Prince Charles: time for a republic

His Covid-19 diagnosis reminds us how dysfunctional monarchy is.

Tessa Mayes Clarke

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Topics Politics UK

The responses to high-profile cases of Covid-19 have been striking. That some responded less than sympathetically to the shock news that PM Boris Johnson has tested positive for the virus was unpleasant, though par for the course on some corners of social media.

The response to news that Prince Charles, our future king, has a ‘mild’ case of Covid-19 and has tested positive was also interesting. Many were upset that the prince had jumped the queue for testing. Currently there are nearly 12,000 confirmed cases in the UK, and those aged over 70 are in a high-risk group. Though unlike the 71-year-old Charles, few will have easy access to tests if they fall ill.

While the royals are being tested for mild symptoms, then, the rest of the population is not getting immediate access to tests, unless they are in hospital. While DIY tests are reported to be on their way, we are being told to stay away from our GP and to self-isolate if we develop symptoms.

NHS workers are not even being tested, meaning many have to self-isolate even when they may well be fit to work. Following the news about Charles, one doctor asked on Twitter, ‘Why am I refused a test after seeing patients with covid infections and Prince Charles or any celebrity can get a test within seconds?’.

But that Prince Charles can jump the queue should not surprise us, any more than Johnson being able to. He is next in line to the throne. This is how our anachronistic constitutional monarchy works: by accident of their birth, royals get preferential treatment in sickness and in health. If we don’t like these inherited privileges, we need to argue for a republic.

Charles’ diagnosis also demonstrates how dysfunctional this system can be in times of crisis. In a democracy, if those in positions of political power fall ill, we should hold sway over what happens next. But this is not the case with monarchy. Out of the blue on Monday, before we learned of Charles’ diagnosis, we heard that Prince William was preparing to ‘step up in to [a] statesman role’ during the crisis.

In our constitutional monarchy the royals do have influence. They are not merely ceremonial. Officially we, the people, have no direct say over who gets to be the next head of state, or who takes up other positions like the Duke of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, and so on. These are not jobs any of us can apply for.

A referendum on the monarchy was not on the cards before this crisis. And given parliament is not sitting and upcoming local and mayoral elections have been suspended, one is even less likely right now. But this crisis should still lead us to discuss how we want to be ruled once this is all over. We should have leaders we can directly elect and hold to account.

At times of crisis the royals’ role is to calm the nation. But should we accept this state of affairs: an undemocratic head of state claiming to reflect our mood, advising us on how to come together, even as, in this case, our liberties are being suspended?

A medical emergency doesn’t mean we have to accept ever more limitations on our democratic rights. The current situation has made us all acutely aware of what we really need to control our lives.

Tessa Mayes Clarke is a journalist, author and documentary producer.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Chris Choné

22nd April 2020 at 3:49 am

You do not understand the difference between Political leader and Head of State. A Monarch as a head of state is more democratic than having à head of state that is elected and that is subjected to partisan interests. In countries like the USA and France, where the Head of State is also the leader, almost half of the population has not voted for him, despise the Head of State and his mission of representing the whole nation can not be fullfilled. You can see people protesting and scanding “Not my president”.
The mission of the Head of State is symbolic, like a flag, an hymn etc… It is to embodies the Nation in a form that is the constituent base of à society : individuals and family. Of course it seems a little bit useless if you look at it simplistically but I suggest you read about collective unconscious and the studies made on the that by Jung and other psychologists on the relationship between symbols/archetypes and collective unconscious. They are very essential to our collective unconscious.
I would add that a monarchy creates à 4th power, the neutral power and arbitrator power. It strenghen democracy actually. A solution, that they chose in Germany is to have, aside from the Chancellor (leader), a President, the head of state, that is also symbolic and that represent that neutral power. The problem is that this president is elected among former politicians making it hard for people to believe he can be neutral and therefore to identify to him.
In a monarchy, the head of state beeing hereditary, he must have had never expressed political partisan opinions and then he can be indeed represent the whole nation, all individuals no matter what political party they support.
Of course I understand your argument that it is a job and so everyone should be able to apply for it. That just because you see it as a job when it is a duty. When you are a monarch you have to abandon most of your foundamental rights in order to embodies the State and the NATION including the one of expressing your opinion or moving everywhere you want. And not just for 5 years but for a lifetime. I don’t see it as a privilege and I believe that we can not put any human beeing in such a position to be “a flag” all their life unless they have been born in it and brainwashed with that since birth. Juges would tell you, learning neutrality is very hard when you start at 20 years old. Starting at birth is the solution for the one representing the supreme neutrality.
Don’t get me confused, I believe there are things to be changed in the current monarchical system but a Republic wont be the right change. It would have a catastrophic unconscious impact.

Neil McCaughan

29th March 2020 at 4:20 pm

Prince Charles’s decision to cohabit with an elderly bat made his contracting the disease unavoidable.

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