Prince Charles: time for a republic

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

Tessa Mayes Clarke

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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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.

James Buchan

29th March 2020 at 4:03 pm

I think you have missed out the issue of Charles’s jaunt to Balmoral. It appears that many in Scotland are not best pleased that stay at home does not apply to him and his entourage. Queen isolating in Windsor, Charles self isolating in Balmoral and William off to Norfolk. Hardly giving spine and back bone to the nation is it? I can appreciate the Queen hunkering down but surely Charles and/or William should have stayed home and encouraged the nation. If they are not good as an influence or figure of unity then what are they good for?

Hunter McDonald

29th March 2020 at 10:05 pm

NOTHING. We must have a republic.

cliff resnick

28th March 2020 at 8:32 pm

“if ain’t broken don’t fix it” the proposition that an elected president wouldn’t get favourable dispensations in this crisis sounds somewhat naive but is in reality is quite reckless. And as Tom Carver noted we are a republic in all but name, we call it a constitutional monarchy.

Hunter McDonald

28th March 2020 at 8:12 pm

Charles has tested positive for Covid-19:—

Prince William “I’m worried for my father”
Prince Harry “Mine’s OK”

Tom Carver

28th March 2020 at 7:35 pm

Being a republic doesn’t just mean substituting a monarch for a president; a republic is a form of mixed constitution which follows the rule of law, as opposed to an absolute monarchy or oligarchy. England has been a de facto republic since 1688.

Hunter McDonald

28th March 2020 at 6:30 pm

Too right !!

Prince Charles is self isolating with Covid-19
Prince Andrew is self isolating with Jennifer-14

Paul Street

28th March 2020 at 10:58 am

It was Mr. Belford Bax, Socialist leader and writer, who said that, in the realm of politics, Socialism became Republicanism; in the realm of economics Socialism became Communism, and in the realm of religion Socialism became Atheism. In a similar way it can be said of Conservatism that in the realm of politics it stands for Constitutional Monarchy, in the realm of economics it stands for Capitalism; and in the realm of religion it stands for Christianity. Socialism is little more than anti-conservatism. It is less a political ideology, than a plan for occupation, to replace the royal, religious and industrial leadership of a nation, and Socialism’s only real interest in the working class is to use against the ruling class.

Billy Smith

27th March 2020 at 8:42 pm

Abolishing the monarchy would not make the UK more more democratic or more just.

Daniel Goldstein

27th March 2020 at 10:04 pm

Aside from being able to elect the head of state.


27th March 2020 at 10:21 pm

Oooooooooh yes it would!

Daniel Goldstein

28th March 2020 at 2:11 am

I am a member – they’ve just released their new documentary about Charles.

Ness Immersion

27th March 2020 at 6:00 pm

Constitutional monarchies have a far better record of avoiding civil strife than republics.
Arm chair revolutionaries are great at theorising how their perfect republic would work.
The advatage of our current system with incremental change is it does change and again – all the constitutional monarchies from Japan to the bicycling monarchies of Scandinavia are far better than republics at not having a civil war.


27th March 2020 at 7:29 pm

Switzerland seems to have done just fine — for over 700 years.

maceo david

27th March 2020 at 5:22 pm

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27th March 2020 at 5:09 pm

King Charles III will do significant damage to the Windsor brand and for that reason I am looking forward to his glorious reign.

christopher barnard

27th March 2020 at 3:54 pm

Anyone who campaigns for a republic is wasting their time. The monarchy has high levels of support and that shows no signs of changing. There are plenty of other things for people to campaign about which are much more achievable.


27th March 2020 at 5:03 pm

We do things because they are right, not because they are popular. Monarchy offends against principles of natural justice. The monarchy is not as popular as you think. I have no intention of dropping my support for an English Republic just because you find it inconvenient. Surely you understand why it is better to vote for your head of state than to have some random family receive massive public subsidies to jet around the world at taxpayer’s expense?

Daniel Goldstein

27th March 2020 at 10:06 pm

I don’t think he does understand. The “popularity” of the monarchy is always used to shut down discussion of its abolition.

Guy Green

27th March 2020 at 3:31 pm

In these pages, and in other places I frequently read criticism of politicians from all sides. It seems the general view is a plague on all of their houses. Why then would we want more of them?
Is the US more democratic because they have Trump, or France because they have Macron? We should ask the Gilets Jaunes for their experience of democracy. The EU is hardly a shining example either, and they have 5 Presidents. It seems to me the ideal solution is less rather than more. We should also be careful not to throw out centuries of tradition with which many people feel comfortable, in favour of something of which we know little. The law of unintended consequences may apply here.

Gareth Edward KING

27th March 2020 at 3:26 pm

I actually wish Johnson well, he after all does have quite a few votes behind him somewhat more than Prince Charles, well, who has precisely none. However, I’m not sure that it’s even necessary to know who might be positive or who not. It’s all a bit mawkish. Sorry, to be so old-fashioned, but shouldn’t one’s health problems be confined to the personal sphere?

Ellen Whitaker

27th March 2020 at 3:14 pm

This article is a bit mean-spirited. Being republican, or anti-monarchist, is certainly a valid position. But like it or not, the UK is a constitutional monarchy. The prince didn’t get tested right away because he’s “a celebrity,” but because he’s the next head of state.In times of national emergency, keeping the ship of state sailing is among the highest priorities.


27th March 2020 at 3:18 pm

‘like it or not, the UK is a constitutional monarchy’ — I really don’t like it and we really need a democratic system of government.

Guy Green

27th March 2020 at 3:34 pm

Could you explain how your vision of democracy would work, if you want to reset the system I for one would love to see your blueprint?


27th March 2020 at 5:08 pm

Germany is an excellent example of a high-functioning, decentralised democratic, republican polity. Go and have a look at it. Alternatively, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland and the US are also excellent republican models.

Mildred Culpepper

27th March 2020 at 3:07 pm

The case for the retention of our monarchy that I find persuasive is that it provides a certain elan to the honours system,. by which public service is rewarded at very little cost.
That the great and the good should hanker for honours rather fortunes as a mark of their service seems to me to be encouraged.
Jung is said to have asked – is it true that in England they still confer knighthoods for public service?


27th March 2020 at 3:24 pm

Have you never heard of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom or the French Legion of Honour? Citizens of republics are just as motivated to achieve greatness as the subjects of monarchs. How on earth is the present UK honours system an argument in favour of monarchy? That is even more absurd than the old ‘they bring in tourism’ chestnut – utter bilge. If you need to justify your constitutional system on the basis of tourist revenue then there is something seriously wrong with your system. Is that the best the royalists have got? Where are the guarantees of personal liberty in a monarchical system? The royals are unelected, unaccountable and unwanted.

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