Andrew Yong: The monarchy enhances Britain’s global standing – it’s time ministers did more to support it

5 Aug

Andrew Yong is a public lawyer who writes on citizenship issues and is the director of Global Britons, a campaigning body for the rights of residual British nationals.

Last week Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, reportedly said that the UK must trade more with Commonwealth countries in order to counter China’s “grave threat to our values and way of life”.

This comes on the back of successful free trade agreements signed with Australia and New Zealand in December and February, which expanded both economic and people-to-people ties with these two countries, increasing mobility for young people and professionals wishing to live and work overseas.

The Commonwealth has featured more highly in the nation’s consciousness this year than it does in ordinary times, with Commonwealth flags being paraded during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the Prince of Wales opening both the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda and the current Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Yet in all these public invocations of “the Commonwealth”, there lies a failure to distinguish between the formal association, with its increasingly eclectic and diverse mix of members – some of which, like recent admittees Gabon and Togo, have no historical ties at all to the UK – and the smaller subset of countries, the Commonwealth Realms such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who maintain close constitutional links through a shared monarchy.

The danger of the recent expansions of Commonwealth membership to countries with no history of British administration is that membership becomes increasingly meaningless and devoid of content.

The Commonwealth at its inception was an association of countries “united by a common allegiance to the Crown”. But from the 1950s, republics and indigenous monarchies were permitted to become or remain as members. The Queen, while recognised as the Head of the Commonwealth, is now only the head of state in 15 member states: the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, plus a number of countries in the Caribbean and Pacific.

In November last year, Barbados became the most recent Commonwealth realm to become a republic. Other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, the Bahamas, Belize and St Vincent and the Grenadines are reportedly looking at following suit.

While it may be debatable whether any these moves can be attributed to Chinese efforts to undermine Britain’s historical status as a key partner of these Caribbean nations (as Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, has reportedly claimed), there can be no doubt that the UK has failed to make full use of the policy tools that are at its disposal to maintain and strengthen the economic and people-to-people ties that bind the Queen’s realms, whose continued existence contributes to the prestige of the British Crown.

Being a member of the Commonwealth has a number of benefits, such as access to the political, economic and technical support of Commonwealth conferences and institutions.

Commonwealth citizens also enjoy particular advantages in the UK, such as the right to vote and the ability to serve in the Armed Forces. Since the 1960, however, many key benefits of membership such as free movement and visa-free travel have fallen away, as is inevitable given the loosening of political and economic relations within the Commonwealth.

However, the changes that have occurred over the decades have generally been applied without any distinction between those countries that have and those that have not maintained constitutional ties to the British Crown. The abolition of Commonwealth free movement to the UK in 1962, for instance, applied as much to the inhabitants of realms such as Australia and New Zealand as to those of republics such as India and Pakistan.

At present, the UK fails completely to offer any special advantage or preference to those Commonwealth countries that have maintained links to the British monarchy, other than access to the British honours system (ten Commonwealth countries still award the Order of the British Empire) and the occasional invitation to a royal wedding or funeral.

There is little wonder that Britain’s fellow Commonwealth realms continue to drift away when there are no benefits to membership.

One benefit of wider Commonwealth membership that was recently withdrawn by the UK Government is the Commonwealth Working Holidaymakers’ scheme.

The scheme, which allowed young Commonwealth citizens between the ages of 17 and 30 to spend a two-year working holiday in the UK, was closed in 2008 and reopened as a series of bilateral Youth Mobility arrangements with a limited number of countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Monaco, San Marino, Iceland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan).

Bilateral arrangements may be appropriate where it is necessary to encourage reciprocity and to facilitate the movement of people with countries with a similar level of economic development to the UK. One example of this is the opening of electronic passport gates to nationals of a similar group of developed countries as well as the EEA. Another is the CANZUK proposal, which envisages the UK concluding reciprocal bilateral freedom of movement deals with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the Government should also look for suitable ways in which all the nationals of the Queen’s realms (including residual British nationals such as British Nationals (Overseas) and British Overseas Citizens) can be given preferential treatment over those who do not share this unique constitutional relationship with the British Crown.

One such “benefit of membership” could be a new Queen’s Scholarship (similar to the one established in the colonial Far East in honour of Queen Victoria) which would be awarded to the most outstanding of the Queen’s subjects wishing to go to university in the UK. Another should be a new Platinum Jubilee Youth Mobility Scheme open to the young people of all of the Queen’s realms, along the lines of the defunct Commonwealth Working Holidaymakers’ scheme.

The UK has for too long sought to appear indifferent to the fate of the monarchy in other Commonwealth nations. This complacency should end: we must now recognise that Global Britain is enhanced and elevated by our shared global monarchy, and put in the appropriate resources to support it.

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Republicans will never understand it, but the Queen is more popular than any politician

2 Jun

The Queen promised in her broadcast on her 21st birthday, 21 April 1947, “that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service”. She has made good that vow with such indefatigable modesty, good humour and dutifulness that even the most puritannical republicans among us generally realise that to attack her would be to damage their cause.

Over the next four days we shall thank her for a lifetime of service. Hearts will be raised by grand ceremonies, but also by the less glamorous pleasures of tea, cake, bunting and a friendly word with neighbours.

And the republicans will not understand what is going on. They draw the wrong conclusion from this spectacle of a monarch triumphant and beloved, which they suppose means that British voters are somehow less free than those who live in a republic such as France, Germany or the United States.

That error was not made by Clement Attlee, in many ways the most admirable of all Labour leaders. In a piece published in The Observer on 23 August 1959 (and reprinted in Attlee’s Great Contemporaries, edited by Frank Field), Attlee observes that a monarch “is a kind of referee”, and goes on:

“The monarchy attracts to itself the kind of sentimental loyalty which otherwise might go to the leader of a faction. There is, therefore, far less danger under a constitutional monarchy of the people being carried away by a Hitler, a Mussolini or even a de Gaulle.”

And he later remarks in the same piece:

“the greatest progress towards the democratic socialism in which I believe has been made not in republics but in limited monarchies. Norway, Sweden and Denmark are probably the three countries where there is the highest degree of equality of well-being.”

How right he was. Democratic socialism is not incompatible with constitutional monarchy. It might even be protected by it, for the monarch, to whom the armed forces, judiciary and other organs of the state pledge allegiance, occupies the space a dictator would need to occupy after a coup d’état.

A monarch who stands above politics and commands popular support is a guarantor of freedom, not an obstacle to it.

This was already apparent in the Victorian period. Bagehot referred to England (then generally treated as a synonym for Britain) as a “disguised republic”. Frederic Harrison, writing in 1875, declared;

“England is now an aristocratic Republic, with a democratic machinery and a hereditary grandmaster of the ceremonies.”

Lytton Strachey wrote of “the royal republic of Great Britain”, while George Orwell referred to the “crowned republic”.

When they attack the monarchy, republicans distract themselves from their true purpose, which is most often to persuade the voters to accept a not very popular form of socialism.

Outside the ranks of the intelligentsia, those voters tend to be sceptical about politicians. They like it that the highest place in the state is occupied not by some candidate who has at last abandoned the egotistical quest for power – Tony Blair, say, or Michael Heseltine – but by an individual who inherited the position.

The Queen did not expect, as a young child, to succeed to the throne. Nor did her father, the Duke of York, for his older brother, the Prince of Wales, would become King when George V died, and was likely, in due course, to get married and have children.

In 1936, George V duly died, the exact timing of that event determined by his physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, and the Prince of Wales succeeded to the throne as Edward VIII. He indicated, however, that he wished to marry Wallis Simpson, an American who had already been divorced once and was now married to Ernest Simpson, a businessman.

Some people objected to the King marrying a woman who had two former husbands still living, while others were more appalled that she was an American.

Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, took soundings and informed Edward VIII that the proposed marriage was out of the question, insisting as he did so that “in the choice of a Queen the voice of the people must be heard”.

So Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry the woman he loved, and his brother the Duke of York became George VI, and acted as a conscientious monarch until his death in 1952, at the age of only 56.

His older daughter, the present Queen, has continued this tradition of conscientious monarchy, which in many respects had been set by her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, a woman with a personality of “irresistible potency” (Lytton Strachey) who came to be regarded by her subjects as the epitome of middle-class respectability.

Victoria, and the Victorians, were reacting against the loose manners of an earlier age, including the loose manners of her Hanoverian father and uncles.

The present Queen saw the inauguration, in the 1960s, of a new period of loose manners. In 1952, when she ascended the throne, the Second World War was a recent memory, and the officer class was firmly in control.

Attlee had served with distinction in the First World War. So had Winston Churchill, who in 1951 had led the Conservatives back into power.

The Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, was a gifted naval officer, mentioned in dispatches during the Second World War. For a short time, before the untimely death of her father, Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, enjoyed a relatively normal life as the wife of an able and ambitious naval officer.

All that changed in 1952. She had to become Queen, and he had to give up his career. They buckled down and got on with it.

The start of her reign was a period of excessive deference, which yielded in due course to outrageous impertinence.

The media from the late 1950s became less and less deferential; in due course more and more shameless. When the Duke of Edinburgh dismissed them to their faces as “scum”, the royal correspondent of the Sun newspaper responded, “Yes, but we are the crème de la scum.”

The Queen and the Duke kept going. Three of their four children got divorced, with many of the most salacious details reported in the press. In November 1992, just after part of Windsor Castle had burned down, she gave a speech to mark the fortieth anniversary of her accession:

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”

High position is no defence against “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. But the Queen came through, she smiled as she went about her duties, she spoke each year in her Christmas broadcast of her Christian faith, and in these days of her Platinum Jubilee we give thanks for her faithful service to her people.

Daniel Hannan: Do we need safe spaces for conservatives on campus?

23 Jun

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Do we need safe spaces for conservatives on campus? It’s a serious question. Consider, to pluck an example more or less at random, the decision this month by the Middle Common Room at Magdalen College, Oxford to remove a portrait of the Queen for the sake of “making people feel welcome”.

The monarchy is meant to be a unifying symbol, not only for British people of all ethnic backgrounds, but for 2.5 billion Commonwealth citizens. If we must allow the possibility that someone somewhere might none the less feel uncomfortable as they pass a portrait of Elizabeth II, should we not also consider the rather greater possibility that Right-of-Centre students might feel uncomfortable in a college that routinely makes decisions of this kind?

Conservatives tend not to crave victim status. When we walk past, say, a poster of Che Guevara, we might grumble at the moral emptiness of the numbskull who put it up; but we don’t, as a rule, go to the authorities and claim to have been wounded by the experience.

Still, the fact that we don’t whinge doesn’t mean that there is no issue. There is real concern among some Centre-Right students that their opinions will result in their being penalised academically.

Left-wing lecturers are not a new phenomenon; but their increasing intolerance is. A growing number of undergraduates feel obliged to spout woke pieties in their coursework for fear of being marked down. A brilliant young Cambridge historian told me recently that his first application had been rejected because he failed to mention slavery at his interview. “It was my fault, really, for not researching the politics of the don before I met her,” he added, apologetically. “The trouble is, I’m mainly a mediaevalist.”

That sort of thing didn’t really happen in my day. I had some spectacularly Left-wing dons, but they were, in the fullest sense of the word, liberals – broad-minded, interested in other points of view, comfortable with debate. That, though, was before the Great Awokening – the defining characteristic of which is not that it made universities more Left-wing, but that it made them readier to punish dissidents and heretics. Academics, in this sense at least, are behaving more like student radicals.

Consider, to pluck another recent example, the boycott of Oriel College, Oxford by 150 dons in protest at its refusal to bow to the mob and pull down the statuette of Cecil Rhodes which stands in a niche in the building his bequest paid for.

L’affaire Rhodes merits a column on its own. The diamond magnate who stalks the imaginations of BLM protesters is a cartoon baddy, a one-dimensional colonialist. The real human being was more complicated. For example, the flesh-and-blood Rhodes opposed the disfranchisement of black men in Cape Colony, funded the newspaper of what became the ANC and, when establishing his famous scholarships, laid down that “no student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a scholarship on account of his race” (a fifth of Rhodes scholars currently come from Africa).

He is not the most obvious candidate for cancellation – perhaps not even the most obvious candidate on his building, which also features a statue of a mediaeval clergyman who enthusiastically burned Lollards and of another who was on Spain’s side during the Armada.

Oriel listened politely to its critics, then established a commission to consider the future of the Rhodes statue. Although most of the members were committed decolonisers, their recommendations were surprisingly muted.

Essentially, they concluded that, yes, it might be nice to remove the statue but that, given the planning difficulties, there were other ways for Oriel to demonstrate its commitment to racial justice. The college duly announced that it would not waste a great deal of money on a lengthy application that would almost certainly be turned down; and so, appropriately enough, an imported American row was ended by British planning regulations.

It was this decision that sparked the “statement of a boycott of Oriel College” by various academics, determined to broadcast their purity by telling the world that they would not teach Oriel undergraduates. Most commentators fulminated against their lack of professionalism. One MP talked of “blackmail”. Almost everyone agreed that they were wrong to take out their politics on students.

But, thinking about it, I come to a different conclusion. School leavers who are not on the hard Left can now apply confidently to at least one college where they are unlikely to be harassed by the kind of don who sees conservatism as a mental illness.

Look at it from the point of view of a bright and unwoke sixth-former. Not necessarily a Scrutonian Rightist, just someone who feels that we have taken identity politics too far, and who worries that that view might provoke a negative reaction from tutors. The 150 silliest dons, those likeliest to resent divergent opinions, have conveniently given notice that at least one college will be spared their grievance-mongering.

Why not lean into the row? Why not advertise Oriel as an unwoke oasis? Why not appeal, on niche marketing grounds if nothing else, to students who don’t take the BLM line – not least the many conservative-leaning non-white students who are invisible to the broadcast media, but whom we all know in real life?

Full disclosure: Oriel was my old college as well as Rhodes’s. It used to have a certain reputation for social conservatism, heartiness and (not to put too fine a point on it) philistinism. Back then, different colleges had different personalities. Wadham, for example, was always a far-Left outlier.

But whereas Wadham remains as cheerfully extreme as ever, it has become almost unthinkable for any college to distinguish itself in the other direction. Why? Isn’t this a straightforward case of consumer choice? Or, to put it in terms that critics might prefer, of diversity and inclusion? Is one non-Leftist college out of 39 really too much to ask?

Alistair Lexden: A century ago today, King George V opened the Parliament of Northern Ireland

22 Jun

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here.

At 11 am on a grey, overcast morning, a 21-gun salute rang out across Belfast Lough as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert, with King George V and Queen Mary on board, approached Donegall Quay in the City’s Harbour at the end of an overnight journey from Holyhead, accompanied by a magnificent naval escort.

The great shipyards, symbols of Ulster’s (now declining) industrial might, stood silent in honour of the royal visit, an event of momentous importance as a new chapter of Anglo-Irish history began.

Their Majesties were greeted by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, arrayed proudly in tail-coats, white waistcoats “with Harbour Gilt Buttons” and top hats. These great men in Belfast life were a little taken aback when the glittering casket they brought on board with them was unceremoniously thrust aside, the illuminated address inside it unread, leaving the King without details of the port’s progress since his last visit in 1897. Their Majesties were in a hurry.

An open carriage, surrounded by large (and at times slightly disorderly ) cavalry contingents, sped through some of the principal streets en route to the Edwardian splendour of the City Hall, the temporary home of the new Parliament, elected on Empire Day, 24 May. Loyal Ulster’s joy was unrestrained. “We really got a wonderful welcome & I never heard anything like the cheering”, the King noted in his diary, that dry record of his activities which he maintained dutifully throughout his life.

Disloyal Ulster had its say two days later. A train transporting horses and men who had taken part in the royal procession was blown up. Three soldiers and a guard were killed, along with a large number of horses (others were mutilated).

Faint hearts at Buckingham Palace had urged the King to stay at home. Across Ireland as a whole, some 1,300 people – soldiers, policemen, terrorists and innocent civilians- had died since the beginning of 1919 when the IRA, then (as later) the terrorist wing of Sinn Fein, had unleashed a vicious guerrilla campaign, which historians now tend to dignify as Ireland’s ‘War of Independence’.

Britain’s response, which came to involve arbitrary reprisals for IRA crimes (summed up in three words “ Black and Tans”), stained its reputation, to the King’s great distress, as he made clear to his Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, head of a coalition dominated by Unionists, as Conservatives were then known.

In Belfast, IRA attacks on property in 1920 helped reignite the sectarian violence, endemic in the city since the Nineteenth Century when industrialisation had attracted waves of Catholics from rural Ulster. In a particularly shocking incident, around 5,000 Catholics had been driven from their jobs in the shipyards in July 1920. Sectarian outrages, killing or injuring police and civilians, became depressingly familiar. Suffering was, as always, inflicted on Catholic and Protestant families alike.

No effort was spared to ensure the safety of the monarch and his wife. Cecil Craig, the devoted English wife of Northern Ireland’s new Prime Minister, Sir James Craig (later Viscount Craigavon), recorded the security precautions in her diary .

“Luckily [the City Hall] was not very far, and precautions had been taken of every description, trusted men stationed in each house, and on every roof top, and the closest scrutiny of all in the houses, and of course in the streets too. Every alternate policeman faced the crowd but as there were troops in front, this was not specially apparent.”

Lady Craig naturally had much praise for her husband on this great day. It was not misplaced. An unyielding opponent of Home Rule (as devolution was then known) before the First World War, the Ulster premier was now keen to make it a success in the six counties of Northern Ireland, for which he had become responsible. Lloyd George’s Home Rule scheme, passed into law in 1920, removed the spectre of uncongenial Dublin rule over northern Unionists, first created by William Gladstone in 1886 .

One country, two Parliaments (which might possibly want to merge at some undefined future point): that was Lloyd George’s prescription for Irish harmony in the years ahead. Craig was his conscientious associate in implementing the plan in Belfast; sadly Dublin, where Sinn Fein carried all before it, had other, subversive ideas.

Craig fought a campaign of studied moderation for the Empire Day elections, the first to be held in the United Kingdom under a system of proportional representation. Partnership between North and South, each respecting the other’s boundaries, was his theme. To the astonishment (and disquiet) of many Unionist voters, he went to Dublin during the campaign for discussions with De Valera, recently an inhabitant of British prisons.

He made clear that he would himself lead the Unionist delegation of ten on the Council of Ireland, a key feature of Lloyd George’s Irish settlement, when it was set up to oversee all-Ireland services like the railways and fisheries, and (if both North and South wished) work towards the reunification of Ireland under the Crown. Goodwill abounded. Craig declared that “they in the North would be only too delighted to see the harbours of Cork and elsewhere turned into great engines of industry, the same as they had in the North of Ireland. But having said so much, let it be clear that there was to be no tampering whatever with the rights of Ulster.”

On that basis, Craig won 40 of the 52 seats in the new Parliament, which was going to have to function without an official Opposition: non-Unionist MPs refused to take their seats.

That caused no disquiet among the loyal crowds as the royal carriage swept up to the Belfast City Hall on 22 June 1921, the tenth anniversary of George V’s coronation. The speech which the King delivered was like no other King’s speech in modern history. It contained no boring list of measures that would be debated and passed into law.

The dreary language invariably used on such occasions was replaced by striking eloquence, thanks to Edward Grigg, then one of Lloyd George’s Private Secretaries and later Lord Altrincham, an ardent proponent of responsible self-government within the Empire, who redrafted the speech four days before the King left London. George V’s official biographer, Harold Nicolson, recalled its reception: “Those who actually heard the speech never forgot the intense conviction with which it was delivered or the emotion it aroused.”

No one indeed could have listened without emotion as the King appealed “to all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget, and to join in making for the land they love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill.” He ended by recasting in memorable, idealistic terms the theme of partnership which Craig had deployed during the election campaign:

“The future lies in the hands of my Irish people themselves. May this historic gathering be the prelude of the day in which the Irish people, north and south, under one Parliament or two, as those Parliaments may themselves decide, shall work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundation of mutual justice and respect.”

It was the most significant royal intervention in Irish affairs since George III blocked Catholic Emancipation at the time of the Act of Union in 1801, and so utterly different with its wholly constructive purpose. The speech received the national and international applause it deserved. When the King and Queen returned to London by rail the following day, Lloyd George and his Cabinet were at the station to meet them. “We have been deeply moved by the devotion and enthusiasm with which You were greeted”, the Prime Minister told the King.

Lloyd George was also impressed by an upsurge of public support in Britain for negotiations with Sinn Fein to end the armed conflict in Ireland on honourable terms. On 8 July, a formal truce with the IRA was signed in Dublin, paving the way for the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921,which conferred dominion status on the 26 counties of Southern Ireland. The Belfast visit proved the key to Anglo-Irish peace outside Northern Ireland.

As the royal couple boarded their yacht at the end of the visit, the King said to his Ulster premier: “I can’t tell you how glad I am I came, but, you know, my entourage were very much against it”. James Craig replied: “Sir, you are surrounded by pessimists, but we are all optimists over here.”

Their number diminished sharply during the months that followed. The truce in the South enabled the IRA to turn the full force of its enmity on the North. By the end of 1922, the death toll in Belfast amounted to 428 with another 1,766 injured, all now virtually forgotten by the English with their gift of historical amnesia. Dr A.T.Q Stewart, the doyen of Ulster historians, sought to remind them:

“Grenades were thrown into crowded tramcars, into pubs, into churches and even into groups of children playing at street corners…Whole streets were burned down, and in Belfast some of the main roads became like sections of the Western Front, still vivid in the memory of many of the combatants.”

The IRA also killed – deliberately – the spirit of partnership which Craig had fostered in the Empire Day elections. Power, which might in time have come to be shared, was confined to the Unionist majority as long as the Northern Ireland Parliament lasted. The voice of Catholic complaint was never silent. Could this polarisation have been reduced, perhaps overcome? Only by the continued participation of the Westminster government and the exercise of its restraining hand.

The legislation under which the Northern Ireland Parliament operated stated that “the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished.” Partnership within Ulster required a partnership of parliaments. But Westminster in a telling phrase that has become current preferred to “devolve and forget”. It was a tragic error. It is a pity that the King did not warn against it in his great speech a century ago today.

BIBLIOGRAPHY – D.G. Boyce, Englishmen and Irish Troubles : British Public Opinion & The Making of Irish Policy 1918-22 ( Jonathan Cape,1972). Patrick Buckland, Ulster Unionism and The Origins of Northern Ireland 1886 to 1922 (Gill and Macmillan, 1973 ). Alistair B. Cooke/ Lexden, Ulster: The Origins of the Problem ( Conservative Political Centre, 1988) and “ Lloyd George and an Anglo-Irish Centenary: The Government of Ireland Act 1920” in Journal of Liberal History (2020). St John Ervine, Craigavon, Ulsterman ( Allen & Unwin, 1949). Alf McCreary, Titanic Port: An Illustrated History of Belfast Harbour (Booklink, 2010). Harold Nicolson, King George The Fifth: His Life and Reign ( Constable,1952). Susannah Riordan, “ Politics, Economy, Society: Northern Ireland, 1920-1939” in Thomas Bartlett (ed,), The Cambridge History of Ireland Vol. IV 1880 to the Present ( Cambridge University Press, 2018). A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground : Aspects of Ulster,1609-1969 ( Faber & Faber, 1977). C.J.C. Street, Ireland in 1921 ( Philip Allan, 1922). Charles Townshend, Political Violence in Ireland : Government and Resistance since 1848 ( Clarendon Press, 1983

James Frayne: What the polls tell us about the health of the Monarchy

13 Apr

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh has inevitably sparked a wave of interest in what the monarchy means to Britain. His death marks the beginning of the end of the second Elizabethan era and attention will soon be paid to what the Queen’s death in turn will mean for the future of the monarchy. Where does the monarchy sit in the minds of the British people and how might this change over time? Will the monarchy be fighting for its survival after the Queen dies? I have been through all the recent polling on the monarchy to try to answer these questions.

1) Support for the monarchy is very broad

Let’s deal with top line results first. On the basic popularity questions – in fact on every way you ask them – the British public supports the monarchy by a large margin.

YouGov’s tracker asks whether the monarchy is good or bad for Britain; the last result showed by 55 per cent to 11 per cent people say it’s good (with 27 per cent saying neither good nor bad). Savanta ComRes asked whether people agreed the monarchy was good for Britain; by 61 per cent to 15 per cent people agreed (with 18 per cent saying they neither agreed nor disagreed).

Ipsos-Mori recently asked whether it would be good or bad for Britain’s future if the monarchy was abolished; by 41 per cent to 19 per cent, people said it would be bad (with 31 per cent saying it would make no difference). Perhaps more interesting from a policy perspective, another YouGov poll asked whether Britain should continue to have a monarchy or replace it with an elected head of state; people chose the monarchy by 63 per cent to 25 per cent.

The Queen enjoys even higher levels of popularity: a separate YouGov tracker shows 79 per cent of the public think she has done a good job during her time on the throne.

Despite the large numbers of people who are either disinterested or unsure about the monarchy – figures which are surprisingly high for such a high-profile issue – support for the monarchy is very broad; it would take a catastrophic reversal of fortune for it to change significantly any time soon.

2) The Harry and Meghan affair hasn’t made much difference – yet

It’s hard to imagine worse coverage for the Royal Family in the last few months; the Oprah interview was, in PR terms, a total train wreck. However, despite all the shocking coverage in the media and online, the Harry and Meghan affair doesn’t seem to have changed public support much either way. Ipsos-Mori’s question on whether Britain’s future would be better with or without the monarchy was asked just before and just after the Oprah interview and there was only a very mild shift against the monarchy.

It is, of course, early days, and it’s possible the impact will take longer to be felt, but it certainly hasn’t been any sort of game changing event yet. In fact, the biggest shifts in the polls have been associated with Prince Harry’s personal reputation, which has dropped significantly; he has fallen a long way quickly; in 2018, a YouGov survey put him as the most popular Royal – above even the Queen. (It will be interesting to see how he handles any public appearances this week).

3) Younger people are again different

Drill into the numbers in more detail and of course the popularity of the monarchy doesn’t look so universal. As is becoming increasingly common, the biggest gaps are visible on age. In all of the polls I refer to above, the numbers change dramatically when you look at the tabs on age.

For example, the Savanta ComRes poll shows that 18-24s agree the monarchy is good for Britain only relatively narrowly, by 48 per cent to 37 per cent. More worryingly, in the YouGov question as to whether we should have a monarchy or an elected head of state, while the over-65’s believe we should have a monarchy by 77 per cent to 17 per cent, 18-24s support an elected head of state by 42 per cent to 37 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, the Harry and Meghan affair has been viewed differently by different age groups; young people are generally still positive towards the couple. Such were the allegations made by Harry and Meghan – on issues that we know the young care particularly passionately about – we don’t know whether all this will have a longer-lasting impact on the monarchy.

The great question is, of course, whether young people will, as it were, “grow out” of republicanism; their consistency across a range of cultural issues, and the intensity of feeling on cultural issues, suggests probably not – but this doesn’t mean the next generation will be the same.

4) Scotland lags behind

Only narrowly – by 41 per cent to 32 per cent – do Scots agree the monarchy is a good thing; the English agree by 63 per cent to 13 per cent and the Welsh by basically the same margin. As with the tabs on young people, this is also no surprise; the independence movement is completely entrenched in Scottish politics and the monarchy is seen by many in Scotland as an integral part of the Union, which of course it is.

The SNP has been careful on the monarchy, trying to avoid opening up an additional campaign front; after all, there will be some that would favour an independent Scotland with a shared head of state, but it’s clear that at least a significant minority of Scots view the Royal Family as a fundamentally English institution.

5) There’s a right-left split

Activists are always a bit odd; yes, that includes all of us that write for and read this website; we’re more likely to be ideological, to take an usually keen interest in politics and to have views on issues most people would find irrelevant or obscure.

But many of Labour’s activists are currently way out of the mainstream on an array of issues, with the monarchy being right up there. A YouGov poll of members in 2019 showed that 62 per cent of Labour members believe Britain should become a republic; the numbers for Scottish members were even higher (but the sample on Scottish members was tiny, so not robust).

I don’t have available corresponding figures for Conservative members, but the split between Conservative and Labour voters on a standard question as to whether we should keep the monarchy or have an elected head of state was 85 per cent to 10 per cent and 48 per cent to 40 per cent respectively – in favour of the monarchy.

Sir Keir Starmer has always been positive about the Royal Family (I have no idea of his personal views) and knows he needs to retain this line; but it’ll be interesting, given his grassroots, whether he feels pressure to say something like after the Queen’s death we should reform/slim down the monarchy, cutting off less popular minor royals. This would have at least some traction with the public.

6) King Charles looks set to inherit a less popular monarchy

The numbers on Prince Charles are at best mixed; YouGov’s tracker on whether he’d make a good king show the public are divided – with a third saying yes, a third no, and third unsure. On a straight question on ratings he’s currently viewed favourably by 49 per cent to 42 per cent (this dropped significantly in March; we need to keep an eye on this as it feels implausible that he’d fall so much, while others were pretty static).

Asked whether they’d prefer to see Prince Charles become king after the Queen’s death or Prince William, a poll in the autumn showed people would narrowly choose Prince William; Savanta ComRes’ more recent poll showed a significantly larger margin for William.

Will his low numbers damage the monarchy as an institution? That’s hard to say, but it requires working out what the numbers are telling us. While many on the right have been irritated by Charles’ pet political projects, the numbers don’t suggest that this irritates the public at large – probably because they don’t hear them. In fact, most people think it’s reasonable for him to speak out on issues that he worries about.

It’s more likely that he suffers from three things: (a) the fact he isn’t the Queen; (b) he’s not great on TV; (c) the legacy of his bitter divorce from Diana. In other words, I think the public are making a relative rather than an absolute judgement.

What does all this mean for the future of the monarchy? We should assume the Queen’s death or, more accurately, the coronation of King Charles will see support for the monarchy fall somewhat. This is inevitable; the Queen is so popular that any replacement will struggle – and Charles is starting from a low base.

But it’s hard to imagine this will lead to a serious, popular campaign for the end of the monarchy. Not only are the monarchy’s numbers as an institution sound, but let’s be honest: the public hate politicians so much, the idea that they’d like to see, say, an elected Labour or Conservative politician as head of state is mad (for realistically, this is who we’d get). For the foreseeable future, this will be a devastating counter-narrative.

The question is: will the monarchy’s numbers drop to such an extent that this doomsday argument needs to be made? Will we get to the point that we need to say: be careful what you wish for?

On this, I do indeed worry that this is where we might end up. Why? Because I fear the Royal Family is losing touch with the people who really support it: the English working class and lower middle class. It wouldn’t be one of my columns – would it – without this pivot to these voters? (Sorry.)

But look back at the polls I cite above and look at the tabs on SEG: time and again, you see C1/C2s and non-professionals giving the monarchy the greatest levels of support. These are the sorts of people who raise their love for the monarchy spontaneously and unprompted in focus groups; they’re the people who talk about day trips to London to “do all the Royal stuff”; they’re the people that attend the great public events and love them entirely at face value.

Perhaps because the popular press no longer sustains the massive levels of interest in the Royal Family that was evident even a decade ago (Harry and Meghan’s recent attacks aside), the Royal Family as an institution just don’t seem to have their finger on the English pulse like they used to. Simply put: the Daily Mail doesn’t force them to think of ordinary people as they once did.

And I fear Charles particularly lacks this insight; his concerns about the environment, modern architecture etc are all important but they’re inevitably niche issues for this audience; his public support for the military is a different matter, of course. He will need to learn about what it is these people really care about. (I could be wrong, but I suspect Camilla and her family are the best people to show him.)

In short, the monarchy will ultimately be safe in King Charles’ hands – but I suspect he’ll have to work hard to make it so.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Duke of Edinburgh – the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man

12 Apr

Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons, and is MP for North East Somerset.

“To become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks.” This oath of medieval lineage was used by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Queen’s coronation on 2 June 1953, and has become one of the two defining quotations of the modern monarchy – and the reason that the institution has been so successful during the second Elizabethan Age.

The evolution of monarchy over many centuries has ensured its survival in this country. The struggle for supremacy which saw monarchs vie for power with and against other powers, noble, religious and popular, became, by the time of our current Queen, to be a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign has never sought to interfere politically and the monarchical safeguards, which still exist, are operated in such a way that she never needs to be.

This evolution naturally begs the question of how the monarchy flourishes once all political power is ceded. Prince Philip’s oath provides the answer. It is about service to an institution embodied in an individual who represents the nation. The many obituaries have enumerated the volume of work that the Duke carried out over his lifetime. The tens of thousands of engagements, the thousands of speeches and, although no one has yet estimated the number of hands he shook, it must be over one million. And all to serve the purpose of being the liege man of his sovereign.

As that liege man, he sublimated himself wholly to the interests of the nation. He, along with other members of the royal family, by representing the Queen are the glue that binds the nation and indeed the Commonwealth together. The Duke’s tireless example showed how monarchy can still be important and useful. To do this, not only did he have to be endlessly dutiful, but also memorable. Royalty are blessed and cursed by the fact that everyone they meet will remember every word that is spoken. The Duke’s ability to be pithy may have amused the media from time to time, but it ensured that all whom he met had a story to tell afterwards.

The Duke’s steadfast dedication, demonstrated not only devotedly but with good humour, was a linchpin to our monarchy and so to our constitution and the health of our nation. The United Kingdom has been blessed, in its final transition to a constitutional monarchy, to have a sovereign and consort willing to accept Bagehot’s purely dignified role, which only works if tireless duty and service are at its heart.

Previous generations of royals might have balked at the selfless toil required. The sons of George III would hardly have butteressed a constitutional monarchy, while the behaviour of Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, would have caused comment. Equally, any suggestion regarding the divine right of kings would be as well received in the twenty-first century as it was in the seventeenth.

Nonetheless, it is the sacramental, the anointing and the oath before God that creates that aura of monarchy which makes people value its presence. The oaths made by Her Majesty and Prince Philip before God link the sovereign to our collective history, allowing and encouraging her personification of the nation. People are honoured to meet or be thanked by the Queen or her immediate family because of this symbolism. A plaque being unveiled by her consort is special because of the religious element of the coronation, the divine blessing if not right that the sovereign enjoys.

Alongside the Duke’s oath another defining quotation of the modern monarchy is from the Queen on her twenty first birthday when she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”.

This statement of absolute duty alongside the Duke’s oath speaks to the truth that those who appear to rule in fact serve. Through this service the constitutional settlement of this nation has thrived, providing a stability of fundamental importance to our prosperity. Countries which suffer from revolutions and tumults are rarely prosperous.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Duke is that he made it look easy. That is the proof of how well it has been done and a reminder of the debt we owe for a long life as the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man.

A prince’s passing is a chance to reflect on why we’re royalists

11 Apr

Why be a monarchist? As the country enters eight days of official mourning following the death of Prince Philip, it is a fitting time for those of us who support the institution of which he has been a pillar for so long to reflect on our reasons.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s passing is a sad reminder, as Andrew Gimson wrote yesterday, of the mortality of the Sovereign. And since the popularity of the principle of monarchy tends to under-poll the popularity of the monarch – especially one so universally admired as Queen Elizabeth – a reminder that its current hold on public affection cannot be taken for granted.

We might need to make our case, perhaps sooner than anybody wishes to imagine. So we had best prepare it.

So why royalty? There are different answers. Matt Kilcoyne talks about the value of having as the central drama of the nation a family story, told across several generations, rather than the presidential cycle of heroic but transient figures and interminable origin stories. Writing in 2012, Sunder Katwala made a pitch that the left should reconcile itself to the monarchy that put Prince Philip front and centre:

“We don’t even think of the Queen as having married an immigrant, so well integrated into British life has her Greek-Danish prince become. Prince Philip enjoys broad popularity, running neck-and-neck with Trevor McDonald ahead of sports and pop stars in an Ipsos MORI poll asking which foreign-born figure has made the biggest positive contribution to Britain.”

There is also much to be said for having a head of state who can be a non-partisan focus of pageantry. Coronations and jubilees allow the country to come together for events that don’t celebrate the triumph of one party, faction, or tribe.

The long history of the monarchy provides context and legitimacy to national rituals. George Orwell, another left-winger with a better grasp on this stuff than most of his comrades, put it best in his defence of anachronism in The Lion and the Unicorn:

“It is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists as a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person. Above all it is your civilisation. It is you.”

A republic would need new ceremonies and honours, if its self-consciously modern advocates could even recognise the value of them, and they would inescapably be shallower than those they replaced. No epic struggle against tyrants to sanctify a British republic, just a technocratic tidying-up exercise and likely the symbols to match it.

Meanwhile for constitutional conservatives, the monarchy plays vital role in the evolved elegance of the British constitution. The Crown is a vessel in which substantial powers can be safely vested, precisely because the Queen does not herself exercise them. Instead, the Royal Prerogative provides a perfectly normal suite of executive powers (obvious at least to those who can see past the word ‘royal’ in the name, which isn’t everyone) that can be wielded by a Government that sits in, and is directly accountable to, the elected House of Commons.

As with the House of Lords, there is no credible case for a presidency which rests on the position being essentially ‘the same, but elected’. Mandates have their own force and institutions a life of their own. Either a president would end up attempting to wield these powers, or they would have to be stripped from the head of state and found a new home.

The abolition of the monarchy would, therefore, almost certainly entail much broader constitutional reform, delivered by the sort of people responsible for such triumphs as the Supreme Court, devolution, and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. God save the Queen.

Sarah Ingham: We might have had a Juan Carlos or an Ernst August. Instead, we’ve had the Queen – and the Duke.

11 Apr

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

As the pomp and circumstance of a 41-gun salute led by the Royal Navy echoed around the United Kingdom and across the seas from noon on Saturday, it was a tribute to much more than a royal consort.

The passing of the Duke of Edinburgh has highlighted the towering contribution he made for more than seven decades in the service of this country, its people and the wider Commonwealth.

Like the Queen, to whom he swore fealty at the Coronation almost 70 years ago, he exemplified public service, duty and self-sacrifice.

Statistics compiled by the Press Association provide a snapshot of an extraordinary record; before his official retirement aged 96, he had undertaken 22,191 solo engagements and made 5,493 speeches. This does not include those ten of thousands of occasions he accompanied the Queen, both at home and abroad, in his chief role as Royal Consort. As an early Private Secretary, Michael Parker, explained: ‘He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job, first, second and last, was never to let her down.’

For those of us daunted at the prospect of getting dressed up for a work do and an evening of indifferent food and small talk – if not tiny talk – with strangers, our sinking hearts must go out to the late Duke. Not for him crying off at the last minute or that extra glass of wine to help jolly things along. No looking bored or swallowing yawns, either. Year in, year out, he was permanently on parade.

The Duke’s decades as an exemplary consort would have been enough to earn him gratitude across the globe, but he gave so much more. He was involved in hundreds of charities, great and small, from the Society of Underwater Technology to the Junior Astronomical Society via the Alvis Owner Club. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was a counterpoint for millions of young people increasingly cocooned by a health and safety-obsessed culture, while the Duke himself wanted to build a green future long before the

Ecology Party became the Green Party. His concern about the under-reported problem of global over-population – a concern more recently shared by environmental scientist James Lovelock – is worth revisiting.

Like the majority of men his age, he had served the country in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, when he was mentioned in despatches. His anticipated life-time career in the Royal Navy was cut short with the Queen’s accession. Instead, he served Queen and country in a very different role.

In famously walking two paces behind The Queen, for decades Prince Philip offered the country moral leadership.

It is only following the Duke’s death that his qualities are being fully appreciated. In a pre-feminist era, many men would have baulked at publicly subordinating themselves to a woman. As the man in the shadows to a woman in the limelight, he pre-dated Denis Thatcher by more than a quarter of a century in time – and light years in public attitudes towards gender equality.

The Duke leaves behind a country where political leadership is not viewed as an honour in itself, but a potentially lucrative entry in the CV. His passing coincides with uncomfortable questions for David Cameron about lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, along with the general murkiness surrounding billions of pounds of Covid-related contracts which have led to accusations of cronyism.

For the Duke to have spent decades in the public eye beyond any reproach and above suspicion is testimony to him. Two examples in Europe point to might have been: King Juan Carlos and Prince Ernst August of Hanover. The former Spanish monarch was forced to abdicate and is now in exile following accusations of corruption, while the German prince last month received a suspended prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. Conversely, the Duke’s charge sheet seems to amount to handful of ill-chosen remarks.

Had he been a 26-year-old marrying into the Royal Family today rather than in 1947, much would have been made of his personal journey from stateless, penniless refugee to palace. Instead, as he said, ‘I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’ This stoicism was apparent when he reflected on lost or wounded naval comrades. He observed: ‘It was part of the fortunes of war. We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun . . . You just got on with it.’

The Duke was in hospital when Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke of Sussex. It is unimaginable that the Duke would ever have offered up to the media his unsettled childhood, his parents’ divorce or the history of his mother’s mental health in an effort to claim exculpatory victimhood and garner the sympathy of press and public. Following the loss of their patronages in February, the Sussexes declared: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’ This underlines the generation gap between grandfather and grandson – and the gulf in their values.

In the hours after his death was announced, Boris Johnson stated that the Duke helped to steer the Royal Family and the Monarchy so that it remained an institution ‘indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.

On Friday evening the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times, one for each year of the Duke’s life. The Queen has lost a beloved husband and the country has lost one of the most admirable public servants in its history.