No Compassion

I’ve just spent a part of the morning at home reading the first hundred pages or so of Caroline Elkins’ new book, Britain’s Gulag, which describes, among other things, the “screening” of Mau Mau suspects in Kenya during the Emergency in the 1950s, which involved, among other things, the stubbing out of cigarettes on Kenyans’ bodies, savage beatings, hot eggs being inserted in rectums and vaginas, and suspects being forced to eat their own testicles after mutilation with pliers.

Earlier this week we could read in the newspapers about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of British troops, not of the same level of savagery, to be sure, but intolerable nevertheless.

And now I turn up at my office and read on the BBC website that the Heir to the Throne — in whose mother’s name these degradations were carried out in both Kenya and Iraq — has been whining again:

Prince Charles claimed the British people “tortured” him over his relationship with Mrs Parker Bowles in a 1998 interview, it has been revealed.”I thought the British people were supposed to be compassionate. I don’t see much of it,” he is said to have told BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt.

Yup. No compassion at all. Certainly none from me.

Away With Them!

Jamie weighs in. The best bit…

This in turn refers back to the issue of popularity. Prince Harry may turn out not to be popular with the punters in their role as citizens, but he certainly popular with them in their role as telly watchers and tabloid buyers. His older brother isn’t quite the same buffoon, but there’ll be a girlfriend sooner or later, and she’ll talk. And there’s the ongoing saga of their dad, the green-ink prince, their pheasant strangling grandmother and her hilariously obnoxious husband.So as far as the establishment which actually runs the royals is concerned, they don’t need a credible monarchy. They need an incredible monarchy, a have-you-heard-what-these fuckwits-have-done-now monarchy. Disrespect may eventually undermine them, but for now it keeps them going. It’s their reason to exist.

But the whole thing’s good.

An Act declaring England to be a Commonwealth

Chris, in the comments below, points me towards the text of a splendid act of Parliament, which was passed in 1649, and which would give us a much more sensible constitutional framework than the rubbish nonsense we have at present:

Be it declared and enacted by this present Parliament and by the Authoritie of the same That the People of England and of all the Dominions and Territoryes thereunto belonging are and shall be and are hereby constituted, made, established, and confirmed to be a Commonwealth and free State And shall from henceforth be Governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreame Authoritie of this Nation, the Representatives of the People in Parliam[ent] and by such as they shall appoint and constitute as Officers and Ministers under them for the good of the People and that without any King or House of Lords.

We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

Not Bored of Discussing the Demise of the Royal Family Yet

I know I need to write a reply to the chap who blogs over at God Save The Queen who has objected to my post below about the aristos. He makes some bad points, as well as a few good points, and I’ll hope to find the time in the not-too-distant future to respond properly.

And I was puzzled by Dave Gwydion’s mention of “frogging” in a recent comments box, and am now illuminated by his own blog: “For a long time in Europe”, he writes, “aristocrats not only had special rights–which is, I suppose, the definition of an aristocrat–but that they had the right to humiliate commoners, including, for instance, the right to require the local commoners to get on their hands and knees and chase frogs off the aristocrat’s property.” Dave, like myself is an academic, and so cannot resist a healthy dose of bibliography, and he concludes, “For a good account of “frogging,” as it was known, see Marcel Garaud, Histoire general du droit priv� fran�ais: La r�volution et la propriet� fonciere [Paris, Receuil Sirey, 1958], pp. 102-9.” I’ll put that on the list for the next time I head into the Bodleian, though since term has started, that may be a while.

But the main point of this post was to respond to Adam H’s thoughts in a recent comments thread: “I’ve been wondering recently who might be head of state instead – some horrible Blairite, a winner of pop-idol,…? Perhaps the Republican movement should actually suggest and support someone non-moronic now so that you aren’t still left with unpowdered wigs (or something) when the Republic is declared?” The who-would-you-have-instead question was bound to arise, so let me have a crack at it now. First, anybody is preferable to the current lot. Or, rather, anybody we could reasonably imagine getting through a democratic selection procedure of any kind at all would be preferable. Second, and relatedly, I’m not sure republicans should say, “get rid of this lot and replace them with X”. That’d be for the people to decide once the queen’s been shipped off to wherever. But thirdly, and this is the Official Virtual Stoa Position, we wouldn’t actually need to elect a President at all.

As I said in this thread over at Matthew’s (and here I cut-and-paste horribly) I’ve been saying for a while now that the head of state should be the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the fact that the present incumbent’s pretty hopeless doesn’t put me off in the slightest.

If there’s H-o-S work to do, then the Speaker can do it and one of the Deputy Speakers can preside in the Commons, as they so often do. We could even have another Deputy Speaker, if necessary. But I like to think that there wouldn’t be much H-o-S work to do, anyway. All this visiting places and saying “What do you do?” is pretty stupid, we can send FCO ministers off on foreign trips, and so on.

Most people have to retire in their 60s; the country seems to have the view that the Monarch’s role is sufficiently undemanding that somebody can do it in their 70s, 80s, etc. without a problem. And Great Republics such as the USA combine the offices of Head of State and Head of Government. If someone as famously idle as GWB can combine the two roles, I don’t see why we can’t combine the Speakership of the House with a small head of state function. Furthermore, since the Speaker has a nice flat in the Palace of Westminster, we can do what we ought to have done bloody ages ago and turn Buckingham Palace into an art gallery (as the sensible French did with the Louvre all those years ago).

OK: problem solved.

More soon.

Harry, cont., cont.

As I said, below, Matthew is reminding us that Harry might become King, and that this should give pause to monarchists. And yesterday I was busy endorsing his campaign to point this out again and again (see below for links). But after sleeping on the matter, I now suppose he is wrong, in fact, and that I’m wrong to endorse his campaign.

Because if Harry were to threaten to succeed to the throne, and if he were to be deeply unpopular among the elites in this country, then he wouldn’t succeed. It’s as simple as that. Edward VIII was pushed into abdication, after all, and it’s not too difficult to imagine circumstances in which the Cabinet, Parliament, media, top civil servants, even senior courtiers (what a word!), or permutations and combinations among them, would move decisively against the prospect of King Harry, but precisely in order to save the institution of monarchy, in which they are generally so heavily invested, rather than to undermine it.

The point, however, is to undermine it.

And that requires continually refocussing arguments away from the personal failings of these inadequate and objectionable human beings (fun though it is to dwell on these) onto the complex institution of the British Monarchy and the forces that sustain it, in order to create a world in which nobody can utter a word in its defence without the experience of deep embarrassment.

We’ve got a way to go, but we’re going to win this one in the end.

(Roll on the bourgeois republic!)

Harry, cont.

Matthew Turner is doing a splendid job reminding us again and again that defenders of the monarchy must willingly accept that under certain not implausible circumstances Harry will become King, and will appoint the Prime Minister, dissolve Parliament, give consent to legislation, waste half an hour of the PM’s time every week, encourage, advise, and warn, etc., the whole Bagehotian shebang.

I think I’m happy to make his solo a duet, with a couple of caveats: first, to emphasise that Prince Charles is still my most-detested royal by quite a bit; second, to note that I’d still dislike the monarchy, obviously, even if all the members of the royal family were men and women of unimpeachable virtue and all-round human excellence devoted to the common good; and, third, to remark that nothing’s really changed this last week: we knew, or could easily guess, that the royal family in general and Prince Harry in particular are full of stupidity, ignorance and objectionably right-wing prejudices: all that’s happened this week is that we’ve got a nice new peg to hang things on, and some juicy photographs.

(There are matters of principle here, which can be debated dispassionately, but there’s also a political campaign to wage, and what that needs right now is the the spread of an attitude of naked contempt for monarchy and its political, economic and social supports. That’s what this post is contributing to.)

I will also join Matthew by quoting this passage that he found in the Independent, because it bears repetition:

“If the boys had got what they wanted when they went into the [costume] shop, Prince William might have been photographed trying to look like a black man in primitive clothing, while Harry would have been posing in the death’s-head uniform of the Waffen SS.”

And I’ll also point you to this post of Matthew’s, which provides a good example of just how blinkered apologists for aristocracy can be.The Virtual Stoa says: The Royal Family is a disgrace, it should be a criminal offence to use an aristocratic title, the public schools should be closed down, high taxes on land ownership should be introduced with (among other things) the aim of getting a significant proportion of the upper class to emigrate.

And, if need be, we should suspend the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act in order to force such measures through: aristocrats and their apologists (both secular and ecclesiastical) opposed the ideology of human rights every step of the way from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centuries; they of all people have far less claim on the protection of a generous and expansive rights regime than the rest of us.

Monarchy shames us all, or it bloody well ought to, and the sooner we are rid of it in this (so-called) United (so-called) Kingdom the better for all of us.

More Prince Harry

I quite liked the headline in the Express today (I don’t often say that): “ARMY TO SORT OUT HARRY (That’s the British Army)”. But the point of this post is to send you scurrying over to my brother’s site to read a Harry-themed post that effortlessly combines William Shakespeare and the story of a man in a viking helmet. But you all read his blog anyway, so I don’t have to.

Three of a Kind

Listening to British radio in general, Radio Four in particular, and the Today programme in particular in particular has a tendency, even over a fairly short period, to induce various forms of self-loathing. This morning’s 8am news bulletin provided a splendid exception, with a lead story about Prince Harry dressing up as a Nazi, followed by the news that Mark Thatcher’s pleading guilty, followed, shortly after that, by an interview with Michael Howard at his lying worst on the subject of burglars and householders and the significance of the difference – which he never defined with any precision – between “unreasonable” and “grossly disproportionate”. So I arose in a very good mood to go and make the first cups of coffee of the day.

(In normal circumstances, I’d add Charles Clarke, on after Howard, to this succession of jokers. But, in fact, Citizens Windsor, Thatcher and Howard are more ridiculous figures than Mr Clarke, and, on this occasion, the Home Secretary was being sensible.)

The Guardian points out that the theme of the party Prince Harry attended was “natives and colonials”. I know he’s supposed to be thick, but can it really be the case that he can’t read more than the first two letters of each word?

UPDATE [12.20pm]: What’s going on? Mel P has something sensible to say, for the second time in the space of a week. Have I changed? Has she? Is it some New Year’s Resolution to stop barking like a lunatic on her blog and/or in her columns? As I say, what’s going on?

UPDATE [12.40pm]: Jamie, (in common with Melanie), has good things to say, too, but focussing on Harry rather than Howard.