Elizabeth the Useless:
Sixty Years a Rubber Stamp
By Sean Gabb
Those of us who pay attention to such things will have noticed a difference between the BBC coverage of the Golden Jubilee in 2002 and of the present Diamond Jubilee. Ten years ago, the coverage was adequate, though reluctant and even a little stiff. This time, it has been gushing and completely uncritical. There are various possible reasons for my observation. The first is that I was mistaken then and am mistaken now. I do not think this is the case, but feel obliged to mention it. The second is that Golden Jubilees are rare events, and Diamond Jubilees very rare events, and that extreme rarity justifies a setting aside of republican scruples. The third is that the BBC was taken by surprise in 2002 by the scale of public enthusiasm, and does not wish to be caught out again. The fourth is that, while not particularly conservative on main issues, we do now have a Conservative Government, and this is headed by a cousin of Her Majesty. There may be many other reasons.
However, I believe the chief reason to be that the new British ruling class has finally realised what ought always to have been obvious. This is that, so far from being the last vestige of an old order, dominated by hereditary landlords and legitimised by ideologies of duty and governmental restraint, the Monarchy is an ideal fig leaf for the coalition of corporate interests and cultural leftists and unaccountable bureaucracies that is our present ruling class. The motto for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was “Sixty Years a Queen.” The motto now might as well be “Sixty Years a Rubber Stamp.” If, during the six decades of her reign, England has been transformed from a great and powerful nation and the classic home of civil liberty into a sinister laughing stock, the ultimate responsibility for all that has gone wrong lies with Elizabeth II.
Now, I can – as Enoch Powell once said – almost hear the chorus of disapproval. How dare I speak so disrespectfully of our Most Gracious Sovereign Lady? Do I not realise that, under our Constitution, Her Majesty reigns, but the politicians rule? How, in all conscience, can I shift blame for what has happened from the traitors who actively worked for our destruction – Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Tony Blair, and the others – to a woman without executive function who has always devoted herself to our welfare? The answer is that, if she never projected the theft of our ancestral rights, it was her duty to resist that theft, and to resist without regard for the outcome – and it was in her power to resist without bringing on her head any of the penalties threatened or used against her subjects. But she did not resist. At no time in the past sixty years, has she raised a finger in public, or, it is probably the case, in private, to slow the destruction of an order of things she swore in the name of God to protect.
Let me explain the true functions of the English Monarchy. Many foreigners have looked at all the bowing and kissing and walking backwards, and thought England was some kind of divine right despotism. Others have looked at the assurances of Walter Bagehot, and believed that England was, to all intents and purposes, as much a republic as modern France or Germany. Anyone who believes either of these things is wrong.
The function of the Monarchy is to express and to sustain our national identity and all that stands with it. The Monarchy reminds us that our nation is not some recent arrival in the world, and that the threads of continuity between ourselves and our distant forebears have not been broken. England and its Monarchy exist today, and five hundred years ago, and a thousand years ago, and one thousand five hundred years ago. And, as we go further back, they vanish together, with no sense that they ever began at all, into the forests of Northern Europe. And with the fact of immemorial antiquity goes the idea of indefinite future continuation. Any Englishman who studies his national history finds himself uniquely in a conversation across many centuries. What an English writer said in 1688, or in 1776, or in 1832, is not alien to us now, and still has some relevance to our understanding of what kind of people we are.
Her Majesty has discharged her expressing function. However, since all this needs, at the most basic level, is for her to occupy the right place in her family tree and know how to smile and wave, she deserves as much praise as I might claim for having two legs. If, like the Emperor of Japan, she never said or did anything in public, she would still express our national identity. The problem is that she has done nothing to sustain that identity in any meaningful sense.
By law, the Queen is our head of state, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and Commander in Chief of all the armed forces. She appoints all the bishops and judges, and all the ministers and civil servants. She declares war, and all treaties are signed on her behalf. She cannot make new laws by her own authority and impose taxes. To do either of these, she needs the consent of Parliament. On the other hand, she can also veto any parliamentary bill she dislikes – and her veto cannot be overriden by any weighted majority vote of Parliament. These are the theoretical powers of an English Monarch. Except where limited by seventeenth century agreements like the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights, she has the same legal powers as Henry VIII.
During the past three centuries, though, the convention first emerged and then hardened, that all these powers should be exercised in practice by a Prime Minister who is leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. He may be called First Minister of the Crown. He may have to explain himself every week to the Monarch. Where things like Royal Weddings and Jubilees are concerned, he mostly keeps out of sight. But, as leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister draws his real legitimacy from the people. No Monarch has dismissed a Prime Minister, or tried to keep one in office, since the 1830s. No Monarch has rejected a parliamentary bill since 1708.
Because it is unwritten, and because its various conventions are in continual flux, the English Constitution can be rather opaque. It is, however, based on an implied contract between people and Monarch. This is that, in public, we regard whoever wears the Crown as the Lord’s Anointed. In return, the Monarch acts on the advice of a Prime Minister, who is accountable to us.
But, like any other agreement in a common law country, this implied contract is limited by considerations of reasonableness. It ceases to apply when politics become a cartel of tyrants and traitors. Once the politicians make themselves, as a class, irremovable, and once they begin to abolish the rights of the people, it is the duty of the Monarch to step in and rebalance the Constitution. It is then that she must resume her legal powers and exercise them of her own motion.
The need for this duty to be performed has been apparent since at least 1972, when we were lied into the European Union. The Conservatives did not fight the 1970 general election on any promise that they would take us in. When they did take us in, and when Labour kept us in, we were told that it was nothing more than a trade agreement. It turned out very soon to be a device for the politicians to exercise unaccountable power. The Queen should have acted then. Indeed, she should have acted – if not in the extreme sense, of standing forth as a royal dictator– before 1972. She should have resisted the Offensive Weapons Bill and the Firearms Bill, that effectively abolished our right to keep and bear arms for defence. She should have resisted the Bills that abolished most civil juries and that allowed majority verdicts in criminal trials. She should have resisted the numerous private agreements that made our country into an American satrapy. She should have insisted, every time she met her Prime Minister, on keeping the spirit of our old Constitution. There have been many times since 1972 when she should have acted.
At all times, she could have acted – all the way to sacking the Government and dissolving Parliament – without provoking riots in the street. So far as I can tell, she has acted only twice in my lifetime to force changes of policy. In 1979, she bullied Margaret Thatcher to go back on her election promise not to hand Rhodesia over to a bunch of black Marxists. In 1987, she bullied Margaret Thatcher again to give in to calls for sanctions against South Africa.
And that was it. She is somewhere on record as having said that she regards herself more as Head of the Commonwealth than as Queen of England. Certainly, she has never paid any regard to the rights of her English subjects.
The Queen has not sustained our national identity. It is actually worse than this. By expressing that identity, she has allowed many people to overlook the structures of absolute and unaccountable power that have grown up during her reign. She has fronted a revolution to dispossess us of our country and of our rights within it. How many of the people who turn out on Jubilee Day, with their union flags and street parties, will fully realise that the forms they are celebrating now contain an alien and utterly malign substance?
This does not, in itself, justify a republic. Doubtless, if a Government of National Recovery ever found itself opposed by the Monarch, it might be necessary to consider some change. Such a government would have only one chance to save the country, and nothing could be allowed to stand in its way. But this should only be an extreme last resort.
Symbolic functions aside, the practical advantage of having a monarchy is that the head of state is chosen by the accident of birth and not by some corrupted system of election; and that such a head of state is likely to take a longer term, more proprietorial, interest in the country than someone who has lied his way into an opportunity to make five lifetimes of income in four years. We got Elizabeth II by a most unhappy accident of birth. But we may be luckier next time. Sooner or later, the luck of the draw may give us a Patriot King.
As for Her Present Majesty, she may be remembered in the history books as Elizabeth the Useless. Even so, she is our Queen, and has been that for a very long time. I suppose this should count for something come Jubilee Day.