A Bad Start for a new King

Ronald Young, Peripheral Vision, 11 September 2022

Charles III has been in authority over us for some 24 hours and has already succeeded in making me very angry – on 3 counts.

  • By crafting an oath that treats us all as feudal “lieges” ie slaves
  • by agreeing that Liz Truss, the new PM, should be in tow as he makes ceremonial visits to the 3 other nations which form his kingdom – thereby breaching the principle of royal neutrality which his mother observed so faithfully for 70 years
  • by avoiding the 40% succession tax which is normally applied when an heir dies – and by the ease with which the Duchy of Cornwall (worth more than a billion pounds) passed to his elder son.

Context

I have no great feelings one way or another about the British monarchy – although I will confess that when, in my youth, the National Anthem was still played an the end of a cinema session, I would never stand. But there were (and remain) more important things to bother about – one of so many reasons why I can never take Liz Truss seriously for having proposed – some 25 years ago – at a Liberal Democrat Conference the ending of the British monarchy.

So I have a lot of sympathy for the post I received today from Ian Leslie which suggested there were perhaps psychological reasons why such countries as Scandinavian, Netherlands  and UK had managed to remain open, democratic and civilised

One of the country’s best bloggers did a great twitter thread today which indicated the immensity of what is at stake. It starts with questioning the suspension of parliamentary business for an unspecified period

  • the continuity of the monarchy requires the business of government to continue – after the appropriate pause for reflection that was provided on Friday and Saturday – starting on Monday morning.
  • Other business is continuing next week. Debts will also be chased. Schools and other public services will all operate. But the process of accountable government will be suspended. That is a powerful and worrying symbol suggesting there is no accountability in the UK, after all.
  • There have been ample such other symbols, all of which have been troubling. I was astonished that the Accession Council was not asked its opinion on the ascent of Charles III to the throne: not once were the 200 or so Privy Councillors assembled asked their opinion.
  • If the so-called ‘great and good’ were present to offer counsel – as is their task – why was their opinion not sought on the matter laid before them? And yet it was not. A simple call for ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’ would have sufficed. But it did not happen. So, nor did democracy.
  • Instead Charles III ascended as of right. Eugenics trumped democracy here – and our leaders didn’t even pretend otherwise.
  • Worse, the accession proclamation said that Prince Charles has ‘become our only lawful and rightful Liege Lord Charles the Third’. A liege is the vassal of a feudal superior, where vassal means a person holding rights on conditions of homage and allegiance.
  • I have to say that I object to the idea that I hold anything as a favour from a monarch who did no more to acquire that right than to be born. Every political sensibility that I have is offended by that idea.
  • This notion also affronts my senses as a believer in the equality of all. It offends me as a democrat.
  • Let’s also be blunt: there is nothing about this that can be reconciled with any declaration of human rights. So the question has to be, why was this wording used?
  • unless its use was deliberate and a reflection of what is really happening on this accession. Might it be, in other words, that the language was deliberate, just as the rush to get Charles on the throne whilst the country is still in shock also very deliberate?
  • In other words, the whole point of this rushed exercise that emphasises status, inherited power, the perpetuation of wealth and control of the populace, coupled with a wholly unnecessary suspension of parliamentary scrutiny, is to highlight the real power in this country?
  • I wondered until it was announced that the new King would do a tour of the capitals of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I cannot object to that. I can when he is to be accompanied by Liz Truss as new prime minister.
  • t could, of course, be argued that the King must act in consultation with ministers. But the message is deeply dangerous. First, it seeks to tie the Crown to the Tory party, which is threatening to the monarchy. Second, it makes the Crown political, and it should not be.
  • At a time of national crisis all this worries me, greatly. Truss has already made clear that she will allow energy poverty to continue. This was implicit in the statement she made last week. She has also refused to tax the war profits of energy companies.
  • Truss could not than have made it clearer, already, that she favours an unfair and divided society. Charles has ascended to the throne on the basis of feudal promises, and deeply divisive oaths pertaining to religion. Associating these things is deeply unwise, but is happening.
  • The point I am making is that democracy, equality, and the right of the citizen to be who they wish is under varying challenges in these arrangements, promoted when parliament, and so democratic accountability, is suspended.
  • This is not the working of a functioning state. Nor is it the work of what I think a parliamentary democracy should be. There is instead in all this an ancient regime seeking to remind the country where power lies, backed by a prime minister all too willing to reinforce division

What to expect from post-Elisabethan Britain?

John Harris is one of the rare journalists who gets out of the metropolis and makes a point of finding people whose opinions generally give a better sense of how social values are changing. He’s been out and about these past few days and has an interesting take.

At the time of her coronation, the idea of a tightly bound national community with the monarch at its apex made an appealing kind of sense. The left’s social democracy had fused with the right’s patrician instincts to produce the postwar consensus. In 1953, a Conservative government built nearly 250,000 council houses, the largest number ever constructed in a single year. By modern standards, most employment was relatively secure. Even if lots of people were excluded from this dream, and many lives would subsequently take a turn into insecurity and uncertainty, the postwar era inculcated enough faith in the UK’s institutions to keep the monarchy safely beyond criticism.

And now? The social attitudes that defined that period, and lingered into the 1990s – a strange mixture of solidarity and deference, and a widely shared optimism about the future – seem very quaint. If you are in your late teens, just about all of your memories will be of the endless turbulence that followed the financial crash of 2008. Your most visceral experience of politics will have been the opposite of consensus and harmony: the seething polarisation triggered by Brexit.

For many of those aged under 40, home-ownership is a distant dream, and hopes of job security seem slim. Meanwhile, perhaps because society and the economy have been in such a state of flux, space has at last been opened to talk about things that 20th-century Britain stubbornly kept under wraps: empire, systemic racism, the plain fact that so many of the institutions we are still encouraged to revere are rooted in some of the most appalling aspects of this country’s history.

The result of that change is a kingdom with two distinct sets of voices: one that reflects Britain’s tendency to conservatism and tradition, and another that sounds altogether more irreverent and questioning. In all the coverage of the Queen’s passing, the first has been dominant: how could it be otherwise? But as the period of mourning recedes, and a new monarch tries to adapt fantastically challenging realities, that may not hold for long. The post-Elizabethan age, in other words, is going to be very interesting indeed.

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