An Open Letter to The New Prince

Dear Your Highness,
Kate and William
Congratulations on being born! It’s the first universal experience you’ll share in common with your subjects-to-be. From now on, your life and the lives of the 2,000 other babies born in the UK today will begin to diverge. You probably won’t notice this happen for a good, long while (nor will they). But, eventually, one day it will hit you: your life has been marked out to be different from the very start.

The reason is simple. It’s not just that, as every media outlet informs us, ‘the whole world was waiting’ for you to be born. It’s not just that a thousand cameras are poised in anticipation of that first aww-inspiring snap of the most freshly-minted Royal. It’s not just that your name is itself the subject of a major betting market.

No, the reason is simpler than all that: you are the third in line to the throne. As the heir to the heir of the heir, you are destined one day to wear the crown which signifies you are my monarch, my head of state.

I’m sure you’ll wear that laurel lightly, to begin with at any rate. You’ll have other things to worry about, like eating, sleeping and the other business. Gradually, though, you’ll notice that everyone looks at you — no, stares at you — treats you differently, whether holding you up to an impossible standard or looking down on you because of your accident of birth.

It’s unfair, I know. You’d think we’d be mature enough as a nation not to need human symbols. But, alas, not yet. We cling to you, to your family, project on to you all that we think you should represent. As you grow up, we’ll probably change you a bit. You can’t be talked about that much and not end up responding, moulding yourself, to what you hear.

But at other times you’ll be yourself in a way that makes us believe we’ve got the right to feel you’ve let us down, though we won’t quite know why. I’m afraid that’s the deal with monarchy. In return for your family’s wealth, many of us genuinely think we have the right to own you.

In case you were in any doubt, your destiny is fixed from this moment on. It’s not yours, it’s ours. We may be the subjects in name, but you’re the subject in deed.

And in case you ever forget it, the newspapers will be on hand to remind you: to praise and to judge, to scorn and to exalt: but mostly just to sell a bit of you to us. You are a priceless commodity, as priceless to the proprietors as you are to your parents.

Occasionally we’ll condemn them for their treatment of you, but never so much as to stop them from doing what they do to you. You’re tiny and defenceless now, and that’s just how we’d like to keep you.

Just so you know, I’m a Republican Monarchist. I respect your Family’s service to our country, recognise the dedication that underpins it. But I also want to set you free. You’re a flawed human, just like all the others born today and who will be born tomorrow. You should be able to make your own way in life, do what you want, and achieve what you can on your own worth.

You have everything going for you, except the one thing that’s most precious of all: liberty. I’m sorry about that, little fella. That’s just the way things are around here. Maybe one day your future subjects will see sense and release you.

Until then, all the very best.

Stephen

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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31 Comments

  • Although I remain a monarchist, I recognise this as the best argument against it – far better than appeals to privilege. Excellently written, Mr. Tall.

  • Tony Faithfull-Wrigh 22nd Jul '13 - 11:22pm

    I too am a Monarchist, simply because as a non political Head of State the King or Queen of this Country do not make outrageous policies or unpopular Political actions, They remain a steady force that are part of us, the people.
    When I see the many Presidents around the World, there are so few who are worthy of that high Office, that I am glad that we do not have to bear the embarrassment of giving the World yet another..Many of the Prime Ministers have displayed a distinct lack of true, great leadership.

  • The one thing that everyone forgets is what the monarchy is actually for. I do not like privilege, and I do not like any of the razzmatazz of “ROYALTY”, but I am very grateful to the Royal Family for protecting us from a “PRESIDENCY.” Although, in theory at least, a republic is a much better system, almost all Presidents there have ever been have been in some way corrupt. They cannot help it, poor things, as Presidencies have the power to change things. Presidents get lobbied, and most are bribe-able, or corruptible in other ways , and most are human and succumb to the pressure. Not only that, but presidential elections cost as much or more then the monarchy (especially in relation to the GDP of republican countries.)
    The significant things about Royalty are that they are virtually powerless (and so are free from bribery etc) and that their costs to the tax payer are (to a certain extent ) controllable, constant and predictable. We can plan for Royalty in a way that would be impossible for a Presidency (especially when Presidents build extra palaces or monuments to themselves).
    AND the Monarch is someone we can unite around if the Prime Minister goes mad. In fact I think that this aspect of monarchy has been sadly underused in the last 3 or 4 decades!
    Yes, I am pleased for the new parents, as I am for all new parents, and I am sorry about the way we will treat the new heir. But I will not be among the crowds glued to TV or the new-stands on this account.

  • William Summers 22nd Jul '13 - 11:51pm

    ‘Republican Monarchist’? ? Come on Stephen, get off the fence. I respect David Cameron’s service to the nation but it doesn’t make me a Tory.

  • There would be nothing wrong with a ceremonial elected head of state, Huw. Ireland and Germany have them, and many other countries. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_republics

  • Well said. I’m a republican ( no fence sitting for me) and that really sums it up for me.

  • Julian Critchley 23rd Jul '13 - 8:48am

    Fundamentally, you either want to live in a country where anyone, anywhere, can become head of state through their talents and achievements. Or you want to live in a country in which only a tiny minority of people can become head of state irrespective of their talents or achievements, simply by being born from the correct womb.

    The monarchy is the cornerstone of the whole system of inherited privilege. This has been explicitly recognised by its defenders from the Norman conquest onwards. Liberals should read through the record of the Putney Debates. The horrified response of the army “grandees” (large landowners and Lords) to the Levellers desire for a republic and the extension of the franchise was to defend the monarchy – not because they liked Charles I, but because they recognised that if the country ceased to accept his unearned right to hereditary wealth and power, then their own unearned hereditary wealth and power might be similarly challenged.

    Republican Monarchist – pah ! Every child in this country gets to consider their future and know”I can’t do that. No matter what I do, no matter who I am, I will not be allowed to rise to the very top ahead of someone with half my ability.” There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in that state of affairs, to respect.

  • Michael Parsons 23rd Jul '13 - 9:02am

    Why do we need a “Head of State” at all if the People are sovereign? Rome had two consuls which worked well for a few centuries, Sparta two kings, democratic Athens its Assembly alone.

  • Paul Holmes 23rd Jul '13 - 9:05am

    Those who claim that a hereditary figurehead monarch is not lobbied/does not lobby and so saves us from venal politicians seem to be forgetting something. Prince Charles has been secretly lobbying Ministers for decades. We know he opposes all modern architecture and has ‘interfered’ over development plans in London. He wants more NHS money wasting on Homeopathic placebos. He wants more organic farming. Whether people agree with any or all of these is not the point. If we are alarmed at the backstairs influence of unelected lobbyists such as Bell Pottinger, Lynton Crosby or Trade Union Barons then so we should be about the backstairs lobbying of a very privileged man who has had a very sheltered upbringing and has no experience of holding down a job in the real world. Ditto tax avoidance by the Duchy of Cornwall.

    There is apparently much much more of this but it is so controversial that the Government are ignoring the Freedom of Information Act and refusing to publish his lobbying letters to Ministers because they are so controversial they would discredit ‘our’ future king.

    Non controversial elected constitutional figureheads such as the President of Germany or Eire would be the UK alternative to a Monarch -not the all powerful Chief Executive Presidents as in France or the USA.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jul '13 - 9:10am

    I would like a Presidency similar to the one in Ireland. The Irish people have had two excellent examples in Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. However, I fear we would have ended up with President Blair.

    That said, an inherited monarchy entrenches class privilege and in my view, the class system is the major obstacle to social mobility in this country.
    Any number of random initiatives from the rich, public school boys running the country at present will not change this brute fact.

  • Ed Shepherd 23rd Jul '13 - 9:21am

    If we had an elected president, would they be someone of “talents and achievements” who had worked their way up from the poorest strata of society or would they be someone from the wealthy, privileged political class who had family connections that got them into that position? Cameron, Clegg, Boris Johnson, George Osborne and both Millibands fall into that privileged category. I can’t see any signs of that privileged political class ever giving up it’s now hereditary grip on power.

    Sadly, there’s probably about as much chance of an ordinary person marrying into the royal family as there is of someone from a poor background getting elected head–of-state in Britain. The only Prime Ministers that I can think of who came from a non-privileged background were Major, Wilson and Callaghan. That was a long time ago…

    Thinking about it, Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden have monarchies. They all seem very liberal countries to live in and the monarchies in some of those countries played a key role in defeating fascism. I think the monarchical system is archaic and not meritocratic but perhaps it does bring a certain stability and avoids the dangers of extremism.

  • Richard Church 23rd Jul '13 - 9:22am

    Superbly written Stephen. One of the best liberal arguments against a monarchy is the infringement of the liberty of those born into it. This child has absolutely no choice but to spend his life in the public eye. Even, and particularly ,if he had the courage to renounce his inheritance he will not be left alone. The institution of an inherited head of state is simply not liberal. At least presidents want the job.

    People here have written about awful presidents around the world. There’s been some pretty awful monarchs too.

  • Michael Parsons 23rd Jul '13 - 9:28am

    Yes Helen! The case against the monarchy is that it encourages a servile and cringing spirit amongst its ‘subjects’ and reduces the ability of the People to defend themselves against the manoevres of the British oligarchy. Its excision from our constitution would remove the behind-the-scenes “prerogative powers” by which the oligarchs act as “crown in Parliament”, and which are otherwise eroded only slowly and I suggest ineffectually, as witness Hagues ham-fisted attemnpts to get us at war in Syria, the surveillance operations of GHQ etc..

  • Helen T:

    The class system is hardly a major obstacle to social mobility (exhibit A: Mr & Mrs Middleton) while we have such inequality and ineffectiveness in our education system.

    We should concentrate on fixing our schools and universities rather than pretend that opportunity is stifled in any meaningful way just because you and I can never be Queen.

  • Ann K.

    And you think that class and money is not entrenched in our school system?

    Look at the current cabinet

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jul '13 - 10:37am

    Ann K. It comes to something when it is claimed that a girl whose parents are millionaires, who was educated at an exclusive boarding school and at a university whose ranks are dominated by upper-class youth, is an example of successful social mobility in this country.

    This is the problem. We do not even see just how ridden with class our society is – it’s where you go to school and following on from that, the circles you are introduced to that counts in the UK, especially England.

    Okay, the Middletons are self-made millionaires but do we really think that someone without big bucks and going to the right school with the right networks, would even get close to the future monarch? I doubt it.

  • Julian Critchley 23rd Jul '13 - 11:20am

    @Ed Shepherd

    I think that’s an interesting comment in which, perhaps unwillingly, you have supported Michael Parsons’ case. The attitude of “Nobody can really get to the top” is precisely the sort of “servile and cringing spirit” Michael referred to. Of course wealth will always have advantage. But even today, in South Africa and the USA, we have two examples of men who rose from no advantage, through their own talents, to become inspirations for millions of similar others.

    Those countries have adopted the attitude that while there may well be disadvantage, and privilege, and all the other hurdles life can place in one’s way, these should not be allowed to outlaw even the opportunity to try. Here, there is not even an opportunity. Wealth and privilege don’t feel that they have sufficient advantages already in the race to power and influence : they have to prevent the great majority of us from even entering the competition.

    Monarchy is the very opposite of liberalism. Liberalism is a creed which places the freedom of the individual, and the equal rights of all men and women, at its centre. Monarchy is a system which denies the individual both freedom and equal rights.

    Funnily enough, this is the issue which drew me into the LIberal Democrats in 1988. I went to university a committed and unthinking Monarchist, like so many others. I heard the chair of my college LibDems give a short argument in favour of a republican motion at the students’ union. I expected to argue against him, but his words persuaded me, and the scales fell from my eyes.

    I have three daughters. They may not turn out to have the talent or desire to become leaders of their country. They will have many disadvantages to overcome to become secure, influential, or wealthy – they may never become so. But by God they should have the right to try. Yet the mewling babe who emerged into the world yesterday will have all such things, whether he has talent or ability, whether he is a saint or a psycho. He will be head of state and will agree all laws which affect my daughters, and influence policy whenever he so chooses (if he’s anything like his grandfather). And he will have done precisely nothing to justify such immense power and privilege, except be born to the right womb.

    The establishmentbroadcaster has a link on its webpage to “how the rest of the world celebrated the birth”. I suspect that amongst the liberals and thinkers of the rest of the world the reaction was not one of celebration, and more of a sort of confused pity that such numbers of the English continue to celebrate a system which enslaves them in a class-ridden, corrupt, anti-democratic feudalism.

  • @Helen Tedcastle – Cinderella was a fairy story not real life!

    “It comes to something when it is claimed that a girl whose parents are millionaires, who was educated at an exclusive boarding school and at a university whose ranks are dominated by upper-class youth, is an example of successful social mobility in this country.”

    Yes it is an example of very successful social mobility, remember the parents weren’t born millionaires and made their wealth through their own efforts. They chose to spend some of that wealth on their children’s education.

    Yes if you’ve done any reading of the scientific research on social networks, you will see that time and time again it is the circles you move in and who you know (and more importantly who they know) that will have a significant impact on your life.

    Yes there are problems in our society and increasing the opportunities available to the less well off is a major challenge. However, rather than gripe and moan about how unfair it all is, I take my lead from John Bird (founder of the Big Issue) where he observed that the government could slash it’s child care bill by simply sending children in care to private boarding schools, such as Eton…

  • A good piece Stephen, but a bit of a cop-out with the Republican Monarchist. We have to wean ourselves of this symbol of the middle ages, despite what the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha / Windsors have done for the nation over the past hundred years, they are still the main support for a system of patronage, a system that has popped into public conciousness again with the arrival of Gideon and Dave at the dispatch box.

    Meritocracies have their own problems, and for each Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese there are countless examples of mad, bad and dangerous elected Heads of State. But, as elected, or even appointed officer holders, they can be, and often are, removed.

    I suspect that a British HoS would anyway be a very different beast to any others in the world, a uniquely British affair. But I would like to have a chance to participate in their choosing, and a sense that if I don’t find them doing the job that I think they should, a chance to remove them after a set and agreed period of time.

    We will never completely remove privilege, but we can certainly constrain it’s spread and influence. I’m a republican because despite Brenda’s success and skill at being a benign monarch I believe we can and should do better.

    Oh, and one last thing, just to be contentious; as Head of State, and first family, what is the chance that the current arrangement will ever deliver a black, asian, jewish, disabled or gay figure-head, to inspire those of us that aren’t members of the slim socio-economic group that currently occupies the space…

    I wish the newest addition to the House of Windor the best of luck for the future, but I can’t say I want him to follow in his family’s profession.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 23rd Jul '13 - 1:09pm

    Excellent letter Stephen.

    This morning I was due to participate in a discussion on the BBC Berkshire Anne Diamond Show about the work that I do both within the Party and externally on equality issues. Sadly I was beaten by baby talk, but at least I was able to get one of my favorite songs played, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, so not all was lost.

    Alas all serious talk will be drowned out by baby nonsense for the next few weeks, or so long as the Government can exploit the “let them eat cake” environment that we currently live in. One thing is for sure though, the recession and the inequalities that it is highlighting will not be forgotten, and the electorate will punish someone.

  • The Middletons are self-made: that’s my point, Helen. They both worked for BA before they started their own business; Carole was raised in a council house and came from a background that you with your class fixation would presumably label as “lower working class”.

    The social mix of the current Cabinet is not a result of the “class system” per se but an indictment of the low standards and low expectations that seem to be the norm in too much of the state education system. (That, and people will keep on voting for Tories…)

    How much of that is deliberately inflicted on us proles by the toffs, and how much do we sabotage our own opportunities and those of the next generation by using the privileges of others as a shield and excuse for lack of attainment?

  • Ann K

    I disagree totally with you on the ‘indictment of the low standards and low expectations that seem to be the norm in too much of the state education ‘ comment.

    The ‘Old School Tie’ is still alive in the positions of authority and, as long as we keep blaming ‘low expectations, we will not see any improvement

  • Graham Martin-Royle 23rd Jul '13 - 2:43pm

    @Julian Critchley: You summed up my position with part of your comment. There are lots of people who will never have the ability to become head of state

    But by God they should have the right to try.

    No one should have that ambition taken away from them the moment they are born.

  • Helen Tedcastle 23rd Jul '13 - 9:17pm

    Ann K: “The social mix of the current Cabinet is not a result of the “class system” per se but an indictment of the low standards and low expectations that seem to be the norm in too much of the state education system. ”

    That is an assertion and a naive one at that. If a child goes to Eton, he will mix with other children from the elite – he will have every opportunity and advantage to succeed. His parents and he will be able to mix and network with people of similar wealth and high standing.

    How do you think people like Clegg and Cameron and other MPs sailed into internships? Guess how young people get into politics these days – unpaid internships, unpaid assistance. Many children from homes of modest means are hardly likely to take such a job in central London – it would not be considered unless a young person had some means of paying themselves.

    A child who does well in a comprehensive and leaves with their clutch of GCSEs and A Levels, may get the good qualifications to attend university but they do not have accessed to privileged networks or the back up of wealth. They rely on their brains and hard work to succeed. With the tuition fees and loans to pay, these young people, as I did, seek paid work not unpaid internships – for very good reason.

    I find it appalling that some people complain constantly about low standards when the real scandal occurred during the O Level era, when most children left school with less qualifications and with low expectations. Only a small number were catapulted into the middle class from ordinary homes.

    Now more children can have a good standard of living and a decent job but there is an increasing inequality gap between the very rich and privileged and the rest.

    It’s so easy in the Gove era to routinely attack schools and think there are no consequences . However, you undermine the hard work and morale of many children and teachers by this constant evidence-free carping .

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jul '13 - 8:53am

    Ann K

    The Middletons are self-made: that’s my point, Helen. They both worked for BA before they started their own business; Carole was raised in a council house and came from a background that you with your class fixation would presumably label as “lower working class”.

    Lower working class means parents were unskilled manual workers, as opposed to upper working class which means people working in a skilled trade. I’ve no idea what the Middletons’ background is, but was it really right at the bottom end? I assure you that if you are a working class person, this division is very visible and very real.

    I myself came from a lower working class background, and have moved to a skilled professional job, but I wouldn’t argue that means class distinction is unimportant. What you say is like saying there is no racial inequality and no race discrimination because there are a few black millionaires.

  • Oh good grief, really?

    “Maybe one day your future subjects will see sense and release you.” Yeah, we’re being terribly unfair to the royal family, forcing them to live in those big houses, giving them all that money, letting them lobby the government and then defending their right to privacy when doing so.

    Are you honestly trying to suggest that this extremely rich and privileged family is getting the worse side of the bargain here?

  • Mike Falchikov 25th Jul '13 - 1:27pm

    I respect the Queen who has occupied this unenviable job with patience and good will. I also find Charles, with his odd views on certain subjects , quite an endearing personality. But I very much agree with Stephen Tall’s opening comments, echoed by others. I agree also with Paul Holmes – we don’t want a powerful executive President, as in the USA, France or Russia,but the idea of a Mary Robinson or a Mary McAleese is very attractive – someone well respected, but not at the very centre of public life who made something out of a ceremonial role and brought credit to their country. Come to think of it, Helen Tedcastle, if we had that kind of presidency, TonyBlair would have been quite good – amiable chap, knows how to say a few warm words, likes travelling – while keeping well away from real politics. (Thatcher, on the other hand,would have been awful, going round the world lecturing people). Ed Shepherd – to your list of leaders from humble backgrounds you could have added Heath (slightly more humble than Wilson the son of an industrial chemist)and I suppose Thatcher, the appalling Alderman Roberts being a shopkeeper. And of course, further back, we have Lloyd George and Ramsay Macdonald.
    I quite like the idea of a Scandinavian monarchy, but then these are much more classless societies, and as others have
    pointed out, the whole point of the British monarchy is to be at the top of an ancient establishment, to which others can only enter by acquiring fancy titles. I’d like this to change, but can’t see it happening any time soon, as in reality most of us want it to go on being like this for ever and ever. And, yes there are some rotten presidents , but most of
    them can be got rid of and there are also some great ones, but at least in a presidential system, nothing is for ever and we can all of us aspire towards the highest office if we want to.

  • Robert Wootton 26th Jul '13 - 2:54pm

    Observations on Class and Privilege.

    This article is inspired by “An Open Letter to the New Prince” and the subsequent comments.
    My view is that the new prince has been into comfortable slavery. His life is mapped out. He will never have to worry about having enough money to pay the leccy bill. He is unlikely to be dis-owned by his family (or the country).
    The Royal Family and the monarchy is held in such high regard by the populace, myself included, I believe because of the dedication to the duties of being a Head of State of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd. Does the fact that I have just used capital letters show my deference and servility?

    If we had an elected Head of State as in Ireland, I would want that person to have the same dedication to duty that the Queen has shown for 60 years.

    About the class system in Britain. It is embedded in the national psyche.
    For instance my partner’s mother sends birthday cards, congratulations and every other appropriate card for the occasion to the Royal Family.
    And in the out of print autobiography “A Nose for Money” by Douglas Collins, he was urged by his friends when he hade made £1 million plus to join the Conservative party and buy a manor house. Which he did and ended up owning tied cottages in a village, inadvertently becoming a landlord.
    The other aspect of royalty is that the Honours system that rewards achievement in the different fields of human endeavour. This, I think, especially endears the monarchy to the people.

    About wealth and privilege. An important point to make is that “the rich” are always with us. An anecdote I was told by a person who did National Service. Every conscript was on the same wage. After the six weeks or so of basic training, the conscripts were given a weeks leave to visit their home. However, the spendthrifts who boozed their money up the wall every weekend could not afford the train fare.
    Those who did not do this and saved their money could afford the fare.
    I read that when Charles Clore did his national service, he got up an hour earlier than every one else to make an urn of tea and sold it for a penny a cup. With the nest egg he had built up for when he was demobbed, he went into business.

    It seems to me that it is our home life and peer pressure experiences that shape our attitudes to ourselves, how we see the world and whether we are high or low achievers.

    A major problem in politics is that there is a mismatch between the democratic process and the operation the machinery of government, which is designed by the powerful for the benefit of the powerful.

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