This week, columnist Theo Stone takes a look at the Royal Family after it’s rather hellish week, and asks whether it is time we reconsidered what it means to have a monarch in the 21st Century.
The past week or so for the Royal Family has not been a comfortable one. Following the announcement by Prince Charles that he intended to make “heartfelt interventions” to governmental policy-making, the reputation of the Family was further damaged by the allegations that Prince Andrew was involved in a sex scandal. To top this all off, it was revealed that the Royal Family are in fact exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and are also capable of postponing BBC programs, for example the recent cancellation of two programmes designed to grant the public an understanding behind the use of Spin Doctors after the death of Princess Diana.
It’s quite a change of tone when compared to the post-Christmas announcement that the Queen was Britain’s ‘most moral leader’.
Prince Andrew, however, is a man of misjudgment. His friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was one that confused the British press, and now it has been alleged that the Prince sexually abused a 17-year-old girl (the US’s age of consent is 18). According to the prosecution of the legal case that this revelation was sourced from, the Prince had sexual intercourse with the girl in question on three separate occasions between 1999 and 2002, in London, New York and on a private Caribbean Island owned by Epstein.
In light of this, we are going to have to start reevaluating our perception of the Royal Family. With this case jarring against society’s moral compass, it is unlikely that the Prince will have the majority on his side. Operation Yewtree is still fresh in the public’s mind, so our belief that the Royal Family are moral figureheads is quickly diminishing. And yet, it is likely that most people will ignore this accusation and treat him indifferently. If the son of the Queen is willing to have sex with an underage girl, and the public can ignore it, then there is a serious problem with how we perceive the Royal Family.
Let’s now look at Prince Charles. It is no surprise to hear that his ideas on modern monarchial rule are noticeably different of those of his mother. Queen Elizabeth II is happy to simply let democracy work its way, without interfering. She recognises her position as that of a figurehead providing a face for people to associate with rather than sticking her fingers into many political pies. Prince Charles, however, already has sticky fingers.
Over the years, he has been found holding conferences with various ministers trying to push his preference for homeopathic treatments, the end of cuts on the armed forces and a decrease in personal access to legal aid, to name but a few of his questionable ideas. Voicing his opinions is completely counterproductive. If he is scheduled to meet with a world leader who he has announced his disdain for, then how can we hope to maintain functional international relationships? The lack of neutrality became most apparent when the former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, tried to stop journalists from gaining access to certain letters to ministers that had been authored by the Prince which contained his own personal views and recommendations, as opposed to the expected neutrality that the British public have grown accustomed of. Such material would, no doubt, exacerbate already tricky republican-monarchist relations.
Supporters of Prince Charles are callously optimistic, believing that Britain can meander along under his reign. The likelihood of a talk being held on where Royal ‘advice’ ends and political meddling begins is slender, a lack of process that simply gives the Republican movement more ammunition. Indeed, the last King to abdicate, Edward VIII, was forced to do so in part due to his interference in the political scene and his alleged admiration of Hitler and Mussolini. If King Charles III (or George VII, depending on his choice of title) is to interfere, should he go the way of his great-uncle?
The meddling itself ties in with the controversy surrounding the recently postponed television specials. The programmes were said to show the Royal Family employ a number of Spin Doctors to erase the national image of Diana in order to bring Camilla into the spotlight and how the actions of the Royal Family members involved, namely Prince Charles, go far beyond their constitutional limits. If politicians tried to stop a biographical broadcast there would be public outrage. However, with the Royal Family at the heart of this case, the majority won’t bat an eyelid. The documentary ‘Reinventing the Royals’ is a straight one, and it is unlikely that it would have caused a Communist Revolution to spread across Britain. A sensible aide would have told the Prince to ignore it, but instead they have decided to wage war.
The Freedom of Information Act does not cover the Royal Family, meaning that they can keep secrets from the public. We do not properly know how much they actually earn, pay in tax or have stored away. Nor do we know where the money is. It might transpire that it is all stored away in private equity in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know. Even the Magna Carta granted the Barons of England far greater transparency when it came to observing the monarchs finances than we have today.
Arguably, this smokescreen denies Britain from being truly democratic; the ease with which a privileged few bully us into submission hints at an elitist structure, impossible for democrats to fully support. The members of the Royal Family at the most should be seen as figureheads, setting a behavioral example for others to follow. This cannot be the case if they willingly flaunt their unique powers and immunities whenever something even mildly hazardous appears in the media of a nation that believes in the freedom of speech.
Even more disturbing is the number of Britons completely apathetic to these developments. A large number will just shrug their shoulders and continue to buy whatever mugs, plates or other memorabilia is available. Prince Andrew will be able to move on from this incident because most of the public either couldn’t care less about the Royals or are unable to see past the fantastical imagery associated with them. Britain is enthralled by the Royalist illusion.
It’s time Britain was honest about Royal Family and decided what positions they truly hold, and what they can do independently of the public. They can be either Gods or men, not both.
Of course, the Royal Family do contribute to the British economy, with their ceremonies and the tourism attraction raking in hundreds of millions per year. They do provide support as figureheads, but surely they are no longer essential to the operation of 21st Century Britain? They’re nice to have, but they have little to offer besides their smiles, a fact that is especially true should they begin to fiddle once more in politics.
The Magna Carta celebrates its 800th birthday this year. Perhaps it is time for us to have another look at it.
Theo Stone, Online Features Columnistbookmark me