As you know by now, Prince Andrew is accused by a woman known as Jane Doe 3 of being ‘forced’ to have sex with him when she was a teenager. He was named in court documents in the US and the tabloids have been full of further salacious claims. Buckingham palace forcefully denies these allegations. The story will not end there, but for now that is all we can say on this particular scandal. It should, however, raise questions about our monarchy, its role and position, the devious, secret way it operates.
The Magna Carta was signed eight hundred years ago. In June 1215, rebellious Barons got King John of England to sign a charter that guaranteed them status and entitlements and protected the Church from royal interference. The document did not give every subject fundamental equality and rights. It was a charter by and for the upper classes. Still, there will be events marking this much mythologized moment throughout 2015. Ok, so, let join in with this latest national commemoration, part truth, part fantasy. It may encourage us all to contemplate and renew our faith in liberty, freedoms, fundamental human rights and democracy, which came much later.
But how can we renew our faith when the family at the top of the social structure undermines every one of the ideals and principles that our nation proclaims at home and abroad? The incantations sound hollow and meaningless. Lets us go back to Prince Andrew, the prodigal son. The Palace has never denied that he has, for years, been cavorting with insalubrious billionaires and vicious autocrats. Human rights? Why should an ageing, playboy Prince care about those? Prince Charles is matey with Arab despots too. The next time you feel the urge to denounce Robert Mugabe, remember these Royal appeasers. Yes Blair, Clinton and Bush also had these unsavoury friendships. But they lost power, eventually. Our Royals can carry on sleazing indefinitely.
Freedom of speech and expression is held up as a shining British value. But the Queen and her brood can and do stop the media and authors from pursuing legitimate investigations, from asking tough questions. They come down so heavy, seasoned journalists shake with terror and give up. The BBC has been stopped from broadcasting two programmes fronted by Steve Hewlett, a seasoned and much respected multi-media man. If we, the people, had been allowed to watch the programmes, we might have seen how the palace used scheming spin doctors to erase Diana from national memory and to replace her with Camilla and how Charles goes way beyond his constitutional role and so on. I don’t blame the BBC. Lawyers employed by the royals are like Alsatians, fiercely protective and very sharp. Imagine what the reaction would be if, say, Tony Blair stopped the BBC from broadcasting a critical programme on his activities. Britons would be outraged. But with the Royal family, there is only quiet acquiescence. We are subjects after all, the great brainwashed.
The Queen, Duke, her children, and grandchildren are not covered by the freedom of Information Act. We may not know how much money they have and earn, certainly not how much they pay in tax. Those barons who got the Magna Carta signed knew more about royal finances than we are allowed to know today, this age of glorious transparency. Once in a while, we get to hear of private jets and costly jaunts, but the conversation is quickly shut down by a largely loyalist fourth estate. What about power? As Owen Jones writes in his book, The Establishment, ‘ In practice…members of the Royal family have a powerful platform from which to intervene in democratic decisions. Prince Charles, the designated successor to the throne has met with ministers at least three dozen times since the election…’His correspondence with ministers is still kept from the public eye. Transparency is for only for plebs and politicians, it seems. The royals sit among the clouds, at the summit of the secret state and look down on us.
If we accept this accept this settlement we cannot be a proper democracy. When some – whether wicked, stupid, or even wonderful- inherit limitless privileges and untold wealth, and are handed the highest positions in society, we, the rest, are lesser beings. Humans in Britain are not born equal, cannot be equal. ( Incidentally, the Queen has not yet visited a food bank or breakfast club for hungry kids. Too grubby that sort of thing.) We will not have a credible meritocracy until this unholy edifice is dismantled. I know monarchists will say privileged families are found in strong republics too and that this system gives us stability and unity. All bosh. Wealth is indeed passed on by the rich everywhere, but they are not subsided by their nations, and they are not revered as immortal beings.
Britons don’t believe in God much anymore. They hate politicians too. Instead most of them worship the Royal family. William married Kate, had a baby, became the stuff of fairy stories and celestial dreams. But the nation cannot stay in this reverie forever. Reality will call. I hope I live to see that day.
The Independent, 5/1/2015