A right royal suck-up
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on the collapse of the royal butler trials.
There are, as we say, ‘unanswered questions’ left hanging by the collapse of two trials involving former royal butlers. Such as, what sort of obsequious little creep would want to be a loyal palace servant anyway?
As the sordid story has unravelled, we have caught an unattractive glimpse of those who dedicated themselves to serving their royal masters’ every whim: holding the Prince of Wales’s specimen bottle while he filled it, buying top-shelf magazines for Prince William, arranging sexual liaisons for Diana, Princess of Wales, and allegedly selling unwanted gifts. These people are left looking like a cross between an old-fashioned public school fag, a bath-house attendant, and a jewellery fence’s mate. It is a servile life not fit for any free man or woman. At least the royal dogs don’t know what they are doing when they jump at their master’s voice.
Yet in one sense this peculiar breed of people are perhaps not so different. Their archaic relationship to the royals is only an extreme expression of the one that we all suffer under, so long as we are deemed to be subjects of the Crown rather than free citizens. Paul Burrell has described how, unbidden, he would bow at Princess Diana’s bedside the instant she woke each morning, and remind himself that ‘this is where I belong’. Such a literal case of ‘knowing one’s place’ sounds repulsive today. But Burrell symbolised pretty well the constitutional position in which all us Brits still find ourselves in the 21st century.
When the chairman of the Football Association this week suggested that he had been ‘called’ by God to take up his position, it was reported as a ‘bizarre rant’. So why do we let the marginally more important position of head of state be filled on the basis of divine ordination?
As the fiasco of the butlers’ trials has stripped away layer after layer of the Royal Family’s already tainted veneer, the monarchists’ case sounds increasingly defensive. They are often to be heard now retreating to a last-ditch argument: ‘What’s your alternative, then? Do you really want to see Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown or Neil Kinnock as president?’ To which a democrat must answer: yes, I would far rather have the vulgar Mr (or Mrs) Kinnock than the dear old Queen as head of state, so long as they were put there by the people rather than by their genes, and could be got rid of the same way.
True, the potential candidates for UK president today look a grisly bunch. But democratic principles are not dependent on there being somebody worth voting for. If that were the case, there would be a good argument for abolishing the House of Commons.
Having an elected head of state matters, not because of the personal shortcomings of the royals or any qualities of politicians, but because of what it would say about the rest of us. It would affirm our status not as subjects but as citizens – autonomous, independent individuals, free to speak as we find and expected to bend the knee to nobody.
One might imagine that notion appealing to Tony Blair, our self-styled ‘modern man’. But while he might now be willing to fiddle with aspects of the monarchy’s position, Blair is very much the traditionalist where royal powers are concerned. The constitutional device of the Crown prerogative allows the Prime Minister to act like an absolute monarch in declaring war and much else without consulting Parliament, never mind the people.
The Royal Family survives for now because, despite the weakness of the monarchists’ case, British republicanism is even more pathetic. Back in the supposed heyday of old Labour radicalism, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky identified as a sign of deep-seated conservatism its inability to deny the Prince of Wales his ‘pocket money’. Today backbench Labour MPs looking to make a stand against the old Establishment prefer the soft target of denying Princes their freedom to hunt foxes, rather than giving their Highnesses more leisure time to chase vermin across the countryside by abolishing their jobs.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.