Queen of everything

Never mind the European debt crisis, or Syrians being shot in the street by their own government, the big news this week is a constitutional change in this country. What has been called “the biggest shakeup in the rules of royal succession in centuries”, ratified by the leaders of the 16 Commonwealth nations where the Queen serves as head of state, means that an elder daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would become Queen if they give birth to, as David Cameron put it, “a little girl”, whereas before, any masculine children born after this “little girl” would have leapfrogged their big sister to the throne, due to institutionalised sexism built in for 400 years. To which the natural response must surely be: WHO GIVES A MONKEY’S? I mean, we’re all feminists, right, but this is equality within a sphere of much more serious inequality.

Pardon my vulgar republicanism, but every time this story ran on TV or radio yesterday, I was engulfed by a wave of NOT GIVING A MONKEY’s. So, bad luck if you’re a “little boy” born to Wills and Kate if they have a “little girl” first; for the last 400 years you’d still have become King, but now you won’t. These sweeping constitutional changes also lift the ban on anyone in the line of succession marrying a Catholic. This is also big news, as Catholics have been well unpopular in the Royal Family for the last 400 years. We don’t burn them any more, but we might as well, eh? Again … WHO GIVES A MONKEY’S?

It might be girl and not a boy who becomes the ruler of the waves, but it will still be … someone who is by accident of birth related to the Queen. Who cares if it’s a man who would be king, or a woman who would be queen? It’s still going to be a Royal! It’s not a fair contest. And as well as “rule” us, he or she is also going to “rule” Australia, even though Australia is, well, another country, and one that’s quite a long way away. (They voted in 1999 to keep her; we’ve never been given that luxury.) The Queen, we are told – a woman lucky enough to become Queen because she didn’t have any brothers but was related to the King – signalled “her approval” of the changes by allowing her private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, to attend the meeting of the leaders of “her realms” in Australia. What language are we talking here? Realms? Succession? And is wealth really common in the Commonwealth? Or does most of it belong to a tiny fraction of people, as it does everywhere else. Common wealth: hmmm, sounds a bit like socialism to me.

If this isn’t the dictionary definition of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, I will be very disappointed. This country is going to the dogs; its welfare state is being systematically dismantled; we are now into three generations of jobless in some cases; the financial institutions that led us into this recession – or these recessions, if there really is a double-dip – continue to trade as if nothing has happened while ordinary people are laid off left, right and centre; meanwhile, we are ruled over (and the Queen, by the way, a sort of souvenir doll for tourists, does not “rule” and if she is not the dictionary definition of power without responsibility, I’ll be very disappointed) by a coterie of moneyed politicans so out-of-touch they make the Thatcher government look well hip and street-smart, not to mention timorous – after all, Thatcher only dismantled industry, transport, education and utilities, even she didn’t dare privatise the NHS. But hey, the Royal Family have had a bit of a think about the unfairness of the system by which they always get in, without election, and live off our money while they glad-hand around the world and expect us to have street parties when they get married. Let me just think … do I give a monkey’s? NO, I DON’T.

The immediate impact of this “royal shake-up” (I can think of a much better royal shake-up, by the way), will place the Princess Royal, the Queen’s daughter, fourth in the line of succession behind the Prince of Wales and his two sons. At the moment the princess is 10th. The Duke of York, who is fourth, will drop to seventh. Hang on … I DON’T GIVE A MONKEY’S!

The change will not affect the position of the monarch as the supreme governor of the Church of England, because Catholics will still be barred from the throne. The Church of England will remain as the established church. WHO CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARES? Legislation will amend laws including the Bill of Rights 1688, the Act of Settlement 1700, the Act of Union with Scotland 1706 and the Coronation Oaths Act 1688, Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act 1711, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Union with Ireland Act 1800, the Accession Declaration Act 1910 and the Regency Act 1937. Good. Can we instead just set fire to all these ancient acts – or photocopies of them, if they’re valuable – and help keep the old people warm during the predicted Arctic winter now that they’ve had their heating allowances cut because keeping old people warm: that’s a bit of a fancy luxury, isn’t it?

David Cameron paid tribute to the “60 years of extraordinary public service” by the Queen who opened the Commonwealth summit in Perth on Friday. He announced the creation of a Diamond Jubilee Trust, to be chaired by Sir John Major, to help people in need across the Commonwealth. I can think of a much better way of raising money for that cause, by the way.

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12 thoughts on “Queen of everything

  1. You know people who post comments on the BBC website along the lines of “Never heard of him/her/it, don’t care”?

    That’s you, that is.

    I’d argue that the Queen has far more responsibility than power. If my job involves a work trip to Australia when I’m 85, I’ll be annoyed.

    Also, it wasn’t the Royal Family that ‘had a bit of a think’, it was the Commonwealth governments. The Royals don’t decide who succeeds, the law does. We could pack the whole thing in tomorrow if there was a popular will to. Again, they have no power.

    Being head of the Commonwealth isn’t even hereditary, the members vote on that when the incumbent dies.

    • If you were Queen, you’d probably get over being annoyed. Who can know? None of us have ever been in the position of being born into wealth and status beyond imagination and expected to say hello to people for a living.

      I don’t like the implication of your first criticism suggesting I’m like “the sort of person” you describe; you’re the one who posts under a made-up name to hide your identity, not me. You’re far more like people who post comments on the BBC website, by definition.

      But thanks for the haughty correction re: my shoddy grasp of the difference between the Royal Family and the governments of an otherwise random group of countries who are only granted that power because they happen to be ruled by … hmm … the Royal Family.

      It is, however, sweet that you imagine they have no power when their lifestyles are paid for from cradle to grave, even though they own huge tracts of land. That’s a pretty good impression of power, as money is power.

  2. In 1999, the referendum in Australia was not a simple in or out issue on the monarchy. It was “Do you adopt this particular model of a republic?” The fact the referendum failed left monarchists calling it a victory and republicans calling it a victory and/or a pointless exercise.

    As an Australian, I like the monarchy. The link to the British monarchy is part of my country’s history and part of my own family lineage (insofar as it’s predominantly English). However, I’m all in favour of another referendum in Australia. I get my vote and Mr Ngyuen, Mrs Constantopoulos and Miss Romano also get a vote. For a lot of Australians with non-Commonwealth heritage, I can fully appreciate the British monarchy holds no importance to them and has no relevance which is why a referendum would be great. If Australia voted to become a republic, so be it. That’s democracy.

    As for your anti-Royal sentiment. If the notion of a royal family offends you (and a lot of my friends feel the same about a British head of state for Australia) then fine but the argument of them being a financial burden is extremely weak. They cost about 70p per person per year. The cost of defending the UK as well as killing people in other countries is over £700 per person per year. Can’t we tackle that first?

    As we discovered with the idea of becoming a republic in 1999 in Australia, we’d replace the royal family but ceremonial roles would continue to exist because the Queen and Governor Generals do serve a purpose. They’d merely get replaced by a President and other representatives. So money would still be being forked out for them.

    But like I said, if it’s the idea of a hereditary monarchy which offends you more than anything else then fair enough.

    Also, have you seen this: http://blog.cgpgrey.com/the-true-cost-of-the-royal-family/ Take from it what you will.

    • The comment I was hoping to make was that this is not big news. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. (And I am against the Royal Family on principle, not on the strength of a balance sheet.)

      “The cost of defending the UK as well as killing people in other countries is over £700 per person per year. Can’t we tackle that first?”

      Ideally, yes. Which was, in many ways the point of the blog. This was a lead or second-lead news story yesterday. It struck me as irrelevant. I hoped that would come across when I wrote it, but seemingly not.

      For me, it’s about too small a percentage of the people in this country having access to too large a percentage of the money. Simple as that. And the Royals personify that. History is all very well, but there comes a time when tradition becomes outmoded. 70p per person would easily save a few libraries from closure. Then people from all backgrounds could go in and read a book about the Royal Family, as they were once known.

  3. Finally someone speaking the truth about what’s important, do you know every week the Guardian has some guy in a black shirt talk about tv shows from the past week? WHO CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARES… if even the Guardian feels it has to cover something where the sole purpose isn’t a reason to feel guilty about yourself what is the world coming to?

    More seriously though the only purpose of this constitutional loophole has been to give successive governments an easy way to distract the attention of the right wing press (and also liberal commentators it appears) when required. All the more reason to finally get rid of it, I think may have been your point but it was hidden by the ranting.

    Many of us still like living in a country with a bit of history as the royal wedding clearly proved.

    • I change my shirt every week. I have two black shirts, though, so it may sometimes look like I wear the same one on two consecutive weeks, but I don’t. (Oh, and I like a bit of history. It’s the present I have a problem with!)

  4. For what it’s worth, Andrew, I get what you meant, as I felt the same wave of nauseous exasperation break over me when I heard David Cameron’s simpering speculation over the putative ‘little girl’ who may one day ‘reign over us’. My own objections to the existence of an hereditary monarchy have nothing to do with what they cost (though in my view it’s still money that could be better spent elsewhere), it’s because they embody a ludicrous and (in my view) offensive system of entitlement, privilege and inequality.

    Amending the details of an essentially outmoded and regressive institution doesn’t, in my view, make it any less outmoded and regressive.

  5. [Apparently I can’t reply without logging in to WordPress, for which I do not have an account]

    Sorry if I came across as an arse, there, Andrew. My point was more that you obviously *do* care about the Royals – in that you’re strongly in favour of scrapping them.

    I’d argue that the lack of freedom to be normal people that the Royals have balances out the money, and it’s not like they can flog a palace if they want to. What power they have is limited and largely ceremonial. I reckon they’re a net gain to the country, culturally as well as financially.

    I think your logic on the Commonwealth heads is a bit circular, though. They get to decide who succeeds to the throne because they’ve also decided that they want to keep the royal family. Again, it’s the governments that hold all the cards.

    On the subject of usernames – that’s a fair comparison, but I would say that if you put ‘Derooftrouser’ into Google, everything you get will be connected to me. If you put ‘Neil Stewart, Glasgow’ in, I’m just not there. For the purposes on on-line interaction, I think the made-up name is of more use. Particularly if you wanted to, say, block somebody on Twitter as you thought their comment on your blog was aggravatingly pompous.

    Apologies again for any annoyance caused. I’ve enjoyed your work since the Movie Club days, and would hate to think that my poor conveyance of tone has wound you up, as you always come across as a far more reasonable man than most, and certainly than me.

  6. Firstly, to contradict what’s coming second, does Anne really change position? I thought this was only affecting future births.
    Secondly, yes, who cares? I never bought that Cameron was a liberal, green, new-Con, pretty decent kind of guy. On that score I almost feel I should salute Jonathan Ross for asking him so long ago about wanking over Thatcher. Almost. Obviously it’s becoming increasingly impossible to keep that front up when pretty much everything his government does inevitably tells a different story. Presumably he has a Plan B. But when he comes out and makes his pronouncements on things like this… Christ I just want to twat the fucker. He never actually says “God bless you, Ma’am” but it’s clearly an effort. And closing without a quick “Three cheers for the Queen. Hip hip!” must almost kill him.
    For all that I hate what the monarchy represents, I have to say I hate Cameron and what he represents more. The monarchy is an irrelevance. Yes, the importance of this story was overstated. Yes, it’s a distraction from things that matter more. And yes, the Queen’s money could do some good elsewhere. But on the other hand, you can ignore her. You can ignore every story about the lot of them. Just as I have to ignore most of the bollocks that passes for news.
    It’s not that it doesn’t matter that it seems to matter (if you see what I mean); it’s just that – as you say – other things matter more. I think that rather than getting angry about this kind of distraction, you’re better off just ignoring it and refusing to do anything other than stay focussed on what matters to you. If you get angry about a distraction then it has done it’s job. Refuse to be distracted. We’re probably due a relaunch of the Big Society around about now, and when it happens the comment pages will be full of that nonsense again for a few days. You can’t expect the media to reflect your priorities. Ultimately, they’re another distraction, reporting every distraction thrown out by a government whose agenda is the very opposite of what it says it is.

  7. Living in America, I think these changes are more important than might first appear: unlike almost every other country on earth (good example being the USA), the UK has no written Constitution. There is no single document that governs and sets out the rules for the relationship between the governors and the governed. Instead we have a series of customs, agreements, acts of parliament, as well as several hundred years of a tradition of personal liberty. What’s scary about Cameron changing the rules of succession is not that it’s irrelevant, but that it is SO EASY for a single government to change our Constitution.
    That list of acts – Bill of Rights 1688, the Act of Settlement 1700, the Act of Union with Scotland 1706 and the Coronation Oaths Act 1688, Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act 1711, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Union with Ireland Act 1800, the Accession Declaration Act 1910 and the Regency Act 1937 – are precisely part of these interlocking documents that sets out our rights as citizens. If a government can so easily muck about with one part of these documents, then it could easily change the rest. What’s wrong with the British Monarchy is not that it’s too powerful, but that it’s not powerful enough. There is no elected (or unelected in the case of the UK) head of state to act as a check to parliament, and so the Prime Minister and his/her party (of what ever political stripe) rule as an elected dictatorship…which is the root of our problems as a country.

    Phew, bitter ex-pat rant or what!?

  8. I am constantly mystified at how few people share your (and my) angle on the Royal Family. It isn’t the cost, it’s the bloody principle. I can’t STAND the fact that if, picking one at random, Prince Harry were to visit my workplace, I would be expected to bow and act deferentially to him. I simply don’t understand why everybody doesn’t feel as outraged by this as I do.

  9. Thanks Andrew, I actually couldn’t agree more and have been saying many similar things recently. Jeffrey Archer appeared on BBC Breakfast to discuss this last week. I think that fact alone says as much as your entire blog! As you say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more of a “deck chairs on the Titanic” kind of situation. To put it in a crudely Herring-esque kind of way, it’s a ridiculous fuss over inequality in a public office where the sole qualification is flopping out of the correct vagina.

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