In last year’s “democracy rankings” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, four of the top five spots went to countries where the head of state wears a crown. Nobody with a modern democratic outlook would dream of putting a monarchy atop a democracy. In practice they seem to work rather well. The reasoning, perhaps, being that somebody has to possess the final power of decision and thus stamp a democratic regime with their own views. Why not an apolitical sovereign, born to power irrespective of ability and whose opinions are hidden? Only a constitutional monarch, the logic runs, could permit unimpeded public administration.
This is one of the arguments in a lively, republican-leaning essay by Tom Clark in this month’s Prospect magazine. He argues persuasively for shrinking the crown to a continental-sized monarchy. Mr Clark, formerly one of this column’s writers and editors, says that it would be unwise to assume the institution “can – or should – just carry on as it has been after Elizabeth II”. He says that the crown could be sunk by a more divisive monarch. Royalty depends on popularity. YouGov polling in 2020 put Elizabeth II’s approval rating at 69%, way above her son and heir Prince Charles, at just 40%. Only 7% approve of Prince Andrew, who unwisely went on TV and defended his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.
The Queen has been of the view that to remain a symbol of national unity, she must keep her own counsel. She exercises soft power out of view, where it is unthreatened by public scrutiny. The curtain has slowly been pulled back. The Guardian’s investigation earlier this year found four instances between 1968 and 1982 where the palace had lobbied to get the law altered, notably intervening to prevent public disclosure of her private wealth. More recent dealings are shrouded in mystery. Voters do not know whether the Queen raised any concerns about Boris Johnson’s unlawful prorogation of parliament in 2019. It was reported that the monarch sought legal advice on her power to dismiss Mr Johnson during the crisis. A lack of serious checks on government is bad for democracy.
Hereditary succession is not the answer for those seeking to hold the executive accountable. A decade ago ministers brought the shutters down on a brief glimpse into Prince Charles’s lobbying of Tony Blair’s government. Tory ministers decided that what the Guardian had revealed exceeded the publicly accepted view of the prince’s role. It is no secret that he has strong views, and these may at times have been a welcome spur to public debate. But to use his position to seek to change ministerial opinion is clearly a breach of his constitutional obligations.
There is great pressure within government “not to embarrass the Queen” by requiring her to act against her will or forcing her into a spot where she must reject advice or otherwise exercise her reserve powers. Whether her successor, King Charles III, will be afforded the same level of confidentiality, and granted the same level of ministerial protection, remains to be seen.
Source: Thanks msn.com