In two earlier posts this week I blogged about the pernicious effect of sycophancy towards the royals and the way in which their Public Relations machine has positioned them within the celebrity culture. So what is the aim of all this, what is the end game? Once again the visit of William Windsor and his wife Kate to India and Bhutan gives us a clue. On a very short tour to Bhutan they spent one day on a personal climb up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery. Incredibly this provoked a very rare criticism from the BBC royal reporter Nicholas Witchell who pointed out that the Bhutan trip was at taxpayers expense and thus it was not a holiday but a business trip.
So what was the justification for what was a sightseeing jolly? As mentioned in a previous blog, William views himself in the role of a country squire (evidence the move to Norfolk) living at the expense of someone else, but it seems his education failed to impress on him a fundamental constitutional fact. The royals get to retain their privilege, wealth and residual influence in exchange for the Government using Royal Prerogative powers and a large measure of control over them for political and diplomatic purposes. It is on this basis, for example, that Charles Windsor is sent at frequent intervals to deeply unpleasant and autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia to secure lucrative arms deals – though there is no reason to suspect that Charles objects to a knees-up with his privileged mates. So if politicians send William to Bhutan at our expense they must see some advantage (note that it occupies a very strategic position bordered by both India and China!). They are not going to be pleased at the perceived waste of money when they are already under fire for punitive austerity measures.
It is a recurring line amongst royalists that they would prefer to pass quickly over Charles as the next king (or even bypass him altogether) since he is perceived as being eccentric, meddling and downright unpopular. It is likely that he would soon grate with politicians who would resent his constant interventions. Although less of an activist, a lazy and idle King William with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement would present a different by no less pointed set of problems. Hugely more interested in pursuing his own interests rather than fulfilling his duties he would be perceived by the establishment as superfluous and his removal would be sought. From my point of view this presents an opportunity, but only if the have a well worked out plan to move to a republic. Maybe the recent spate of problems raised for the Windsors by the press (such as the Sun Brexit story – my post here) are the first moves of an establishment with their media allies preparing for such an eventuality
A few days ago I published a post about the nauseating spectacle of sycophancy surrounding the royal family. But there is another crucial weapon which the Palace Public Relations machine deploys in the 21st Century – celebrity culture. During the Middle Ages court jesters or troupes of entertainers were retained to perform for the king. Now, in an apparent reversal of roles, it is the royals who display themselves via mass media for our entertainment! But the outcome is the same, the monarch remains at the top of the tree.
The low point for the UK monarchy in recent times came in 1997 immediately after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. In some respects the danger for the Windsors was similar to the circumstances which led to the demise of the Russian Romanovs in 1917. Somewhat surprisingly it is not the ostentatious display of wealth alone which alienates the people, but wealth combined with a perception of remoteness. Correctly perceiving the danger, royal public relations after Diana has been successful in harnessing the power of mass media to embed the royals in the celebrity culture.
Continue reading “The Illusion of Intimacy: Royals and Celebrity Culture”
The visit of William Windsor and his wife Kate to India has been accompanied by the usual fawning British press coverage. Nauseating images of quite senior and successful local businessmen applauding enthusiastically when William manages to turn a steering wheel on a virtual racing car as though he were Lewis Hamilton all too familiar. The Collins English Dictionary defines a sycophant as ‘a person who uses flattery to win favour from individuals wielding influence; toady’ and it would clearly be absurd to claim that sycophancy was limited to the British royals. Prime Ministers, Presidents, sports stars and TV celebrities are all objects of this kind of adulation. Yet it is with the royals that this trait appears most pronounce and most baffling. We are told, for example that this visit is part of the projection of British ‘soft power’ around the world. But it appears that this projection of power relies on generating and reporting a sycophantic feeling amongst local people, a patently absurd situation where foreign nationals try to ingratiate themselves with an alien royal family who care not a jot for them as individuals.
Continue reading “The Windsors in India; Sycophancy and Palace PR”
It is not often that I will jump to the defence of The Sun newspaper, in fact this may be the only occasion! So firstly, the facts in brief. On the 9th March 2016 The Sun ran a front page exclusive which claimed that the Queen supported Britain leaving the European Union (Brexit). There was speculation as to the source of this story, including ex-Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Michael Gove, both of which denied the leak. Claiming that the story was inaccurate, Buckingham Palace lodged a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). The argument in essentially that the story must be wrong because the Queen is politically neutral and did not, indeed would never, voice such an opinion in public. The Sun has refused to name its source under journalistic confidentiality. So we await the verdict of IPSO chairman Sir Alan Moses with interest.
These salient details are enough to draw a number of conclusions about the iniquity of Monarchy in the 21st century. Lets start with the fact that a free press has not only the right but the responsibility to report stories which are in the public interest. But specifically, there is an inherent unfairness at the heart of judging such a complaint. Firstly any investigation will require the Sun to divulge the source of the story. The paper has every right to defend its source. Roy Greenslade has pointed out the fact that both of the main suspects have vehemently denied the claim together with the fact that the Palace will field a number of other witnesses besides means that the odds are stacked against The Sun. But IPSO will certainly be denied the possibility of calling the one witness who could clarify just what was said at the event, the Queen herself! Consider if it were you or I who complained to IPSO and then refuse to turn up to state our case. We would almost certainly lose – so why should it be any different for the Head of State? At the very worst IPSO should find that the claim was unproven and throw out the compaint. Here is an example of the injustice of a private individual who uses privilege to avoid accountability.
Continue reading “The Queen vs The Sun newspaper; End Royal Meddling in Politics”
On March 27th 1668 an event took place which has an important lesson for us today with the possibility of a free Trade Agreement between the United States and the UK replicating parts of the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement making democratically elected Governments subject to Corporate interests. I have written a post about how TTIP would work in practice. Back in March 1668, the restored British monarch Charles II leased Bombay (now called Mumbai) to the East India Company (EIC) for £10 a year. Charles acquired the Bombay islands from the Portuguese as part of a dowry payment when he married Catherine of Braganza. This was all part of a strategy to give extensive autocratic powers to the EIC and over the next couple of years Charles issued five Charters allowing the company rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions; to mint money; to command fortresses and troops and form alliances; to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas. The Bombay islands was just one event in a series of significant events over the next 100 years which led to the EIC virtually monopolizing India (except for some minor areas of local control in the South) and becoming so powerful as to rival the British Government itself. This led to a series of Parliamentary Acts during the 1770s and 1780s which separated the commercial and administrative/political functions of the EIC and reasserted the supremacy of Parliament over the corporation. Apologists of the British Empire will point to the economic and administrative benefits of the EIC while avoiding the awkward facts of endemic corruption; massacres; looting of Indian treasures resulting in poverty; numerous famines including the Great Bengal of 1770; and exploitative systems of agriculture including the forced cultivation of opium in place of foodstuffs.
Continue reading “Bombay 1668; Autocratic Corporatism Then and Now”
On February 3rd 1826 the businessman and journalist Walter Bagehot was born. He was author of a number of important works (including one on banking), but possibly most influential for us in the UK was The English Constitution, published in 1867. You can obtain a copy from this site. It is still frequently referenced today with the most oft quoted section regarding the British monarch who, according to Bagehot, has three rights:
…the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn.
The work provided a kind of manual to the British constitutional settlement of the mid-19th century which is still largely relevant today. But it is not purely descriptive and Bagehot makes it clear that largely supports the status quo. The work itself is very much a product of its time and reflects the wealthy mercantile background of Bagehot. What stands out in the work is its suffusion with a sense of contempt for and distrust of those at the bottom layers of society. Here is one example:
The lower orders, the middle orders, are still, when tried by what is the standard of the educated “ten thousand,” narrow-minded, unintelligent, incurious.
Bagehot makes it clear that he considers monarchy is vital to provide a point of reference and national identity of ‘the lower orders’ who are otherwise incapable of understanding politics and government. Ignoring the cheerleading for a constitutional monarchy you can learn a lot from The English Constitution and there are actually some points on which I am in agreement. For example in comparing monarchism with republicanism:
Continue reading “Bagehot: Living in a ‘Disguised Republic’”
Christmas Day 1642 saw the birth of a baby who would grow up to affect our world in ways unimaginable even to himself. His name was Isaac (subsequently Sir Isaac) Newton. Why does this interest me as a republican? Because as a giant of the Age of Enlightenment his achievement symbolises a way of thinking which was becoming universal. His birth date was, to some extent, ironic. For most of his life Newton was a mystic interested in alchemy and the goal of spiritual purification it represented. Such was the astonishing success of his Theory of Universal Gravitation, however, that by the time of his death in 1726, there are indications that Newton himself had started to consider that a purely mechanical explanation of the Universe was possible.
So what were these new ways of thinking which caused a profound change? The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th Centuries in Europe entailed the view that an understanding of the world could come from human reason. Enlightenment thinking influenced almost all areas of human intellectual activity including the emerging sciences, art, philosophy and politics. Vital to the movement was an eagerness to question assumptions, to accept no authority as sacrosanct. As JGA Pocock put it:
…the Enlightenment generally [was] based on a complete rejection of prophecy, revelation and the Hebrew mode of thought at large.
J.G.A Pocock: The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition
What form did this new thinking take in the political arena? Before the Enlightenment, monarchs were considered to be the representation of the eternal truth of god which lay beyond time itself. From this we get the idea of a Divine Right of Kings. The notion of a time-bound head of state was literally inconceivable throughout much of Europe following the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise in dominance of Judeo-Christian orthodoxy. The century before the Enlightenment, however, saw rapid developments in political philosophy by a group of thinkers in Florence, Italy and, to a lesser extent, the ‘Serene Republic of Venice’. This explosion of thought in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries, (of which the most famous contributor today is Niccolo Machiavelli) slowly spread through Europe, fostering the idea that a nation could persist without its head of state being linked to an eternal god. Closely associated was a humanist concept which led to a concern during the Enlightenment with ending the abuses of church and state. From now on, liberty, progress and tolerance were to be underpinned by reason. But the move to a separation of Church and State was also attractive to many religious communities. It was all very well the monarch being a representative of god, but what happens if is is not your god? In England this all led to the effective ending of the concept of Divine Right in 1688-9 with the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights which I have blogged about here. This was only one year after the first publication of Newton’s theory in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
Continue reading “Isaac Newton, The Enlightenment and Republicanism”
On January 4th 1642 an event happened which, more than any other, propelled England to Civil War. On that day King Charles I entered the Chamber of the House of Commons with an armed guard to arrest five Members of Parliament accused of high treason. They wre forewarned and escaped. Although tensions between Parliament and monarch over finance and religion had been building since the days of Charles father, James I, this event was significant. From this point forward both sides start preparing for conflict. The event is commemorated today during the ceremony of the Opening of Parliament each year. As the monarch is not allowed in the Commons, the queen summons MPs to the Lords chamber. As he approaches the Commons chamber, the queen’s messenger, Black Rod has the door slammed firmly in his face. Sadly history provides numerous occasions since 1642 when the monarch has continued to interfere with parliament.
Continue reading “Two January 4ths, one decade and the world changes for ever”
In December 1776 the American War of Independence was going badly for the rebel Continental Army. Led by a seemingly incompetent commander (George Washington) and in apparently endless retreat, morale was fast draining away. To raise spirits for the struggle ahead the leadership turned to one of the greatest political pamphleteers in history. Tomas Paine published his work The Crisis (or The American Crisis as it came to be known) on 16th December and it was read aloud to the assembled soldiers of the Continental Army on 23rd December. It commences with one of the most famous lines in the history of political activism:
These are the times that try men’s souls
Continue reading “Tom Paine: More times that try men’s souls”
Have you ever wondered why we have a British Army and not a Royal Army or what happened to the Divine Right of Kings?
On December 16th 1689 the Bill of Rights was finally passed as an Act of Parliament (although it had been declared in statutory form since February of that year). This effectively established England as a Constitutional Monarchy with the King or Queen under firm Parliamentary control. Although there were many consequences of the Act I want to point to just two.
Firstly the Bill specifically prevents the monarch from raising an army unless Parliament agrees. The Bill states:
That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law;
Continue reading “The Bill of Rights: why the army is ‘British’ and not ‘Royal’”