King Juan Carlos is to abdicate. I love this simple poster design, campaigning for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.
The abdication reminds me of the point I made in last week’s post about MP recalls, where I said:
If the electorate cannot get rid of their representative outside of election time … I think its is only fair that the representatives cannot rid themselves of their electorate either.
I think a similar principle holds for monarchies. If the hereditary principle means that people cannot choose their head of state, then its inconsistent and wrong for the monarch to be able to choose whether or not they serve as head of state! If we allow blood-lines to play a part in our constitution then we have to accept whatever gaffe-prone idiot that genetics throws up… and that idiot is stuck with the populous too.
To my mind, a single abication undermines the whole idea of hereditary monarchy. Any country where that happens should transition to a full democracy with an elected or legislature-appointed head of state (I prefer democracies with a nominal, not executive president but I’m sure there are arguments for and against both models). I hope that the abdication of the Spanish King triggers a referendum that ends the anacronism.
First things first: The idea of a monarchy is inherently inequitable. It institutionalises privilege and injects unelected, inherited power into the heart of our political system.
But at least its not sexist, right?! Section 1 of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 finally eriadicated the preposterous rule that gave male children of the monarch priority over the female children (this blog demanded cognatic (equal) primogeniture back in 2006). So we should be fit for purpose, yeah?
Wrong. A crucial bit of sexism remains, and it is this:
- When the reigning monarch is male, he is called ‘King’ and his consort is called ‘Queen’.
- When the reigning monarch is female, she is called ‘Queen’ and her consort is called Prince.1
Why the discrepancy? Well, because a ‘King’ is greater than a ‘Queen’! There is obviously no practical reason for this inequality. It is just that our culture is sexist. The problem runs deep: Think of how a King is worth more than a Queen in card games.
- If we’re going to stick with a hereditary monarchy, then future male consorts of reigning Queens should be called ‘King consort’.
- You know how we change the official wording of things when its a Queen and not a King (for e.g. Queen’s Counsel; God Save the Queen)? British people should make the same changes when it comes to card games. ‘British Rules’ poker and bridge should see the four Queen cards trump the four King cards, when the monarch happens to be a woman.
1. In reverse chronological order: Prince Philip is married to Queen Elizabeth II Prince Albert was married to Queen Victoria, and Prince George was married to Queen Anne. Both Queen Marys were married to people who were reigning Kings, and Queen Elizabeth I never married. Empress Matilda was never called Queen herself.
The #EqualMarriage timeline on Twitter is full of people praising Queen Elizabeth II for approving the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. There is a strong sense of knowing irony steaming off those messages. I feel that most of the people celebrating the new law think its rather ridiculous that the approval of the Monarch is still required.
What a relief, then, to learn that actually, Queen Elizabeth II did not formally approve the new law. ‘Royal Assent’ is actually a procedural step in the House of Lords. The monarch is invoked in the process, but she is not personally involved in the decision. From the Wikipedia page:
The granting of the Royal Assent … is simply La Reyne le veult (the Queen wills it)
This matters, because we should recognise that this pro-family reform of the law is the work of Parliament and Democracy. It is not a gift to us from the Establishment. It is not that ‘La Reyne’ or ‘Le Roy’ wills it… but that the people of the United Kingdom have willed it. That’s important.
Benjamin Cohen, a long-term campaigner for the reform, has the right formulation:
The double-Booker winning author Hilary Mantel has caused controversy, after delivering an uncompromising critique of the Duchess of Cambridge. The lecture she gave to the London Review of Books is now online: audio and text.
The Daily Mail and the Metro seem to have misinterpreted Mantel, reporting the speech as a ‘scathing’ and ‘venomous’ attack on the Duchess. But that is not the author’s sentiment at all. Instead, Mantel is critiquing the way in which the illusion of Royalty turns women into objects, vessels, and wombs. I am sure that Kate herself would find the analysis uncomfortable, but the attack is on the Monarchy as a whole, and on media outlets like the Mail and the Metro that feed off the images of Royal consorts.
The backlash towards Mantel puts me in the mind of the Orwell (or was it Hearst) quote: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” The speech is a form of social and cultural criticism rather than journalism, but I think the Orwell/Hearst sentiment applies equally. Mantel’s negative comments about Royalty are precsiely the sort of thing that other people – call them Monarchists, or ‘The Establishment’, or social conservatives – would prefer had been left unsaid. That fact is, in itself, a reason to applaud Hilary Mantel for saying it alound and in public. This speech should shock us into reconsidering the role of Royalty in our society. It should make us revise our stratospheric expectations of the Duchess of Cambridge, too.
It is worth noting that this kind of speech act is precisely the sort of thing that gets censored in other countries. Thailand has strict lèse-majesté laws and many, if not most, other countries, have criminal defamation or ‘scandalising’ laws that would have seen Mantel down at the police station for an interview, or on trial, or in prison. In the UK, we finally abolished our dead-letter analogues in 2009. It should be a source of pride that one of our most celebrated novelists is able to make such controversial statements, unfettered.
This is precisely the kind of social leadership that we need from our authors. I wonder what would have happened if a politician had said the same thing?
The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant, and my Twitter timeline and Facebook wall have immediately been filled with curmudgeons complaining that the issue of #Leveson and other important stories will get buried. I think this may be an over-reaction – there will be other news reported in the papers tomorrow.
Most of the comments in my timeline were meta – discussions about the discussion, not a discussion about the news itself. This is unsurprising because of course, there is no actual analysis that can be done on this kind of story: Kate is pregnant. The kid will be born about 7 months from now. They will one day be monarch, regardless of gender.
I have little patience for those complaining about the level of coverage. Britain is an immensely influential country, and a new head of state – one that could potentially reign for decades – has just been designated. We went nuts for discussion of the US Presidential election, and the French Presidential election. The opaque appointment of a new Chinese leader was also well documented. Why should the emergence of a new British Head of State be any less talked about?
The madness is not the level of coverage given over to this story. The madness is that British heads of state are still chosen by the hereditary method. If you are annoyed, irritated or angered by the news overload, but you’re not a republican, then you’re just being inconsistent.