Has it really two months since my last blog? I realise that my last post I said that I intended to get back into a regular routine of posts, but that didn’t quite happen did it? Sorry, I promise to try harder. Having said that, and in my defence, this year’s ‘silly season’ has been quite a bit sillier than usual, and provided little motivation for me to write. First we had the ‘election’ of the new leader of the Conservative Party, and, by default, our new Prime Minister. The effect of this on the urgent political decisions that this country needed to make was political paralysis. Then this paralysis deepened, and spread to local government, as a consequence of the period of national mourning that resulted from the death of Queen Elizabeth.
Well, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth has now taken place, the period of national mourning has ended, and the country is hopefully getting back to normal. There can be little doubt that the late Queen was greatly admired. The huge crowds that turned out for the various events and the incredible queue of people for her lying-in-state testify to this. It was obvious to all that she was totally committed to the role that fate had bequeathed her, and had a sense of duty that she maintained throughout her long reign. I have no reason to doubt that she carried out her constitutional duties impeccably throughout this time.
However, despite any respect that I can muster for her as a person I really struggle to find respect for the monarchy as an institution. In fact I find the whole notion of inherited power, status and privilege abhorrent and think that a modern democracy deserves an elected head of state. I therefore chose to stay silent and not attend any formal function, lest I spoke or acted in a way that may have given offence. I find it very difficult to be anything other than honest. I particularly avoided the Dorset Civic Service of Thanksgiving for her life at Sherborne Abbey, and a smaller Civic Service held in Bridport. Religion in a dance with monarchy is the stuff of nightmares.
Now, though, I think we need to start seriously questioning our status as a constitutional monarchy. Whilst I totally understand that our monarchy is essentially symbolic, that it has very little real power, what it symbolises is deeply damaging to any attempt to reduce social inequality in this country. It basically says that a small group of elite people are better than the rest of us, not because they have more knowledge, skills or expertise, but simply because they were born into a certain family. The royal family sits at the apex of a class system which is still prominent in the national psyche.
Coupled with this is the wealth they have accumulated – and not through hard work. King Charles, for example, is in line to receive tens of millions of pounds amassed by the Queen – much of it from art and racehorses – which will not be liable for tax. Most people pay 40 per cent inheritance tax on anything they inherit over a £325,000 threshold, but a deal negotiated between the Crown and John Major’s government in 1993, effectively exempts the monarch. By whose standards can this be seen as fair, especially when so many families are really struggling to make ends meet?
I also struggle with monarch’s role at the head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the political association of 56 countries, the vast majority of which are former territories of the British Empire. Our new king will also be king of 15 of these member states. No country volunteered to be member of the British Empire. No country volunteered to have their culture abused and their economic resources plundered by Britain. I firmly believe it is time for Britain to formally apologise for its ransacking and forced control of these countries. If some or all of these countries wish to remain in some form of political association then their head should be the rotating head of member states. Britain and the British monarchy should have no privileged place in the association.
The problem with holding on to traditions is that we are forced to face in two directions at once, the past and the future. Whilst some people may see this as a good thing, it fails understand that the global problems we face can not be fixed by traditional methods. The traditions associated with the monarchy should be left in the past. That doesn’t mean that we erase them from our collective memory, far from it. It means that they become the subject of our history, not our future. It’s time that we became a republic.