The Monarchy: feudal relic, democratic deficit

The Monarchy: feudal relic, democratic deficit

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WE LIVE in a free and democratic society, with a fearless free media who hold the possessors of power to account, bringing the spotlight of truth to bear upon their activities. Yet, what’s this? The BBC apologising and cowering like a whipped dog because one of its journalists revealed that the reigning Monarch had queried with Ministers why Abu Hamza had not been deported. That is, a BBC reporter reporting on the functions of government and the institutions of state. Precisely what a reporter should be doing in an open and democratic society. Except, what the reporter had revealed was precisely the absence of democracy at the heart of government.

This comes alongside the twin running battles the Guardian is having with the government through the information commissioner. They want the government to reveal the rules by which Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles are given the right to veto parts of acts of parliament that concern their interests. They also want the government to reveal details of letters sent by Prince Charles, lobbying government ministers and trying to influence policy. The government, apparently with palace backing, are fighting tooth and claw to stop these documents being revealed. What is at stake is effectively monarchical interference in both executive and legislative functions of state, promoting policies to ministers and then editing bills going before parliament. These are permanent, unremovable, unelected people having key and decisive Influence over the laws that we have to live under. Importantly, their veto extends to commercial matters, involving the vast holdings of the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall. That is, they have the personal right to write the laws that give them an advantage over commercial rivals. As the Guardian notes: ‘In the past two parliamentary sessions Charles has been asked to consent toot least 12 draft bills on everything from wreck removals to co-operative societies.
Between 2007 and 2009 he was consulted on bills relating to coroners, economic
development and construction, marine and coastal access, housing and regeneration, energy and planning. In Charles’s case, the little-known power stems from his role as the head of the £700m Duchy of Cornwall estate, which provides his £17m-a-year private income.’ (http://tinyurl.com/Sfrkdcq) Such legislative power also extends to changing employment law with regards to the Royal households. So it is not just the principle of Royal interference in the law, it is also the practice that can have dramatic real-world effects for those finding themselves employed by the sovereign. As the judges ruling in the case of the release of Prince Charles’ letters, such matters are covered by constitutional convention. That is, there is no law covering them (and so they are not directly subject to judicial oversight). In the case of
Charles’ Black Spider Memos’ (so-called because of his handwriting), the government was claiming they were subject to immunity from freedom of information laws because they were part of his training to be a future Monarch, and so he must be able to correspond with ministers and learn how government works (and presumably, have access to privileged information unavailable to mere voters). This is an extension of the constitutional convention of confidentiality surrounding the relationship of the Monarch to their ministers. As the judges explained, by convention the Monarch is entitled ‘to be consulted, to encourage and to warn: (http://tinyurl.com/97bnya8) (This is accompanied by its twin convention that the Monarch must act on the advice of their ministers). So, in the weekly meetings between Queen Elizabeth and her Prime Minister, we can infer that she is not merely apprised of current events, but consulted and asked for her opinion (and given an opportunity to freely give her encouragement and warnings). The principle of confidentiality surrounding these conventions is that the Monarchy is supposed to defer to parliamentary sovereignty, and be politically neutral. If, though, Elizabeth is giving opinions and 10 Socialist Standard November 2012 warnings (and vetoes) then, practically, she is not being neutral. The cloak of silence merely covers up her political positions and actions. She is merely seen to be neutral. Convention protects her from controversy. So, when Frank Gardner revealed on the Today Programme that Elizabeth Windsor had been asking her Home Secretary why Abu Hamza could not be arrested, he was revealing a dark secret at the heart of government, the secret of the reality of royal interference. The BBC apology was instant, abject and craven.

It was so important to swiftly redraw the curtains because the cornerstone of this arrangement is what in international affairs is called ‘soft-power’. One constitutional scholar defines conventions as existing: ‘if (i) there are precedents underpinning it, (ii) the parties to the relevant practice consider themselves to be bound by it and (iii) there is a reason for the existence of the convention (http:// tinyurl.com/97bnya8). Whilst either side of the convention may breach it, an act which is technically unconstitutional, there is no way to enforce such rules through the courts. Note that this applies to both sides. The Monarch retains the implicit capacity to cause governmental mayhem by beginning to more vigorously exert or stretch their veto capacity. Further, the
Socialist Standard November 2012

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2 Comments to “The Monarchy: feudal relic, democratic deficit”

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