Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Still think the Queen is irrelevant?

[Originally posted at NOW]

Perhaps the most common counter-argument heard, whenever we British republicans lament that our state is still officially headed by an unelected and unaccountable tribe of painfully mediocre Protestants, is that the royal family no longer wields any “real” power in the 21st century. Just yesterday I attended a discussion with a Harvard professor of government, who at one point asked whether theocracy was necessarily incompatible with the kind of economic success historically enjoyed by the UK. When I pointed out that the UK was and still is a theocracy - the Queen being the leader not only of the state and the army but of the Church of England too - I was met with a round of polite chuckles. Everyone “knew” I must have been joking.

Yet I don’t find anything especially amusing about today’s landmark revelations, which were only exhumed from official secrecy after a court order fiercely resisted by the Cabinet Office, that since 1962 Buckingham Palace has been invited to turn down at least 39 bills – invitations that it has occasionally accepted, including on such non-trivial decisions as whether to go to war.

Nor is it just the Queen. Her son Charles, who talks to plants and says science is bad for the “soul”, has been offered personal veto power over 20 pieces of legislation, an arrangement described by constitutional lawyers as a “nuclear deterrent”.

These are seriously damning disclosures. Legal scholar John Kirkhope put it mildly in saying, “There has been an implication that [the royals’] prerogative powers are quaint and sweet but actually there is real influence and real power”.

Real influence and power, that is, granted to someone whose sole qualification is being the eldest son (or, if there are no boys, daughter) of the “correct” Protestant clan. What could be more brazenly barbaric, more irrational, and more embarrassingly undemocratic?

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