Richard North, 2 June 2012
One of my favourite aphorisms is: there is only one worse than a government – and that is having no government. We thus tolerate government not as a benign force but as a necessary evil.
Queen Elizabeth II is part of that government, nominally occupying the position of head of state. To conform with my dictum, we tolerate a head of state on the basis that the role is deemed essential to the functioning of the government.
In so doing, we are capable of separating the person from the position. Whatever one might think or feel about the persona of Elizabeth Windsor, the official role is one that matters.
And there, as Sean Gabb points out, the role has been reduced to one of a rubber stamp. Furthermore, he has it that if, during the six decades of her reign, England has been transformed from a great and powerful nation and the classic home of civil liberty into a sinister laughing stock, the ultimate responsibility for all that has gone wrong lies with Elizabeth II.
This makes a start contrast with the sycophancy of the ruling élites, represented by the gushing eulogy of Charles Moore. Of the two, I favour the Gabb version, for its stark realism and a better understanding of history.
In fact, though, I prefer neither. For all the pomp and circumstance, the baubles and bangles, and the ridiculous habit of the upper classes in weighing themselves down with honours to an extent that would put Idi Amin to shame, the Queen wields very little direct power.
Not least, in principle at least, the woman that was once the Sovereign is no long. As Betty Windsor, she – like the rest of us – is a “European Citizen”. There may have been such a thing a Crown Immunity when it came to the application of British Law, but our Betty is subject to EU law just like the rest of us.
Here, I find it hard not to attribute some blame to the Queen. It is she, after all, who gives Royal Assent and turns the will of Parliament into law. And that legitimacy, in theory, comes from the people. She assents because she believes that Parliament represents the people.
In the European Communities Act 1972, however, Heath’s government did not represent us, yet Queen Elizabeth II assented to this law and set in train the journey which would turn her from our Sovereign Queen to Mrs Betty Windsor.
With that, the power from the position of Head of State drained away – and with it went our power as the British people. It did so because, increasingly, the United Kingdom ceased to be a state – merely a satrapy of the Socialist Republic of Europe, otherwise known as the European Union.
And, if the EU is not yet a state in its own right, it is nevertheless, in its complex entirety, our supreme government. Our élites may still delude themselves that we have a supreme court, but the actual supreme court lies in Luxembourg. They may delude themselves that the Queen is sovereign, but the sovereign power now lies in Brussels.
That leaves Betty Windsor, effectively, as head of the British establishment rather than head of the nation, CEO of Brand England PLC, a hugely rich, pampered old woman, and a useless mouth. If she and the monarchy disappeared tomorrow, it would not make the slightest difference to our constitutional status.
For what she is as a person, one thus has to emphasise, one can have separate thoughts and feelings. But Betty Windsor deserves no respect as Head of State. She vacated the position and the powers went variously to Brussels, the executive and a bunch of quangos.
Despite the temptation, I am not prepared to say she was at fault. But, lacking now a significant constitutional role, the monarchy she represents is a hollow shell, propped up by habit glorified as tradition. For that tradition, empty of meaning that it is, I care little.
And, of all the comments on Sean Gabb’s piece, the one I enjoyed most was this, as it cuts through so much if the cant and misty-eyed wishful thinking.
The essence, writes Ian B of the superb Counting Cats, is that there is no “implied contract between the people and the Monarch”. There is just power, and at the moment that resides within the current institutional system represented by Parliament. That’s all there is.
And to me, looking at the shoddy crew that lies within the precincts, that is nothing at all to celebrate.