25 November 2009

The queen is dead, long live...this bloke

I really did try to avoid blogging about this, but alas, I can't anymore, I just really hate monarchism

And I really shouldn't be blogging about anything Peter Hitchens' blogs because I find him to be a bigot who just hides behind a veneer of respectability and politeness, I used to think he was a reasonable exponent of the hard-right who could actually articulate a decent argument, but alas, I was naive

To be blunt, it's the sheer arrogance of belief that the monarchy has authority that gets my goat

We can't abuse the supreme leader of the commonwealth or her husband because...she didn't ask for it?

While I can accept that there's little need to personally attack them, because it is the institution that's wrong, Hitchens is way off the mark by avoiding the real issue and sinking to the same personal level by saying we should leave the 'little old lady' alone, because effectively she has 'behaved herself'

No arguments here, in my view if it wasn't for her behaviour we would've got rid of it by now - but defending the position of monarch by saying she's a nice person is hardly a valid argument

He defends the Queen's extravagant lifestyle by saying she eats out of tupperware, while Air Force One costs however many millions

...your point? For one, I couldn't really care less how much a democracy pays for its elected officials to conduct state business, hardly a fair comparison is it?

Secondly, it's grossly misleading - I have no idea if the queen does eat out of plastic boxes, but I do know that she has breakfast cooked for her and actually brought up to her on a special tray (in the archive somewhere) - ironically, I pinched that story out of the very same paper Hitchens writes for, and considering his previous decision of conscience to quit the Express because the owner owned some porn outlets it's surprising he puts up with an employed that happily lampoons his cherished monarchy

The queen extravagant? Never!

She may not play it up like a footballer, but she is funded by millions of state funds every year, as well as having a vast personal fortune, while most state-dependent people get a few thousand a year and aren't supposed to have savings or income (and while we're quibbling - who has the more opulent palace? The White House is minuscule as a residence of a head of state)

So that's that one dealt with

"They pretend she is powerful, when the seat of absolute power in this country is Downing Street."

I don't think she's remotely powerful, in fact that's why there are barely any committed republicans (and I'm not) any more - why fight something so pointless? Setting up a false argument - check

"They seem to think that a republic is automatically more free than a monarchy. Tripe.
North Korea is a republic and East Germany and apartheid South Africa were republics. Yet of the seven longest-lasting law-governed free nations in the world, five are constitutional monarchies."

Very true - but neither is it true that a monarchy is automatically more free than a republic, only fair that you should balance that out with a few African kings, the failed constitutional monarchies of France and Germany etc.. Hardly seems fair to only mention North Korea and East Germany when republics are working pretty well in say...the US, Switzerland, France, unified Germany etc, and not give appropriate counter-arguments

And if anything North Korea is a monarchy more than a republic - it's now had two hereditary leaders who are unelected and worshipped like demi-gods, it may be communist and republican in name but I don't see much distinction between an absolute monarchy and a dictatorship, the only distinction a monarchy seems to have is that we deem it to be one

Where exactly is the sound logical argument in this? It seems to imply that all constitutional monarchies are perfect, and republics are for the most part going to result in communist dictatorships - tell that to the yanks, or the Swiss for that matter

The argument that other republics have failed so we can't do it is pathetic frankly, it's baseless, it doesn't even make sense! West Germany was a thriving democracy (still is), so is South Korea...it's a ridiculous comment, and of course why choose the seven oldest nations? Why not six, eight, or ten? Seems a rather odd number to pick, and I'm not even going to delve into the specifics of that one, if he wants to assert that a republic has a 2/7 chance of success then let him...

Here's my ridiculous correlations -

Of the UN security council, only one is a constitutional monarchy, two are republics, and the other two...well, they're not monarchies

Of the G8, four are republics, three are constitutional monarchies - woohoo!! Any more random number arguments?

And here's the kicker

Republicans are ignorant, stupid, thoughtless and malign - and it is time they were subjected to the mockery they mete out to the blameless couple in Buckingham Palace.

Yes, some nice infantile abuse, which 'Mr' Hitchens so denigrates week-in week-out

Let's not forget he titled this to 'Mr. Clever Dick' referring to Ben Elton, now if I'm not allowed to use 'paranoid' unless I have a psychology degree then he can't use 'clever' unless he's some sort of intelligence monitor, or 'dick' unless he's a practitioner of medicine who could properly identify such an appendage, or indeed if Mr. Elton's name involves a 'Richard' somewhere

I do find that comments such as those really take the edge off the anger he causes - maybe it's deliberately done so that we can just dismiss him as a nut and won't properly scrutinise him (and in truth it's more the ridiculous comments beneath it that pushed me into a monarchy blog)

Here is the follow-up comment (selected parts)

But the main point is that the monarch is like the King on a chessboard, his or her main power exercised by occupying a square that politicians would otherwise occupy, and in a damaging way.

Not a bad argument, the one I am most used to however, and one that has been dealt with in a much fairer way than in Britain

For starters - he's already admitted the monarch has no power, and that she shouldn't intervene even in the few cases where she has - in a realistic sense, she cannot do anything in modern Britain - if she won't do anything about Brown or the EU then she's already a lame duck who just reads out a speech, there is no power to exercise

So if we need this figure solely to prevent say, a certain Blair getting it, why do we need to have a hereditary figure, who as it is pointed out, is forced into it for a life of imprisonment? There are much fairer ways of doing it - randomly select someone who wants to do it, they are after all, only a figurehead who occupies the square

I hear the next argument coming - what about authority? 

Then there is the need for a personal figure to whom the armed forces, the Church, the civil service and the judiciary should be able to owe non-partisan loyalty. Where the head of government and the head of state are combined, his servants (see especially the Nixon episode) are in effect above the law in actions they take on his orders, and have no alternative loyalty to which they can appeal.

Well, I ask - why is there authority already? Why does a person, or a family even, who have no discernible talents, intelligence or right to be there, save from a deal done nearly four hundred years ago with a German, have any authority over us? We do not accept hereditary privilege anywhere in our daily lives, why is it so important here? The Queen does have an air of respect about her, but that's based on her long-service, for me at least - will people really swear an oath to Charles, or William, who we all can see have no different authority to any of us? When Elizabeth was crowned people actually respected that stuff - now, these people are a silly joke to most of us, either that or people really are that stupid (sorry, he started it) - I mean does Hitchens actually think future-king William, over thirty years his junior, has authority over him? It's easy using the queen herself as a defence, it gets a bit trickier when you look ahead, knowing the people behind the crown

My point rather, is that if the armed forces, civil service and judiciary need a non-partisan personal figure to owe loyalty to what makes Charles any different to any other 60-year-old? What he is effectively saying is that people need the royal family for legitimacy, that they are special and no-one else could do it - people wouldn't respect a randomly selected person

but of course would respect a randomly selected womb...

It's probably the most important point here - if it's actually true then there's a case, but personally I'd like to take the risk - there's a hundred different republics full of people to observe, and quite frankly if we do need this strange ritual of legitimacy then people are quite stupid, and most stupid people I know do not care for the royals - would the army collapse if soldiers couldn't respect the constitution unless it was based on hereditary privilege? It says quite a lot about a person if they need to have a hereditary monarch to respect their own law, but if that is the case then I am willing to go back to Bagehot's view that we do in fact need them - but like I say, based on the evidence I'm up for the risk

The Americans handle it quite well - Hitchens does point out Nixon and partisanship, but again there's no reason to have a figure with any power, or even elect them - and you might as well pick on George IV being obstinate if you're going to pick on one very rare case where the commander-in-chief compromised loyalty - what the argument effectively boils down to is ensuring that the head of state is a complete dud

Why not just make a document like the Bill of Rights? It's probably what kept the yanks in line, as it's principles are more revered than any president - like I said, it's about respect for the constitution of your country - seriously, just stick a document that says 'free speech' and what-not outside parliament, get everyone to swear an oath to uphold it, job done, keep Parliamentary sovereignty and the Prime Minister (and I'm not going to go into this here - but considering the PM has more real power than an American president and conducts all foreign business as well, does the oath really make a difference?)

Most Republican arguments are puerile and ignorant recitations of false points - cost, luxury, authority. Those who object to inheritance as a way of choosing an essentially powerless person (who would be hugely powerful if elected) should be asked if they object to inheritance in all cases (such as property from their parents).

Ooh, pulling out the reasoned argument here - puerile? Perhaps he does not see a difference between wealth and political power - it is true that who you are born to certainly affects your position in life...but is that really a defence of the cosseted position of the royals and the lords? It's lying down and taking a massive slap of inequality in the face (that's a wishy-washy liberal term, like you know, gay rights)

Basically, say a boy is born fit and strong (hereditary advantage), so he will be football captain at school versus the same boy being born to be football captain regardless of ability - same result, eh? So what's the difference? It is of course an ethical question, certainly not governed by pure logic (and how can a man of such faith ask for pure utilitarian logic anyway?) but I wonder what most people think of such a situation, personally I'd take out the blatant unfairness for a bit more subtle social unfairness

And again - false arguments, why does an elected position have to be powerful? Check out Germany, I'm sure he's been there, and who said it has to be an elected position?

I might add that any serious constitution is restrained by tradition and hierarchy from wild demagogic and short-term acts, and needs an embodiment of the rule of law and the national religion. Elected politicians cannot provide this.
Bit spurious - especially religion, considering Britain is fairly unique in its 'national religion' - not even the commonwealth (or Wales!) has an established church, and as for tradition - Scandinavian countries have removed religions and reduced monarchs (Sweden) without much problem, France remains a stable country despite regular constitutional upheaval, Australia's constitution is barely a century old - that was a fairly 'demagogic' constitutional change, and yet there they are

Are we seriously saying that removing one part of the constitution would doom us and completely negate our long standing rule-of-law? The Germans seemed to take quite well to the new arrangement after the war, they failed first time round obviously - but are we really going to compare Britain with the end of imperial Germany? Are we saying that the US doesn't count because it produced a modified version of our own constitution so long ago - you know, you''ll never change anything if you think everything old works and can't be changed, we have been slowly reforming this country for three centuries - why should we stop now?

A few years ago, we were being told by republicans that the Speaker could take over the role of head of state. Does anyone argue this now?
A good deal of the discussion is about not being diverted by conventional wisdom - as over the Houseof Lords which - precisely because it is not elected - is much the more independent and questioning of the two chambers of Parliament.  

 Another false argument at the top there

The Lords, as I have said, is the better chamber, far better than the sycophants and weasels that inhabit the Commons, but...go ahead and look at the 'best' lords, the ones who actually do things like block bills, then look up a few hereditary peers - see who actually attends, because there are 700 lords and yet most votes come down to around a total of 300... more often than not it's the appointed life peers that are doing the best work, and remember the remaining 'hereditaries' were elected to remain there in the first place, so they've already been whittled down

That is not an argument for hereditary peers, it's an argument for an unelected upper chamber, somewhat different

"My point about North Korea and East Germany (or Iran and China) is that a Republican constitution is not an automatic guarantor of liberty in itself, and should not be offered as such. It is an invitation to knee-jerk fashionable republicans to go back to first principles and think about what they are saying.
Few of them have. Those that have are generally radical and atheistical socialists who grasp that a constitutional monarchy is a major obstacle to their aims."

Already dealt with that, why exactly should I have to 'think about what I'm saying' because of a couple of bad examples, when he refuses to do the same? It's diversion

Then of course, the finale - I'm a radical socialist! With the exception of one recent post which was in jest, do I sound like a bloody socialist? What a lovely smear 

So remember, when Peter Hitchens calls you rude for calling him a raving mad, right-wing tosspot - ignore him, because he'll just call you names too (and he'll probably have started it...)

phew how long was that?? To anyone who read this - my apologies  

....Next I'm off to argue with Martin off B-BBC, but the important thing is I enjoyed it


  1. Bloody hell, Tarquin, you certainly got that one off your chest, mate!

    I find myself disagreeing with Peter Hitchens more and more with each week that passes - I'm sure he's getting worse - his column no longer resembles what it was when I first started reading it years ago.

  2. Excellent post Tarquin.

    I was a fan of the Monarchy a few years back, preferring a neutral monarch to a politically aligned head of state, but I no longer retain those feelings. (Though the President Blair, President Thatcher argument has merit against an American or French style President). Having thought about it for some time, my conclusion is that the only reason Britain has not in the past few decades done away with the Monarchy, and will not in the near future is because our Monarch acts as head of State for so many other countries.

    I think at some point, we could remove the final trappings of real (and unused) power and retain a ceremonial Monarch - but it could be exceptionally tricky for some of those other countries; Places such as Australia should be fine, but I will have to plead ignorance as to what the political effects to countries such as Papua New Guinea, Grenada, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu would be. My other concern is that this could somehow be twisted by the EU.

    I have so many notes about what I want to do with the Lords, but it is more of a book than a blog post - and I keep stalling on it.

    There is a constitutional storm brewing in the UK, and until it is addressed head on, there is going to always be much uncertainty. I think some of the uncertainty is by design, but I for one still think things need to be addressed. For example, I think it is about time for open debate and a referendum throughout the UK on whether we should remain as the UK or break up (or partial break up, and partial union…etc), and of course there is the matter of our membership of the EU empire, which is so at odds with the majority of the people in the UK. SO many questions, so little chance for the peoples voices to be heard.