A Major Task of UK Republicanism is Dealing with The Monarchy Corporate Brand

A few weeks ago shortly after the Queen’s birthday I posted a blog on how the presentation of the Monarchy has mutated in response to changing social conditions. I concluded by pointing out that the Monarchy is now essentially a corporate brand in the same way as, for example, Ford cars or Cadbury chocolate as numerous academic and business studies will attest (for example see this study by John Balmer). Furthermore, marketing experts have known for a long time that people select brands and brand culture in order to construct an identity of the self (many goods such as phones or clothes are almost solely presented as a ‘lifestyle choice’). This has led to a reliance on the monarchy by a greater or lesser proportion of the public for the maintenance of at least a portion of their own identity. The result is a family, the Windsors, being psychologically addicted to privilege whilst a great many people are dependent on that behaviour in a form of co-dependence. Most examinations of the monarchy have missed this aspect and studied the institution from the point of view of social mobility, constitutional law or political science. All the while Buckingham Palace courtiers have busied themselves with the corporate marketing exercise (that the Queen herself clearly understands this important fact is underlined when she calls the royal family ‘the firm’). Once this is appreciated, a major aim of UK republicanism is clear. We must deal with the issue of identity and ensure that we replace monarchy as an integral part of the identity of ever greater numbers of British people. To do this we need to effectively recover or build afresh symbols, myths, images and events which offer superior value to the royal ones.

The Corporate Brand nature of the monarchy goes a long way to explaining why royalists frequently love the superficiality of a birthday party which leaves republicans cold, for whom the issues are deeper, running to equality and the rational accountability of power. An irony of the situation, as Balmer in the above article noted, is that if they are not the subject of debate then organizations can decline and die. The problem for royalists is to guide that debate in a controlled manner to exclude ways in which we can reorganise our Head of State and upper echelon of Government into a more democratic and accountable system. It is a typical royal tactic for example to encourage debate on such aspects as whether precedence should be changed to allow the oldest child, if female, to be heir to the throne or the fact that William should be allowed to marry his live-in housemate Kate rather than a sourced ex-blueblood. It is the responsibility of all republicans to frame the debate on our terms and give the royalists more debate than they can handle!

Why UK Republicans should oppose a British Bill of Rights

The legality of calling for abolition of the monarchy is sometimes raised as a concern by fellow Republicans.  The source of the worry is an archaic piece of legislation, the 1848 Treason Felony Act which was rumoured to have been repealed in 2013, a fact later denied by the Government.  The period immediately preceding 1848 was marked by active campaigning by Chartists, many of whom were Republicans. Despite the fact that Chartist activity was in decline at that point the Government was still concerned that juries were reluctant to convict advocates of republicanism since the Treason Act itself carried a potential capital punishment.  Thus the Treason Felony Act was passed with a lesser penalty of life imprisonment aimed at increasing the conviction rate.

In 1891 the Treason Felony Act was partly repealed and it bacame legal to verbally advocate abolition.  This was for largely technical reasons involving problems associated with rules of evidence.  But what about written advocacy of abolition?  Although articles advocating republicanism appeared in print throughout the 20th Century, in 2003 the editor of The Guardian newspaper Alan Rusbridger instigated a legal challenge to the 1848 Act with the aim of clarifying whether his paper was within the law in advocating Republicanism.  The verdict can be viewed here but the Law Lords actually threw out the Guardian’s case saying that obviously The Guardian could run articles advocating abolition.  Like many countries in the West the UK operates a system of Common Law (judge made) which historically predates the system of Statute Law enacted by Parliament. This means that the precedent has been set that advocating abolition in writing will not end in a jail sentence. By the way, If you are in any doubt about Common Law, try finding Acts of Parliament dealing with the purchase and ownership of Property, which is almost wholly dependent on precedence.

The 2003 Law Lords made clear that their judgement was based in large part on the 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA). This is of interest to us as republicans since the Government has been threatening to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights (which is proving to be a millstone around their neck!).  This means there is a possibility of the 2003 judgement being rendered null and void. Repeal of the HRA would of course still leave recourse to the European Convention of Human Rights, provided that the Government does not take the monumentally stupid decision to withdraw from the treaty. Finally, it must be noted that there have been no prosecutions under the Treason Felony Act since 1883, over a century before the passing of he HRA.

Nevertheless, for republicans the 2003 judgement still means that the HRA is important as a front line of defence and its repeal must be viewed with suspicion.  As Tom Paine observed since the constitution determines how the political and legal system is organized any discussion of constitutional change should not be outlawed on principle!

The EU Referendum Debate; Insults and Bluster Hides Dangerous Policy Vacuums

In early March I was delighted to host a guest blog post on the subject of the EU Referendum debate by Alison Rowland. In her piece, Alison pointed out that even then the debate was being framed around the issue of sovereignty without any real content or substance to the argument. Two months later and, if anything, the level of debate has reached new depths of depressing inanity and danger in its level of superficiality. There has been no advance on the problem highlighted by Alison where people seeking answers and guidance on fundamental issues are met with politicians throwing around comments on Hitler, engaging in power games and trading personal insults.

Both sides are guilty of this approach. For the Brexiters the very autocratic power they claim to be wielded by Brussels also operates in the UK – an unaccountable monarchy system, the Privy Council and Royal Prerogative for a start. It appears they want power for the few with little accountability or control over the exercise of that power by citizens. We need to know the nature of this supposed recovery of sovereignty, how it is to be exercised and for whose benefit.  Furthermore we are presented with no plans for filling the gaps in workers’ rights, LGBT rights etc.

Listening to the Remain campaign is similarly infuriating.   Depending on the European Union for rights presents an equal danger. The argument that we are dependant on a benign EU for protection of citizens is not something with which we should be comfortable. What if we are entering an era where the EU is a far less benign force (as indicated by the TTIP negotiations and an autocratic Central Bank arrangement)? Furthermore, it seems that the Remain camp are not allowing for the possibility of the EU falling apart whether or not we stay; a distinct possibility with the strains of the refugee and financial crises If the rights are important let us enact them in the UK independently of the EU. To an establishment which has boasted about the Magna Carta it is incredible that we cannot set up these protections for ourselves.

For both sides there is appalling lack of planning and timetable for reform. We ask the questions but get the same stock answers seemingly culled from the playbook of Brexit and Bremain with no real thought of what is being said. I spent last Saturday at the wonderful Levellers Day in Burford (my post here) and wonder what the Levellers and other parties to the great mid-17th Century debates would make of the current superficial approach to the development of our rights. Maybe the epithet that we get the politicians we deserve is correct after all!

A One-Sided Approach to Press Freedom is Threatening Our Liberty

In an  earlier post I mentioned that the theme of  Levellers Day 2016 was (Un) Civil Liberties.  This covered, amongst other subjects, the issue of press freedom, a difficult topic largely due to the inclusion of the word freedom!  The philosopher Isaiah Berlin identified over 200 ways in which the word ‘freedom’ has been used, leading him to conclude that it had become almost meaningless in practical terms, unless qualified in some way. Even in 1948 the United Nations must have realised the asymmetry of the clause in the Declaration of Human Rights which reads:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers. 

But what about the right of each of us to be exposed or made aware of such ideas? Here is the essence of the problem.

As with most issues involving freedom the first questions to arise include freedom from what or, alternatively, freedom to do what?  These issues lay at the core of attempts following the Leveson enquiry to regulate the press. A balance needed to be struck between protecting the freedom of the press from political interference against the freedom of the general public from unwarranted invasive press intrusion.  In a real sense the press brought the problem on themselves with outrageous phone hacking and payments to officials such as the police. So the insidious activity of phone hacking and backhanders to gain a commercial or competitive advantage was inextricably wrapped up with the laudable aim of furthering the public interest by revealing wrongdoing in Government.  As reported here, many newspapers including the Daily Mail were vocal in opposing the setting up of a ‘voluntary’ self regulating body (Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO) via a Royal Charter as it carried the implicit danger of interference from politicians.

But it is now important to ask what the press does with its ‘freedom’. Who is the beneficiary? This has been brought into sharp relief this month (May 2016) when the issue of alleged Conservative party fraud involving election funding has gone virtually unreported by many of those originally crying foul over the Press Charter including the aforementioned Daily Mail, but also Murdoch’s The Sun and The Times, the Daily Express and Metro amongst others  The situation is so ludicrous that ex-Conservative party Minister Michael Portillo claimed on television that he was completely unaware of the alleged fraud.  This is despite investigations by a number of police forces carrying the possibility of forced by-elections which may mean the loss of the Conservative Government Commons majority.  Clearly press freedom does not benefit Michael Portillo!

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Levellers Day; Radical Politics, Sunshine & Extreme Morris Dancing!

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The sun always shines on Levellers Day. Look, I am as big a fan as anyone of Tom Paine’s The Age of Reason, but I have empirical evidence! Just in case you are new to my blog and require a little orientation as to the 17th Century Leveller movement, the Levellers Day site briefly explains what it is all about. For more details you can download a book from this site and I covered some aspects of the events of 1649 and their relevance to today in a recent blog post.

For me the day always starts with a lovely drive down from the Midlands along the Fosse Way and through the Cotswolds to Burford. I was delighted to be a ceremonial pikeman again this year so following a quick chat to my fellow Republicans it was away to the main tent to don my repro Civil War uniform.  Walking down to the Church from the Recreation field is always an amusing experience with smiles mixed with some bemused looks from tourists who are unaware of the significance of the day.

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At the Church I meet up with my fellow Pikeman and Pikewoman to a welcome from the Sea Green Singers who open the proceedings splendidly with songs about the fight for tolerance and civil liberties covering over three centuries! Predictably, I loved their one about William Cobbett trying to repatriate Tom Paine’s bones (Cobbett was a truly fascinating character – learn a little more here).The address by Reverend Mark Chapman was as thought provoking and inclusive as always, managing to nail the common ground between people of many faiths and no faiths. This is followed by the laying of commemorative posies, a minute silence and a prayer from the Reverend.

Then we form up for the start of the procession – everyone is friendly, relaxed and in good spirits while we wait for the road to be closed. Once again we are marching up the hill all the way to the Recreation Ground.  With my fellow Pikeman, along with Rev Chapman and the Levellers Day banner bearers we closely follow the leading Morris dancers and marvel as they manage to keep going up the long drag. Extreme Morris Dancing for sure!

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At the ground, a huge variety of groups are represented; Communists, Socialists, NHS supporters, Veterans for Peace, Trade Unions, the Woodcraft Folk to name but a few.  This year the Republic stall was even more popular than last year and I forewent the debate to help persuade more folk of the need to end inherited privilege.  This year the theme was (Un) Civil Liberties covering free speech and human rights. Friends tell me the debate was well up to the usual standard and I expected nothing less from the speakers involved! You cannot possibly agree with everyone and that is partly the point! But there is no doubt that the enthusiasm and commitment of others who have a passion for a different form of society, however they conceive it, is wonderful. There is an energy you can draw from this to recharge batteries for the campaigns in the year ahead. I am always grateful to Trish and her colleagues for the immense amount of work put into the day. A gorgeous time is finished off for me with a lovely drive back along the Fosse Way.

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The inspiration from the day will last for a long time and it has already sparked fresh ideas and plans from the Republic Birmingham crew! If you’ve not experienced Levellers Day do come along to Burford next year. Its on the 20th May – put it in your calendar.

The City of London Corporation; The Solid Gold Woodlouse

Firstly, to put this post into some historical perspective. Of the many Clauses comprising the various versions of the 13th Century Magna Carta only a very few are still relevant, including Clause 9 which states:

The City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have.

Other cities are indeed mentioned (including the Cinque Ports) but these have long been absorbed into the mainstream of British politics and administration. Fast forward three centuries and in 1571 the City of London Corporation (CofL) created the Remembrancer post as a channel of communication between the Lord Mayor and the Crown (including Parliament). Now to 1647. The Lord Mayor and Common Council petition a recalcitrant Civil War Parliament to allow an expansion of its forces to oppose the New Model Army. Both the City and Parliament backed down when Oliver Cromwell threatened to destroy the city.

These episodes from history tell us much about the CofL. It is the woodlouse of British institutions – ancient, adaptable and a born survivor. It is these features which are the biggest obstacles in holding to account this blot on our democracy. The CofL itself points out that there is a considerable degree of misunderstanding regarding the City Remembrancer. For example, it is often stated that the Remembrancer sits in the House of Commons. He does not, as the CofL points out here; if he occupies any position it is in the Under Gallery overlooking the Chamber, but not part of it. It is not difficult to realise that a seat in the Chamber itself would be a waste of the Remembrancer’s time. He would not be allowed to take part in debates and I imagine pulling faces or looking disapprovingly at the Chief Secretary of the Treasury would not have a great effect. In fact, power is much more effectively exercised at the Reading and Committee stages of Parliamentary business. This sloppy thinking on the part of critics does nothing to help frame the urgently needed reforms.

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David Cameron’s Friends are Experiencing a Lot of ‘Administrative Errors’

Administrative error! An intriguing phrase considering the fact that the Prime Minister is hosting a summit on corruption and throwing around brickbats regarding foreign countries. But ironically it appears to be fast becoming the standard defence for organizations associated with David Cameron and under investigation by authorities. The Conservative Party’s election expenses scandal revealed by Channel 4 News is supposedly an ‘administrative error’, the same explanation used by the Perry Beaches Academy Trust School chain in Birmingham.

The Chief Executive of Perry Beeches has resigned and the governing body is stepping down amid serious issues with incorrect governance. In March the Academy had to pay back £118,000 of Government (ie our) money as it failed to keep proper records on school meals. Now a whistleblower as revealed that the CE Liam Nolan was apparently paid an extra £160,000 via a third party over 3 years on top of his £120,000 a year salary. This led the Education Funding Agency to issue a Financial Notice to Improve. But Mr Nolan’s determination to grab a much bigger salary is no real surprise. Back in November 2014 he was already complaining that his salary was too low compared with other school heads. So another example of a greedy salary race to the top now fostered by a competitive Free School system.

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