What little history I was taught in school in Northern Ireland during the sixties told me that I lived under a ‘constitutional monarchy’. I was told that the exercise of the Divine Right of Kings – an absolute monarch – ended when Cromwell and his supporters beheaded King Charles I of England in 1649.
Ever since the monarchy was restored in 1660 the British people have lived under a ‘constitutional’ monarchy where the monarch performs a ceremonial role and is subject to an elected parliament. Monarchs have no longer any say in how the country is governed. That is for the elected government and parliament to decide who are answerable to the people, not the monarch. The United Kingdom is a democracy.
All this my teachers told me.
Like most of the history I was taught it was propaganda with no basis in fact.
However, like a good and loyal citizen, I did not question the propaganda and for many years naively believed I was a citizen with democratic rights, not a subject. It was only after the mysterious death of Princess Diana in 1997 that I really began to question the construct that I lived under.
Put simply, how could a constitutional monarchy get away with apparent murder?
The answer is of course that this monarchy is not a constitutional one, it is absolute with no limits placed on its power.
The people have been deceived, as always. The restored British monarchy may have been a constitutional one when Charles II returned to the English throne in 1660, but it has worked ever since to return to its absolute status. It succeeded. The monarchy has increased its power and wealth since the Restoration, but the lie was perpetuated through the centuries by both left and right in British politics that we lived in a constitutional democracy.
A form of national government in which the power of the monarch (the king or queen) is restrained by a parliament, by law, or by custom. (my emphasis)
Even the briefest examination of the role of the British monarchy will reveal that in reality it is the monarch who does the ‘restraining’, not parliament.
Does the pomp of the State opening of the UK parliament with massed rows of genuflecting legislators look like a monarch being ‘restrained’?
State opening of parliament. Unchanged for generations
Ask yourself why is it that the role of the monarch is never questioned or scrutinised in this allegedly ‘open and democratic’ society? Both left and right accept the status quo. The left may moan about the monarchy, but very few campaign openly for a republic. Is this just endearing respect for a little old lady?
We have an all pervasive corporate media supposedly shining a light into all areas of modern society, but you will see no substantial criticism of the British monarchy and no public debate. This is true of not just the British media, but the worldwide media too, indicating the global reach of today’s ‘British’ royalty.
Instead we have the most extreme forms of sycophancy and unquestioning toadying in the UK and throughout the world when it comes to the ‘British’ royals. For example twenty-three million Americans watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
During the state opening of parliament (note: the elected parliament cannot function unless the monarch officially opens it), Queen Elizabeth sits with her husband (Philip, Prince of Denmark and Greece from the House of Schleswig-Holstein Sonderberg Glucksberg), surrounded by gold and diamonds. ‘Her Majesty’ refers to ‘my government’ and speaks in quasi medieval language, lecturing the people about living ‘within their means‘ while little criticism is made (except in social media). Mainstream media and the elected elite remain respectfully buttoned up in regard to ‘her gracious majesty’.
Queen Elizabeth II is as untouchable as any of her forebears – leaving aside Charles I. Her very large extended family live in the same gilded opulence as they have for centuries. In spite of the obvious and growing poverty of many British people and the fact that her family’s wealth could house the homeless and cure British poverty, the Queen makes no concessions to her people.
Those Ulster Unionists and Loyalists who have given unquestioning obedience to the English monarch over many generations – like my own family – should look beyond the propaganda about this ‘constitutional’ monarchy and ask some basic questions such as:
Why would a constitutional monarch be specifically placed beyond the law of the land?
Neither the Queen or Prince Charles can be brought before a court. There is no one in the UK who has the authority to arrest the monarch or their heirs.
All members of parliament, police officers, judges and lawyers must swear an oath of loyalty, not to the people they allegedly serve, but to the monarch. How can that be the case if we have a ‘constitutional’ monarchy, subject to the will and law of parliament?
Why would the royal family not pay tax like the rest of us, especially given their enormous wealth and their privileged position? It is true the Queen was persuaded to pay income tax in 1992, but that applies to the royal household only. It is important to distinguish between the Royal Household and the other tentacles of the royal empire. The Duchies of Lancaster & Cornwall – the business end of the regal empire – are entirely exempt from tax or any scrutiny of any kind. These are the companies that invest in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.
You could try submitting a Freedom of Information request to find out about the regal finances, but you would find out that the Royals are exempt from FOIs.
Beyond their secret finances this ‘constitutional’ monarch requires the attendance of the Prime Minister every Tuesday.
Surely a ceremonial office doesn’t need to be kept so closely informed of the day to business of government? What do they discuss? Again that’s a secret. The monarch can ask about anything. There’s no such thing as confidentiality or state secrets when it comes to the monarch. They must be told. So in this way our democratic pretensions are shattered: our Prime Minister holds weekly secret meetings with an unaccountable, all-powerful monarch.
In addition all legislation must be approved by the monarch. Again we’re led to believe that this is just a rubber stamp, a formality. She has never refused ‘permission’, we are told.
But she doesn’t need to refuse in the full glare of public scrutiny if she meets the Prime Minister weekly for secret discussions. This can all be dealt with before any legislation reaches the final stages and, because the discussions are secret, we have no way of knowing how the monarch intervenes.
In addition the British monarch can dismiss the elected government and no elected government can take office until the monarch gives ‘assent’.
The monarch can command the armed forces, declare states of emergency and pardon criminals.
Of course the story goes that all these powers are ‘ceremonial’ and are only exercised by the monarch under advice from the government. But how do we know, if the communications between the monarch and our government are secret?
In 1975 the British monarch exercised these powers in the full glare of publicity and dismissed the elected Australian government and parliament.
The British Crown has remained the largest landowner not just in the United Kingdom – with 60 million acres and property valued at over £8 billion, but in the world owning one-sixth of all the earth’s land valued at £17.6 trillion. The Crown owns half of the British coastline. The list includes some of the country’s best-known buildings: iconic race courses, grand hotels, historic castles, and an offshore energy portfolio worth over £1 billion. In addition they have one of the largest and most important art collections in the world, containing over 7,000 paintings, 40,000 watercolours and drawings, about 150,000 old master prints, historical photographs, tapestries, furniture, ceramics, books, gold and silver plate, arms and armour, jewellery and other works of art. The collection includes the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. The Koh-I-Nor diamond ‘acquired’ from India and the African Star ‘acquired’ from Africa are valued at around £1 billion and £300 million respectively.
Why would a ‘constitutional’ monarch need or desire to hold on to such wealth?
Why would a parliament elected by universal suffrage allow the monarch to retain such obscene wealth when the people are in such need?
The British monarch’s wealth portfolio is not confined to the shores of the UK. The British Crown owns 89% of Canada for example. As a result in Canada most people are not landowners, they are ‘landholders’. In Australia, the 7th largest country on earth the British Crown holds 1,900 million acres, Papua New Guinea 114 million acres, New Zealand 66 million acres.
Since the 2007 global financial crisis, the Crown Estate’s property value has more than doubled to 11 billion pounds, increasing at an annualised rate of 9.3 percent at a time when the rest of the British house market, even in London, slowed.
Royal apologists argue that most of these assets do not belong to the monarch personally, but are are held in trust for future generations. That’s true. However, in a great many cases such as the Crown Jewels and numerous properties, the monarch has sole custody of them and decides who will inherit them on her death. That’s as close to personal ownership as you need. In any event, we ask again,
why would a ‘constitutional’ monarchy want to hold onto such wealth, whether personal or corporate?
We are required to believe that such enormous global wealth bestows no power on the ‘British’ Monarchy. They remain ‘restrained’ by the perpetually cash-strapped British parliament.
Apart from any other ethical considerations regarding such a concentration of extreme wealth in the hands of a secretive and unaccountable family, we have no way of knowing how much the monarch profits personally from the ‘Crown’s’ £17.6 trillion asset portfolio. Only recently we discovered by chance that the Queen has £10 million hidden away in the Cayman Islands.
The estimates of the British Crown’s wealth that appear in the public domain are always grossly understated at around £500 million. However when the Queen’s worldwide property holdings are factored in experts calculate that her true wealth rises to around £25 trillion.
In spite of this enormous wealth, the British monarchy is personally paid a Sovereign Grant per annum from taxpayer funds. Currently this will be £82.2 million in 2018/19, a rise of 8%. This Sovereign Grant has trebled in the last six years.
However this is not the true annual cost of the monarchy to the public purse. When the cost of security and the many local receptions for royalty around the UK the figure rises to £345 million.
We could go on to list the British Crown’s unsavoury association with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Or in more recent times the Crown’s very close association with the notorious paedophile, Jimmy Saville – Saville mediated between Prince Charles and Princess Diana during their marital disputes.
Or Prince Andrew’s close association with convicted paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein (before and after his conviction).
It is said you know people by the friends they keep.
It seems power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
However what should concern us most is that the ‘British’ Monarchy is manifestly not a ‘constitutional’ monarchy, it is, and always has been, an absolute monarchy with a subservient government and parliament, which works to distract attention from the true power of this monarchy.
Therefore we do not live in a democracy. That is a deliberately created illusion which the political elite and the corporate media actively conspire the promote. The history of universal suffrage over the last 100 years is an illusion. In the UK we have been electing a mirage.
Until this truth is widely accepted any concerns and protests about the various abuses of power and incompetence of the political class are totally misdirected. That’s why they always lead nowhere and change so little. Protests need to be directed at the gates of Buckingham Palace.