THE CORONATIONIt’s Only by Chance Prince Andrew Isn’t Being Crowned King
Baroness Jenny Jones explores how reform of the monarchy could work better for our democracy
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These are hard times for everyone in the UK. Except the rich. And while nurses have food banks, the royals have banquets.
The monarchy does a great deal of charity work, via The Prince’s Trust and other organisations. But it remains immune from shouldering the collective burden of austerity.
My party’s policy on the Royal Family is pretty simple. The Greens advocate that the monarchy should cease to be an office of government – its legislative, executive and judicial roles should cease. That means no further weekly meetings with the prime minister, no passing of bills in the monarch’s name, and no further meddling in politics with off-the-record briefings by friends. The royals could live quieter lives, with less stress, and less adverse media coverage.
Importantly, members of the Royal Family would have the same civil rights and fiscal obligations as other citizens. This means they would pay their taxes, do jury duty, and be able to get arrested for breaking the law. On the plus side for them, they would also have the right to vote in elections.
Crucially, no person would acquire the right to any office of government by inheritance. That means no handing on of power through the centuries, whether the recipient is able and competent or not.
It is true that the latest polls show that the monarchy still has majority support in the UK. But enthusiasm for the institution has suffered a decline since the passing of the much-loved Queen Elizabeth II.
King Charles has always seen himself as a moderniser, a defender of all faiths, taking the monarchy into a new era. A few tweaks to the Coronation guest list and ceremony, though, do not herald a new dawn.
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It is to be welcomed that Charles has paid income tax voluntarily since the age of 21, but there are a lot of royal exemptions and The Firm is pretty keen on tax avoidance. It’s all legal and part of the constitutional settlement, but it’s still avoidance when you’re a well-off family that is not paying inheritance or corporation tax.
Given the immense private wealth of the royals, why does Parliament give them a sovereign grant of around £86 million and 25% (another £312 million) of the Crown estates every year?
It is meant to be payback for public service. And I admit that Princess Anne really excels – but that amount of money is hard to justify, especially when other royals are both hedonistic and just plain greedy.
A new dawn would involve the royals donating a large proportion of their wealth to the nation. Land, paintings, palaces, assets of all kinds, should return to the public purse. Much of royal wealth was accrued by war or other kinds of social or violent pressure on us commoners and the stolen national resources should be handed back.
Of course, this would also involves changes to our structure of government.
Twist of Fate
There is a lot to be said for having a figurehead as ‘head of state’ rather than an all-powerful, elected president. But it’s a hereditary post and that can go very wrong.
It is a twist of fate that it is Charles, rather than his younger brother Andrew, who is taking the throne. While Charles has been speaking about ecosystems, nature and climate change for decades, Andrew has spent his time cosying up to rich oil sheiks – and other deeply disturbing figures, as we know.
In the Lords, we must swear allegiance to the monarch (and all their successors) or we can’t take our seat and do the job of holding the government of the day to account.
As an egalitarian, this is obviously a bit tricky. I’d happily swear allegiance to the nation or promise not to cheat, lie or steal. But it is no more of a dilemma than being appointed to the unelected wing of the Westminster Parliament, while constantly campaigning to have the whole thing replaced by an elected second chamber.
The truth is that the two institutions of monarchy and Parliament are inter-connected. The monarchy sits at the top of a system of patronage that dishes out shiny titles to the likes of Sir Jimmy Saville and peerages to Conservative Party donors. It is a corrupt system and no way to run a country.
The King is a figurehead that puts a royal seal of approval on the rotten machine of prime ministerial patronage that distorts our democracy. Charles could either apply the brakes or disown the process. I suspect he’s not that radical.
The entire Westminster system needs a massive, well overdue, overhaul.
The House of Lords, as presently constituted, is a partially-reformed anachronism which has no legitimate mandate because it is not elected.
The Green Party believes, as a matter of principle, that legislation should be made only by elected representatives and that their election should be by a fair system of proportional representation.
I would like to see hereditary elections cease and hereditary peers vanish from the red benches. I think the bishops have to go too. They are good in that they do raise issues of deprivation and poverty, but their presence does not make sense in such a secular culture.
What we need is an electoral system of proportional representation, an elected second chamber, and an independent corruption commission to investigate matters such as the COVID PPE ‘VIP’ lane.
For the Greens, a suitable method for the election of voting members to a reformed House of Lords would be by a similar method to that previously used for the election of UK members of the European Parliament, but with a total elected membership of around 300 and with elections held on a rolling basis with half of members being elected at each election. This would allow for the phasing-in of the new system and maintain continuity.
In the interests both of obtaining broad agreement on further Lords reform, including the removal of the remaining hereditary peers, and also of retaining the specialist knowledge and experience of many current crossbench peers (which is widely regarded as very beneficial), it could be an acceptable compromise for current life peers to remain with speaking rights as non-voting members of a reformed, slimmed down chamber.
In the long-term, I would like the monarchy to be replaced by something better. In the meantime, I’m happy to argue for all those reforms that could make for a better monarchy – and a better democracy.
Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb is a Green Party peer in the House of Lords
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