PETER HITCHENS: Axe the Monarchy? Yes, if you want us to be like North Korea... or the USA 

4 weeks ago 4

We’ll be sorry when the Monarchy is gone, which it will pretty soon be if we all go on behaving like this. If you want a Monarchy, you need grown-ups, not just to sit on the throne, but to support it.

Sentimental slop won’t keep it going, and nor will cheap temporary popularity or glamour. It doesn’t matter to me if the King or Queen are ugly or unfashionable. 

Personally, I have no wish to know my sovereign’s private thoughts or tastes. What would save it would be the realisation that what will come after it will be worse.

We’ll be sorry when the Monarchy is gone, which it will pretty soon be if we all go on behaving like this

For the republicans are waiting, filled with glee and hunger, for that moment. They know that the present Queen is beyond their reach. They cannot pull her down and they will not try.

But afterwards they will do all they can to destroy the Crown.

More than three centuries ago, this nation had an amazing stroke of luck. It invented constitutional monarchy. 

Based on that marvellous and forgotten charter of liberty, the 1689 Bill of Rights, we created a new type of state that was the wonder and envy of Europe.

We had a monarch who was the object of loyalty and pride, but who could not be an autocrat because the law and Parliament together prevented it. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had sent our last despot, James II, scurrying off to France.

But what nobody then realised was the other side of the bargain. Politicians, who grew in power as the King grew weaker, were also limited. They could not install themselves in grand robes or glittering uniforms, or be inaugurated amid military parades and the roar of artillery salutes. 

They could not review or directly command the troops. They did not have the power of pardon. 

Nobody was required to be loyal to them personally. In fact, civil servants, police and the military, who serve the law and the Crown rather than the government of the day, were actually required to refuse an unlawful order from them. All the glorious, shiny baubles of state were reserved to a powerless King or Queen.

More than three centuries ago, this nation had an amazing stroke of luck. It invented constitutional monarchy. Based on that marvellous and forgotten charter of liberty, the 1689 Bill of Rights, we created a new type of state that was the wonder and envy of Europe

Well, not quite powerless. Like the King on the chessboard, a Monarch has one great negative power. Nobody else can occupy his space. It was quite plain during the Blair government, stuffed with undercover republicans who claimed to be ‘the political arm of the British people as a whole’, that Blair himself would have liked to muscle in on the glamour of Monarchy. 

What on earth was he doing, reading the lesson at Princess Diana’s funeral? What was the point of his drivel about ‘the People’s Princess’? Why did he pose so often with soldiers? Why was he given standing ovations lasting minutes for his ghastly, saccharine speeches? Guess.

Some Tory premiers have not been immune to this either. It is a disease of all politicians.

To me, the single most striking thing about the Meghan Markle opera last week was when the White House press spokeswoman intervened in it, saying: ‘For anyone to come forward and speak about their own struggles with mental health and tell their own personal story, that takes courage and that’s certainly something the President believes.’

Well now, look, let’s not be unkind here, but President Biden has had his own problems with one of his sons. I don’t recall Buckingham Palace issuing any kind of statement about that, and quite right too. It wouldn’t be grown-up to do so.

But one of the things that is wrong with the US is that it has an overmighty President, who has to buy and keep his office by making promises to billionaire donors and pandering to fashions in thought and opinion.

He mixes power and grandeur, and he demands a respect we aren’t required to give our premiers. 

During the mad Iraq war, criticism of President George W. Bush was less savage in the USA than criticism of the Blair creature here. This is because the President is the commander in chief, head of state, the personal figurehead of the nation.

To me, the single most striking thing about the Meghan Markle opera last week was when the White House press spokeswoman (above) intervened in it, saying: ‘For anyone to come forward and speak about their own struggles with mental health and tell their own personal story, that takes courage and that’s certainly something the President believes'

Those who now moan about the rather small cost of our Monarchy never seem to notice the vast price of Air Force One, the ludicrous presidential jet – a planned replacement is expected to cost more than £2.5 billion. 

Is the tacky celebrity culture in the USA, even worse and more idiotic than ours, perhaps something to do with the absence of the sobriety and restraint which Monarchy provides? 

Canada’s very different society seems to suggest that the two are connected. We may complain about some members of the Royal Family, but do they even begin to compare with shameful, embarrassing figures such as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton who – remember – actually possessed solid and enormous political power? And let us not even start on the French presidency.

In general, if republics are so good, why are so many of them, from North Korea and China to Apartheid South Africa (whose racialist rulers could not wait to kick out the Queen in a whites-only referendum in 1960) dismal places of tyranny and torture? Why are most of the longest-surviving free nations in the world constitutional monarchies?

It is so much easier to join in the teenage yelling about our Monarchy’s alleged privileges and luxuries, about its supposed snobbery and bigotry, and its stuffiness and slowness to adapt to the times, than it is to say, as I do, that we should learn to respect and hang on to our good fortune.

Why spit on your luck?

The enemies within 

The accelerating takeover of our Government by Utopians in pursuit of a New Jerusalem has rotted the whole structure of the state. 

As I reveal on Page 41 of today’s Mail on Sunday, the Foreign Office, once a stately, thoughtful and reserved department, has now adopted crude propaganda techniques and finds itself insulting Admiral Lord West, a man who has captained a warship under enemy bombardment (he was the last to leave her) and has done the nation much service. 

I tried to warn them, but they would do it. Lord West has faced worse things, but usually from the other side. 

Terror’s scary enough without the monsters

Perhaps I spent too much of my childhood hiding from chores, or from activities that I had been assured would be ‘fun’ (a word I came to dread, especially at boarding school).

I loved finding a secret corner where I could forget the cares of the day, lost in the pages of Arthur Mee’s obsolete Children’s Encyclopaedias. These described a thrilling world of courage and adventure, now largely abolished by modernity.

I was enthralled by the mysterious tragedy of Sir John Franklin’s 1840s expedition in search of the North-West Passage, in the two grimly named ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

After 60 years, I have now found the intensely moving account: ‘For the rest there were tales told by Eskimos of gaunt men dragging boats from foundered ships, wearily, like grey ghosts across the starving land… the men dropped dead as they walked.’

So I could not resist the new BBC series, The Terror, which tries to imagine the still mysterious disaster.

It is in some ways very good – the frightening beauty of the ships trapped and lost amid the ice is wonderfully done. But the tragedy would surely be exciting enough without a supernatural monster and large dollops (literally) of blood and guts.

And yet again, despite tremendous efforts to get clothes and hair right, the dialogue is full of modern expressions, and why doesn’t anyone know that in the Navy of those times you were never ‘on’ a ship, always ‘in’ her? It could be so much better.

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