussexes (or the Palace). Rest assured that there will be fresh volleys, the tabloid press will insure that.

One of my other hats is as a Cub Scout leader. In that capacity I have to drill past the young dreams of football glory to impress basic and more mundane values of duty and responsibility. Every week we recite the Cub Scout promise. Part of the second line of that promise is “to my duty to the Queen.”

I try to explain that this does not mean kowtowing to the person of Her Majesty. I tell my cubs that the Queen is the physical embodiment of British laws, history, values, tradition, culture and a strong sense of duty and service. The physical presence of the Queen is respecting because of what she represents.

Of course, human nature being what it is, it is difficult to separate the person from the institution and therein lies the rub. When the person is criticised, it reflects on the institution. The Queen is rarely directly criticised. She is seen a paragon of selflessness and opinion polls have consistently listed her as one of the most admired women in the world. But she is also the head of the family and their actions directly reflect on her and – by extension – the monarchy and Britain’s unwritten constitution and position in the world.

Charles’s affair with Camilla and divorce from a popular Diana; Prince Andrew’s relations with disgraced paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein and now the flight of Harry and Meaghan to La La Land. It looks like a monarchy out of control, out of date and incapable of dealing with the pressures of 21st century life.

Of course, the increasingly intrusive role of the tabloid press and the 24/7 news cycle play a major role in exacerbating the problem. They are a too easy scapegoat. Newspapers are a business. They need to write stories that sell papers to attract advertisers to make money. A newspaper – or any media operation – that fails to make money becomes the tool of special interests if it is to keep publishing. That is not in the interests of a free press which is vital to the maintenance of a democratic society.

No, the problem lies with the readers. Newspaper editors are simply giving them the stories they want because those stories sell papers. And Harry and Meaghan will continue providing the stories that sell and damage the monarchy. So, if you want to see a major part of the problem, look in the mirror.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • David, in your final sentence, did you mean “look in the mirror” or “look in the Mirror”?

  • I liked the Independent went it first came out in 1980s. It didn’t publish royal stories. Now I will have to look in the ‘i’ .

  • The row between … threatens the institution of the monarchy which plays a much larger role in British
    I think the author has, like many, overlooked the other dimension of this, probably because we are so used to looking in, namely at the heart of this is a family, who are increasingly not wanting the OTT attention of the tabloid media, of which GMB was a part of. So it is not beyond possibility that Elizabeth could be the last queen of England.

  • Roland
    I really think I should be Lord Protector

  • john oundle 13th Mar '21 - 1:10am

    Why are we expected to accept only one side of the story?

    Strange we heard nothing about these allegations & smears (all unsubstantiated), before they left the UK 15 months ago & the reason given at that time was to be ‘private’ people & escape from the tabloid press..

    They clearly dislike the Royal family & that’s fine,but then to demand tax payer funded security,a title for their son & to cling onto their titles is just laughable hypocrisy.

    Are we really expected to believe the claim that an army officer,(supposedly trained in leadership skills, how to handle emergency situations) that experienced combat etc. did not have the initiative to get a doctor for his wife?

    Some will recall when they were resident in the UK, the two of them lecturing us on climate change only for the press to reveal, their holiday flights on private jets.

    I can only assume that these self centered people felt left out of the limelight for too long, got bored with the ‘private’ person bit & wanted to leverage free security courtesy of the British taxpayer to avoid funding from their vast personal wealth.. .

  • The country, and the world, are very different than the were at the time of the coronation of the present queen. We did not have a television, but I went to relatives who, like huge numbers of people, had recently bought one. Everything was presented on the broadcast as something mysterious – there was no means of spreading gossip about the private lives of all involved – unlike now.
    We now need to focus on the real alternatives for the future. Things like what we want a head of state to do, how do we ensure that we are not going to be taken over by someone who wants to cling on to power.
    And from my point of view – how do we ensure that power is distributed and all are able to participate in the running of pour country.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Mar '21 - 8:34am

    « And What Do You Do? » by Norman Baker is a most interesting and informative book on the Royal Family.
    Does our Queen have eleven acres of roof?

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '21 - 10:02am

    “Quite frankly, my dear,” as Rhett Butler said to Scarlett O’Hara, “ I don’t give a damn”. Don’t believe that all the USA is on the royal runaways’ side. My second cousin, as he describes himself, “a country boy from New Jersey”, calls the Duchesse of Sussex a “gold digger”, who should have known what she was joining from the start. Mind you it’s not the first time that a dashing Prince of the Realm has succumbed to the allure of an American divorcee, is it?

    It was, I believe, that earlier Prince’s father, who made a vague attempt to humanise the institution of monarchy and the Prince’s grandfather who brought in many of the ceremonially trappings much loved by the majority of our citizens and foreign tourists. But don’t kid yourselves. The members of the immediate Royal Family, despite the tabloids’ charming habit of bestowing nicknames on many of them, are not like you or I. Do you remember Prince Andrew in his train crash interview with Emily Maitlis, talking about “just a normal shooting party”, for example. Some of you may recall the story about Prince Charles having a valet to squeeze out his toothpaste in the morning, or the one I once heard, when, before a visit to a local RAF station by the late Princess Margaret, the Commander was ordered to have ready a bottle of Famous Grouse and a box of Balkan Sobranie!

    That hopefully apocryphal toothpaste story was doing the rounds with the last Prince of Wales as well. It was alleged that, when the new Duke of Windsor awoke in his cabin on board the Royal Naval ship about to disembark him in France on his way to join Mrs Simpson in exile, he went into the bathroom and was confronted with a brand new tube. He had to send for a steward as he had no idea how to get the toothpaste out.

    As you will probably gather, although I am not a great fan of the institution, I admit to being quite fascinated by it, as it would appear are many of my fellow citizens, too many unfortunately for republicanism ever to gain the majority, unless, of course, Charles and Wills mess it up when our present Head of State finally leaves us.

    Every country needs a head of state to steady the ship. A bit like the late Lady Thatcher, who, when referring to her Deputy Party Leader, said, “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie”. Well, our current “Willie” hasn’t done a bad job since she dedicated her life in South Africa back in 1947. As for the rest…..

  • A grown up society wouldn’t need an hereditary Head of State and I quite like the way the Irish deal with it.

    On 1 October 2018, ex Irish President Mary McAleese was appointed Professor of Children, Law and Religion at the University of Glasgow, a joint appointment between the university’s College of Arts and College of Social Sciences. On 1 November 2019, she was elected as Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin.

    As to the BEM, MBE, OBE and CBE ? What’s left of the Empire – on which the sun never ses – is mostly left to Penguins ??????

  • @ John Marriott “Every country needs a head of state to steady the ship.”

    Thee and me are old enough to remember when back in 1968 Cecil King, Hugh Cudlipp and Mountbatten mucked about with that idea. No thanks.

  • The whole essence of Monarchy is that some of us are worth more than others, you can only become King or Queen if you have the right parents.
    That is against every Liberal Value & the fact that some Liberals are also Monarchists is down to Human ability to believe contradictory things because we want to.
    If we as a Party had some guts we would say that Monarchy is Illiberal.
    That is not the same as calling for an end to The Monarchy, lots of things are Illiberal & as a Political Party we have to prioritise.
    We could call for an Elected Presidency to stand alongside The Monarchy, that way we would have someone whose job was to look after Our Rights versus The Executive & individuals could cheer for either or both institutions. No other Country has that arrangement but so what ? The UK could be odd.

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '21 - 12:08pm

    @David Raw
    Nice to hear from you again. Yes, I do remember the ‘coup’. Wasn’t it featured on that coffee table interpretation of royal history aka ‘The Crown’? When my wife and I returned to the U.K. after four years abroad, I seem to recall an ex general with a private army, but that was around 1974, when things were really in a mess.

    My point about steadying the ship is not to advocate any kind of dictatorship. It was rather to say that, in my version of democracy, the person welcoming important people and signing bills into law should never also have the job of actually deciding policy. That’s why the US or French systems would not meet with my support. Now, can you name the current Presidents of, say, Ireland or Germany?

    PS I admit that I had to look them up. The answers are Michael D Higgins (the little guy you often see at the start of rugby internationals) and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (never earn of him either and I’ve been pontificating about Germany on LDV for some time!), my point being that you don’t have to be a big hitter to do your job.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Mar '21 - 4:32pm

    @Paul Barker
    “The whole essence of Monarchy is that some of us are worth more than others, you can only become King or Queen if you have the right parents.”
    Seconded. To me it is the idea that someone should have an automatic right to the title and role merely through parentage – irrespective of ability to fulfil the role properly which I find so appalling.

    As it turned out the UK has been fairly lucky in the chance (due to sudden death of George 6) ascent of QE2 to the role.

    I wasn’t around in 1936 but it seems to me that the one who ascended to the throne through being the firstborn son might, given his alleged nazi sympathies, have helped this country to disaster. Fortunately the next in line was more suitable for the role.

    “We could call for an Elected Presidency to stand alongside The Monarchy, that way we would have someone whose job was to look after Our Rights versus The Executive & individuals could cheer for either or both institutions. No other Country has that arrangement but so what ?”
    Are you suggesting the monarchy would continue to have a ceremonial role, while an elected president would have a specific political (non-executive) role? I do wonder if anyone suitable would actually want that job….?

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '21 - 6:27pm

    When it comes to the Kings and Queens of England there’s a massive scope for ‘whatifery’. Let’s start in 1817. Princess Charlotte of Wales, the next in line after her father, later George IV, dies in childbirth, thus starting a scramble from the ageing Royal Dukes to find a wife and an heir. Without that death there might have been no Queen Victoria. Scroll forward to 1892 and the death of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, the slightly dodgy Prince Albert Victor of Clarence and Avondale. In his place came younger brother, the Duke of York, later George V, who married his brother’s fiancée and made a reasonable fist of the job, something his elder brother might have struggled to do. And then move forward to 1936 and another younger brother succeeds an elder brother.

    If Charlotte’s still born son had survived, who knows whose face might be appearing on our coins and stamps today? In fact, would we still have a monarchy?

  • @ John Marriott, “Without that death there might have been no Queen Victoria”.

    Oh, calamity, how would the Empire have managed ? But it would have come as a great relief to Mr Gladstone, John.

    Queen Vicky’s comments on female suffrage in 1870 wouldn’t have gone down that well on LDV either :
    “I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of ‘Women’s Rights,’ with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feelings and propriety. Feminists ought to get a good whipping. Were woman to ‘unsex’ themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.”

    Nowt like an intelligent Royal comment, eh ?

    PPS the Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale to whom you refer, John, died age 28 in 1892 at Sandringham.

    Great Granddad also died in 1892 – also 28 – but in a one up one down in Hetton-le-Hole. Miners’ lung, four kids, no pension. Eldest son down the same pit age twelve. Those were the days, hey. Hereditary Heads of State are strictly for the Birds.

  • Peter Watson 13th Mar '21 - 8:19pm

    While we’re getting a few things off our chest :-), I would love it if we could dump the national anthem that beseeches God to prolong the life of a royal so that he/she can keep reigning over us, and replace it with one that celebrates the country and its people. Especially if it comes with a more rousing tune.

  • Paul Fisher 13th Mar '21 - 8:39pm

    What is liberal an democratic about the monarchy? Zero. The LibDems need to face their demons and face up the what it means to be liberal and democratic. Unfortunately, my sad experience is that both facets are in short supply, which is why I departed. http://www.renewparty.org

  • Joseph Bourke 13th Mar '21 - 9:14pm

    John Marriott,

    interesting you choose 1817. Princess Charlotte’s father, later George IV, had been established as Prince Regent in 1810. “Prinnie”, as he was called by his intimates, was an impulsive, Bacchanalian character, given to extravagance and excess.
    Channel 4 is showing a film at 10pm tonight “Peterloo”. An account of the massacre that took place when cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. After the massacre, the government declared its support for the actions taken by the Manchester magistrates and the army. The Home Secretary conveyed to the magistrates the thanks of the Prince Regent for their action in the “preservation of the public peace.”
    Robert Wedderburn, son of Scottish father and African slave was a radical and anti-slavery campaigner declared in a public debate “”The Prince is a fool with his Wonderful letters of thanks … What is the Prince Regent or King to us, we want no King – he is no use to us.”
    The small-time publisher and pamphleteer, Richard Carlile wrote in a open letter “Unless the Prince calls his ministers to account and relieved his people, he would surely be deposed and make them all REPUBLICANS, despite all adherence to ancient and established institutions”.
    The historian R J White would later write ” “The ship which had tacked and lain for so long among the shoals and shallows of Luddism, hunger-marching, strikes and sabotage, was coming to port”; “Henceforth, the people were to stand with ever greater fortitude behind that great movement, which, stage by stage throughout the nineteenth century, was to impose a new political order upon society”; “With Peterloo, and the departure of Regency England, parliamentary reform had come of age.”

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Mar '21 - 10:17pm

    @John Marriott
    “When it comes to the Kings and Queens of England there’s a massive scope for ‘whatifery’.”

    A good reason for rethinking the whole head of state concept.

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