A right royal time of transition
Some would say the accession of the new King has gone without a hitch
At the end of a seventy-year reign, few people have anything but praise for the late Queen. It wasn’t always so. But now is not the time to remember the occasional lapses in concentration that brought criticism. Overall, she played a blinder.
Attention turns to her successor. It already has, of course, starting with the Accession Council, a ceremony that took place on the Saturday morning, two days after the Queen’s death. Those who are monarchists and traditionalists saw, I hope, a fine ceremony reflecting the way things were done – and had to be done – in days before there was mass electronic communication and an undisputed line of succession.
Those who are neither monarchist nor traditionalist saw, I fear, something rather different. They saw our democratically-elected ministers suspend all discussion of a cost-of-living crisis (“heating or eating”, it hasn’t gone away) in order to kowtow to someone whose first royal act was seemingly to flap his hands at flunkies because his pen and pencil set wasn’t in the right place on the table. I don’t know who was the first to call the new king “His Nibs”, but it looks like the nickname may stick around.
Those who accept such ritual as the natural order of things will also accept that many royal activities, not least those to do with the Privy Council, had always been conducted in private. But, for those who see flummery not ceremony, the TV images were something of a gift. It was the first piece of evidence to be placed into a file that they probably expect to grow quite rapidly for use when the time is right.
The death of a parent is an emotional time. It may not be the weight of the world that is on King Charles’ shoulders, but the crown on his head will undoubtedly be heavy. Tempers may easily fray. My point is not to criticise the new monarch for his behaviour. But I do question the wisdom of broadcasting to the world such an arcane ceremony at a time when the whole principle of an inherited monarchy is bound to come under intense scrutiny. I know the scrutiny wasn’t especially visible last week. And certainly not yesterday (I write this on the day after the Queen’s funeral), but soon I suspect it will be. Very soon.
Did the accession ceremony need to take place? If it did, did it need to take place on our screens? To those who think the answer to both questions has to be “yes”, I ask whether the ceremony might not, at the very least, have been updated. We have been told repeatedly that the Queen’s funeral has been planned and re-planned for years, if not decades. How much thought was given to the Accession Council?
The monarch plays a key part in our “unwritten”constitution. But the constitution has been facing considerable challenge in recent years because of the two B-words: Brexit and Boris. First, there was a question over who had the right to fire the starting gun on the UK’s exit from the European Union: was it the Government or Parliament? Then there was a question over Boris’s attempt to prorogue Parliament at a time and in a manner which was, to say the least, unusual.
Both questions were resolved by the Supreme Court. And in a manner which left the decision looking self-evident. And yet, prior to the court’s judgment in each case, the outcome had been seen as far from predictable. These cases have already created a call in certain circles for a re-think of the constitution.
It is inevitable that a re-writing of the constitution would lead to a re-thinking of the role of the monarch. It may even lead to re-thinking the need for a monarch.
The country “came together”, as we now say, over its mourning of Queen Elizabeth II. Hundreds of thousands queued for hours to walk past her coffin. Much of the normal TV was suspended (or relegated to BBC 2) so that millions could watch live feeds of both the queue and the coffin.
The usual political debate was suspended entirely. But only for 12 days. Politics is back. And series 5 of The Crown will be coming to Netflix very soon. Those who think the accession of the new King couldn’t be going more smoothly may be called upon to think again.
This analysis reached you free of charge. If you enjoyed it, please consider clicking on the share button (above) so that others will see it. You can also subscribe (below), free of charge, to receive my future Irregular Thoughts.
The constitution is not, in fact, unwritten. It’s just not codified into a single document.
Simon, I have no strong views about how we find a head of state but do I believe there is the need for a conversation about the power of the Government and, as has been much discussed, the ability of our system to deliver adequate checks and balances.
On the monarchy, my responses and reflections to recent events were:
1. To ignore much of the UK media coverage after the initial announcement and turn on again for the funeral.
2. To be reminded that the institution of the monarchy and the position of the monarch is never as secure as we have come to believe during a 70 year reign.
3. To be reminded of the human need for ritual. As most people don't have a religious life anymore, there is a pent up desire to participate in a ceremony. Even the language people used was reminiscent of the responses in a religious service.
4. That, for many people, the interesting stuff was all about the royals as soap opera/entertainment. Not quite as respectful as the dull media coverage suggested.
5. That the coverage was insular. Reactions in places outside Britain included bemusement and a reminder of what it meant to be colonised.
Thanks for another thought provoking post.
This is becoming a bit of a habit – me replying to your posts 😊
I was somewhat censured by my fellow members of a slightly nerdy but quite serious wargaming club for suggesting that King Charles 3 may not be as ideal a constitutional monarch as his mother ( for whom I have had a great deal of respect).
The main issue is the temptation to comment and essentially lobby for particular political outcomes which was so much a feature of the Prince of Wales career to date. I am told that on his 70th birthday the then Prince of Wales said that he would desist from such engagement. However it is rare for a 76-year-old man to truly change such a well ingrained habit. Having said that ,I wish King Charles 3 all good intentions – indeed I drank his health ( in rather fine aged malt whisky) at a recent meeting on the above-mentioned club.
So far as the issue of whether a monarchy can ever be truly fit for purpose in a C21 democracy – it is a complicated question. I am a bit of a closet republican (albeit being right of centre politically) born of a total belief in social mobility through meritocracy . I must say I have started to come out of the closet over past ten days when it was almost impossible to find a TV channel that was not asking the umpteenth person what the queen meant to them! However my overriding instinct on the matter is not to be moved to action unless there are serious breaches of the constitutional monarchy code (whatever that is!). The actual pageantry was splendid and for a short while we were almost all in it together – were we not?
What I do celebrate about a constructional monarchy is that it has avoided, if only narrowly, “President Boris”, “President Blair” etc. On the other hand, I do believe that it does prop up the (remains?) of a class system which is inappropriate in a modern context and there surely can be no rational defence of “primo genitor” for selecting a head of state in a country where beliefs are now rather more secular than scared - and certainly not the Church of England consensus of the past.
On balance I would like to misquote the greatest Englishman who ever lived (or racist genocidal maniac – depending on one’s point of view) – Constitutional Monarchy may seem flawed but it may be better than the alternatives.
God Save the King! (From himself ?)