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not in OUR name

August 18, 2013

Update 18 Aug:

In all the brouhaha about Prince George, and Prince Charles’ finances, no-one thinks about the constitutional role of the
monarchy and the way it enslaves us – except perhaps our masters who don’t want you to think about it.

In 1978, just before Mrs Thatcher came to power, the late Lord Hailsham, a fan of the Queen as well as of the monarchy as an institution, wrote,
“The Queen attracts plenty of attention as a symbol. But her most important working function as part of the machinery of
government never attacts attention precisely because it is working exactly as it was designed to do. So long as the Queen is there, the regime which we are asked to obey as the government, has her guarantee that its authority is legitimate. If a dictator or a military junta wished to usurp power it would first have to get rid of the Queen who would be bound to risk her own life in order to protect the constitution. Although we might have to submit to the superior force of a revolutionary regime we should know at least that it was not legitimate. the one way in which a revolutionary regime could install itself without abolishing the monarchy would be if it first captured a majority in parliament at a general election, and then proceeded to pass laws to preserve its own existence or subjugate the majority under the authority of the Royal Assent…”

Hailsham was being hopelessly optimistic. At exactly what point in the progressive transformation of Britain from something approaching a democracy to a corporatocracy fronted by a political class out of touch with the rest of us, and loyal to no-one but itself; could the Queen be expected to speak out? If 90% of Britons don’t see what’s happening, why should she?

According to constitutional theory the Queen has two types of power, to grant or withold consent to Orders in Council, and powers she wields in person. As Hailsham would have acknowledged, it is inconceivable that the Queen would withold her assent to an Order in Council, however repugnant that order might be to her. The other type of power includes appointment of a prime minister to replace one who has resigned, granting or witholding a request for a dissolution of parliament on the advice of a serving prime minister, and assenting or not assenting to a parliamentary Bill. As Hailsham acknowledges the prime minister has to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons, hence who makes the judgement is of little consequence. In most cases it is obvious. It does not have to be the head of state who makes the judgement. In 1978 no monarch had refused a request to dissolve parliament in 100 years, and the Queen has not done so since. Finally although Hailsham appeared to believe the the Queen’s power to withold assent to a Bill was real, it would appear that it is no longer. A few years ago I phoned the Palace to ask how Royal Assent worked when the Queen is abroad, and was told that she never signs Bills; the Royal Assent does not involve the Queen.

Hence the theory that the monarchy is a constitutional safeguard is a dangerous myth. The real significance of the monarchy is as a symbol of national unity. Putting this from the other point of view the monarchy legitimises ever more corrupt, incompetent and oppressive governments, helping to fool an increasingly credulous and ill informed population.

Orders in Council number hundreds if not thousands per annum. Most of these are of little consequence. Some are of great consequence, the power to make war or to ratify treaties for example. The Queen should not give her consent to these. She should announce that in future she does not wish such questions to be brought to her; instead parliament should grant appropriate executive powers in such matters. She should echo those many of her subjects, who in the run up to the second gulf war said, “not in OUR name”.

Yes it would cause a constitutional crisis, but it would not destroy the monarchy because the powers that be need it. It would focus attention on just how defective our system is.

The above was written before the Guardian’s disclosure about the Queen’s interference with the democratic process, see:

“In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member’s bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.”

The Guardian has however confused two things and rather missed the point. In exercising her veto the Queen almost certainly acts on ministers’ advice. On the one hand there are the issues that affect the Royal Family and their finances. In these cases it may well be that ministers’ advice would pander to the Queen’s own wishes. However in advising her to veto the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill, the government would not be considering her wishes, but would be using her name as a means of keeping control.

If she had exercised the veto, the Bill would have course failed anyway, but the Crown had no business interfering. This should be enough to destroy the monarchy. If she has any regard for democracy she should find the courage to decline to veto a reduction in ‘her’ prerogative powers.

From → Democracy

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