Monday, 6 February 2012

The Jubilee: 60 years of anachronism

Today we are all supposed to be feeling suitably patriotic - it is after all a mere 60 years since the unelected Head of State took over, and we, her supposedly loyal subjects, are meant to be preparing with bated breath for displays of fealty and cringing subservience.  The narrative could have come straight from "Lord" Fellowes and his purveyance of forelock-tugging propaganda - and I begin to understand precisely what Simon Schama was getting at in his amusing and understated attack on "Downton Abbey" and its class-ridden paraphernalia.

The breathtaking hijack of "we're all in this together" and "public service" as part of the mythologising would be amusing if it wasn't for the fact that the monarchy has acquired considerable wealth off the back of landed property, investments and expropriation.  Just like the rest of the aristocracy, in fact, but until recently they not merely accepted public largesse but also evaded tax.  Drones - so the first thing that needs to be done is to determine whether or not they are independently wealthy and therefore need no subvention, or whether this wealth could be better allocated to improving the national lot, and whatever monarchy might remain should become salaried, subject to the same financial constraints as other public servants.

Paradoxically, the focus on the monarchy may advance the cause of republicanism.  Whenever the issue is raised some yahoo jumps up and says "would you really want President Blair?", assuming that the only model is the USA or France where the President has executive powers.  I can't for the life of me remember the name of the German President, but they play second-fiddle (in a British-designed constitution) to the Federal Chancellor.  Much as with monarchy, there's no single solution to republicanism.

What there is, however, is a question as to whether the current constitutional mish-mash serves any interests other than the political classes'.  We remain subjects of the Crown (and public servants don't really enjoy employment rights except by analogy), and property and civil rights are not inalienable but extended to us as a privilege; the potential for abuse by unscrupulous extremists should be obvious even to the most hard-of-thinking.  The Crown is maintained as a fiction for entering into illegal wars or pursuing political agendas through the legal system, while in the last resort it can be used to close down debate because what we have are not inalienable human rights but a range of options that can be withdrawn at will.

The breaking-up of the United Kingdom is no bad thing - there's no reason why this shouldn't then precipitate a discussion on what the best long-term constitutional settlement might be.  A priority for the Jubilee year must be to expose parasitism, cant and hypocrisy, and to engage in a rational debate on what is needed for a head of state capable of supporting a modern democracy, run by consent and based around civic rights and engagement.  Not much to ask.

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