IN the political context, absolute power is a double-edged sword.
When vested in dictatorships, even in the supposedly enlightened 20th century, it has produced brutal oppression and death on an almost unimaginable scale; an estimated 100million-plus under communism worldwide, and ten million under Nazism in the central and eastern Europe bloodlands, including the Holocaust.
When vested in autocratic monarchies, it has had terrible outcomes too; Kaiser Wilhelm II bears huge responsibility for launching Germany, and the rest of Europe, into the First World War, leaving some 20million dead and 21million wounded.
However, when vested in a constitutional monarchy within a democracy, it is a relatively moderating, even benign, concept.
Nominally giving ultimate power to an institution such as the UK’s hitherto apolitical constitutional monarchy has the advantage that such a power is specifically intended not to be actively exercised.
Instead, it is merely held passively as part of a system of checks and balances (in our case, the traditional conventions of our unwritten constitution and parliamentary sovereignty), so as to deny it to anyone else.
For that advantage to endure however, and to stay acceptable to the population, both the institution itself and its unelected incumbents must remain not only scrupulously impartial and politically neutral, but visibly so.
Once either starts to express or even support a partisan position on a contentious, divisive political issue, the institution’s constitutional legitimacy declines, making the continued justification for its very existence disputable.
The UK is fast approaching this point; the unelected monarchy’s increasing tendency to involve itself in divisive political issues raises the question of whether we might not, after all, be better off with an elected presidency whose incumbent can at least be thrown out.
For 69 years on the throne, the Queen has wisely remained so inscrutable on matters political that, despite the occasional speculative but unconfirmed journalist’s claim, few if any have had much idea of her genuine views, beyond a generally low opinion of politicians.
But regrettably, she has recently been persuaded to venture into the political arena for the second time in months (the first was to tell the population it was selfish not to be vaccinated) on arguably the most contentious and divisive political issue of our time by calling climate change the ‘biggest challenge facing the world’ and urging world leaders to ‘save the planet’, and reportedly expressing irritation at their inaction.
Considering the enormous cost to the vast majority of her subjects of the ‘solutions’ proposed by her intended audience, she would have been better advised to avoid it.
However, it’s hard to heap much blame on a 95-year-old woman, alone for the first time in some 73 years, coming to terms with the death of her husband and lacking maybe his guiding hand; and still at the receiving end of continuing attacks on her family from her self-exiled wayward grandson and his current wife.
What we can guess is that her dependence on her eco-obsessed eldest son and her need for him must be higher than it ever was. Whether she’s being urged to intervene by him, we don’t know.
But what we do know is that he will not shut up on the subject, whatever the opprobrium he rightly attracts, and whatever the constitutional damage he thereby risks doing to the very institution that he aspires to head.
In the run-up to COP26, he has surpassed himself in excessive Green loquaciousness, and not in a good way, if you agree with Dan Wootton
or share David Atherton’s cynicism.
Nigel Farage recently reminded us of the time, about ten years ago, when Charles came to Brussels to deliver an address to the EU’s Potemkin Parliament. He was advocating for the arrogation by the anti-democratic EU of more power from nation-states to itself, so it could ‘deal with climate change, because the North Pole would melt within seven years’. (Spoiler: It hasn’t).
This surely must be the first time a future British monarch has begged a foreign legislature to remove the power of democratic self-government from the nation of which he stood to become sovereign.
One can’t help wondering if this is even borderline treasonous. He now appears to be backing both the avowedly anti-capitalist and freedom-averse Green-Left Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain in their campaign of motorway disruption.
Presumably, Charles has so far been spared the experience of either missing a job interview, of not being able to take a child to school, or of being prevented from following an ambulance taking a sick relative to hospital.
How lucky for him; but we have surely now had a surfeit of his royal catastrophist eco-lectures.
Possibly worse than this is Prince William, once regarded as the potential saviour of the monarchy – assuming it even survives his father – appearing to be going down the same road. From calls to the young to ‘fight climate change’ to exhorting the world’s best brains and billionaires to ‘repair the planet’ and even praising his father’s eco-obsessiveness, he appears to have swallowed the Green pill wholesale.
Curiously, the thought that the approval such eco-advocacy attracts from the overwhelmingly republican Woke-Green-Left may prove an own goal (by furthering its aims, they weaken their own constitutional legitimacy) appears not to have occurred to the prince or his father. It has to others.
Three generations of the Royal Family all intervening on the same side, in possibly the most contentious and divisive political issue of the day, erodes their very legitimacy. It’s not a question of denying their right personally to hold those views, but one of questioning their wisdom constitutionally in expressing them.
Elected presidencies in a republic are tricky things to get right. If largely ceremonial and non-political, the incumbents can be relatively insignificant, like Ireland’s Michael O’Higgins or Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But if politicised and part of the executive, they can be incredibly divisive, like France’s Emmanuel Macron or Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the US.
But the crucial point is that they are all subject to democratic consent and can be ejected from office by the electorate. Here in the UK, we appear to be progressing rapidly towards the worst of both systems – an increasingly politicised and thus divisive monarchy, where the unelected incumbents need no democratic consent and cannot be removed from office.
To find myself – a formerly staunch supporter of an apolitical constitutional monarchy as the not-perfect-but-arguably-least-bad option – now a potential convert to an elective presidency within a constitutional republic suggests to me there is something rotten in the State of Denmark and national debate on it is overdue.