Mummy laughs and cries with us all, says Prince Charles https://t.co/h85kurAHsT
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 5, 2022
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.
Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.
This week, we remember.
Yesterday was Armistice Day: at 11 o’clock many observed the Two Minute Silence. The first was in 1919, on the anniversary of the guns finally falling silent in what the victory medal awarded to 5.7 million Allied veterans stated was the Great War for Civilisation.
On Sunday, the annual service at the Cenotaph will honour the dead of both World Wars and subsequent conflicts. The Queen will attend but will be absent from Saturday’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.
A Remembrance poppy is not just a symbol of respect for past sacrifice but a reminder to civilians about present-day military service. As the Second World War and even National Service becomes the stuff of history rather than living memory – the last National Servicemen were demobbed in 1963 – few consider themselves members of the “Armed Forces Community” of serving personnel, veterans and their families.
With the total full-time strength of the regular Armed Forces currently hovering around 159,000, employees of Tesco or NHS Scotland are probably more familiar to most of us than Service personnel.
Since the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, the Armed Forces have largely been off the civilian radar. When they have come to our attention, it’s generally because of the helpful if slightly hum-drum stuff of Military Aid to the Civil Authorities rather than the heroics of battle. Building Nightingale hospitals or dealing with floods might show off the can-do spirit of the Forces but lacks a certain derring-do.
A recent exception has been Operation Pitting, the August rescue mission to evacuate thousands from Kabul following the unanticipated Taliban advance. Suddenly, Forces’ personnel were more than first responders with weapons-training. The public was getting some bangs – or the prospect of some bangs – for its buck. Or rather for the £39.8 billion annual defence budget.
Jo(e) Public seems unbothered if the Armed Forces remain largely invisible, venturing out for crowd-pleasing displays of clockwork-like ceremony, such as at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. After all, despite their comparatively low profile, in the Hansard Society’s 2019 Audit of Public Engagement, 74 per cent were confident that the Forces would act in the public’s best interest. The Government scored 33 per cent. The favourable findings reflect stellar levels of public support for the military ever since the late Blair era.
Neither the Government, some MPs nor some Ministry of Defence civilian staff seem fully to share the public’s admiration. Instead they appear actively to dislike a culture which has made Britain’s forces globally respected military players, reflected by the Royal Marines’ recent performance against the US Marine Corps. (One American military blog reports that the RM are the US troops’ favourite foreign military to train with, not least because they ‘almost drank us under the table’.)
On Monday, Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, had ‘full and frank discussion about a range of issues’ with senior Army commanders. Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Army Chief General, stated there were ‘core and cultural issues’ which need addressing. The carpeting seems to have been prompted, in part, by a Defence Committee Report, Protecting Those Who Protect Us: Women in the Armed Forces, largely based on a survey of Servicewomen and female veterans.
Almost two-thirds of female personnel have experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination, including sexual assault. Such findings are at odds with the Army’s Values and Standards, formalised in 2000, which prioritised ‘respect for others’. Institutional soul-searching and wheel reinvention can be expected over the coming months, together with a long overdue overhaul of complaints’ procedures.
When not inevitably banging on about career-family life balance, the report also stated that ‘without compromising physical standards for ground close combat roles’, women’s fitness tests ‘should have due regard for hormonal changes linked to pregnancy and menopause’. Although the levels of abuse in the report produced shock-horror headlines, less widely reported was that 90 per cent of women who participated in the voluntary survey would recommend a career in the Forces to other women and 84 per cent said their overall experience of Forces’ life was good or very good.
The Defence Committee tut-tutted that aspects of their culture highlight the Armed Forces are still a man’s world. On Tuesday this point was almost conceded by General Sir Nick Carter, the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, who observed to members that a ‘laddish culture’ was not exactly discouraged, not least because ‘ultimately our soldiers have to go close and personal with the enemy’.
For all the CDS’s focus on the ‘long term cultural change’ needed to quell anti-social behaviour within its ranks, what is being overlooked is the military’s main mission: defeating the country’s enemies, often by killing them.
Those who would prefer to see an inclusive rainbow flag rather than the Union Jack flying permanently over MoD’s main building seem to forget the demands of combat effectiveness.
In the past few decades successive governments have been keen that the Armed Forces should reflect the civilian society they serve. Why? Two-thirds of civilians are overweight; one third obese. The 2020 British Social Attitudes survey highlights that the proportion who agree that schools should teach children to obey authority fell from 85 per cent in 2004 to 72 per cent in 2019. This suggests that some might not have much truck with hierarchical, rules-based organisations.
Reflecting society is often a euphemism for recruiting more women and people from ethnic minorities. For all the Forces’ talk of ‘technical trades’ and playing down combat, most women would not contemplate joining up any more than they would glove up and get into a boxing ring with Tyson Fury. Nascent research suggests the majority of Our Girls already have family links within the Services.
Whether nature or nurture, most civilian women have no problem accepting the Forces remain a male domain, just like Lord’s cricket ground or the construction industry. Perhaps the MoD should start asking them. After all, despite being ruled by their hormones – a message implicit in the Defence Committee’s report – women taxpayers finance the defence budget.
In these woke-not-bloke days, laddish culture is of course only a step or two away from toxic masculinity.
As the country gathers around its war memorials on Sunday, the service and sacrifice of the fallen, their stoicism, resilience and courage, will be contemplated.
There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, listed on those memorials commemorating Britain’s war dead who fought in uniform for Queen (or King) and country.
Lest we forget, with very few exceptions, all of them are men.
Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
The pinnacle of every environmentalist’s calendar is upon us! With only four days to go until COP26, ministers are falling over themselves to talk up the conference.
Their adoption of the language of crisis is stark: Alok Sharma has said that “If we don’t act now, the end destination is climate catastrophe”; the Prime Minister has warned that we must act “before it is too late”; while Downing Street has even hosted a ‘Kids Climate Press Conference’ to help win the “fight against climate change”.
Outside of government, the refrain that we’re not going far enough continues. Activist Greta Thunberg is rallying the troops to join the climate strike in Glasgow. National treasure David Attenborough has delivered his annual warning to save the planet from extinction. And then there’s the interventions from our favourite luvvies, like Ab Fab’s Joanna Lumley, who has suggested with all seriousness that we “go back to some kind of system of rationing”.
The problem with all this, of course, is reality. A month ago, Johnson hailed COP26 as a “turning point for humanity”. Now, the chances of COP26 success are “touch and go”, as he told children that he’s “very worried” the conference may not secure the agreements needed to avert climate change.
The harsh truth is that our entire net zero strategy relies on other countries following suit. Acting alone, or even with similar-minded nations, will make little to no dent in global emissions. This is not controversial. Indeed, it was acknowledged at the time of the formation of the Climate Change Committee, the independent body that is responsible for advising government on climate policy, that the success of the UK’s decarbonisation strategy depends on high-emitting countries adopting similar carbon targets to our own – otherwise, our efforts to prevent climate change would prove utterly futile.
It’s true that more and more people are demanding for something to be done to avert the rise in global temperatures. A new poll undertaken by the UN Development Programme and the University of Oxford, found that 65 per cent of the nearly 700,000 adults surveyed across G20 countries believe climate change is a ‘global emergency’. Whether this translates to advocacy for specific or costly policies that hit people in the pocket is, of course, harder to gage.
But, while the public calls on the UK government to do more, global carbon emissions are only on their way up. According to the World Meteorological Organization, even though the pandemic saw a 5.6 per cent overall decline in emissions of carbon, the build-up of warming gases in the atmosphere rose to record levels; it is predicted that this will drive up temperatures in excess of the goals of the Paris Agreement of two per cent. The UN has also issued a warning that greenhouse gas emissions are on course to be 16 per cent higher by 2030 than they are now.
Many high-emitting nations are either avoiding COP altogether or stalling when it comes to committing to carbon targets. China has said that fossil fuels will form less than 20 per cent of its energy mix by 2060, and that it will peak coal emissions by 2025. Hard to believe, considering it continues to invest in new coal mines and, last year, built more than three times as much new coal power as the rest of the world combined.
Crucially, it has also made clear that climate policy will not come at the expense of its other priorities, including energy security and other economic interests. Then, there’s Putin, who has now committed to reaching net zero by 2060, but will not show his face at the climate summit. And at the same time, leaked documents show that countries including Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia, and India are reportedly lobbying the UN against moving away from fossil fuels.
This is not to say that the UK and others should give up on going green. The possibilities of green technology are hugely exciting, and the benefits to our economy of pioneering new eco-friendly innovations are very real. However, it would be deluded to believe that the likes of China and India will come to the world’s rescue and slash their carbon emissions in line with our own – at least not anytime soon.
As a new paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs lays bare, the UK’s Climate Change Committee has failed to address the reality that it is highly unlikely that the UK’s leadership and influence will be enough to bring about the reductions in global emissions, and limit temperature rises, to the levels considered necessary to avert damaging climate change.
Therefore, if the world is indeed heading towards climate catastrophe, the UK desperately needs a rethink. First, we should ask why is the CCC and government prioritising mitigating climate change over climate adaptation? Why are we putting our energy security at risk, by subsidising green technologies that may or may not stand the test of time? And, crucially, why is the CCC and government not asking if the costs borne by British taxpayers, consumers and businesses have yielded proportionate benefits?
Over the next two weeks, we’ll see world leaders flexing their muscles, extolling the importance of cutting emissions to avert climate change. However, as it becomes ever more obvious that a global consensus is a pipedream, it’s clear we urgently need a review of our climate policy priorities – and an injection of realism.
Bob Blackman is the MP for Harrow East.
This week, tens of millions of people tuned in to England’s Semi Final match against Denmark. At this point, millions of TVs would have been switched on, kettles boiled and pints poured. We all assumed that everything would work perfectly, and we would be able to enjoy the football without anything going wrong.
For our national grid, however, it is at times like this when it truly earns its stripes. Despite a sudden spike in demand for thousands of extra MW of electricity, we will not need to worry about our TVs turning off, drinking a cold tea or forcing down a warm pint.
Over many decades now, we have had a reliable source of electricity that has enabled us to get on with our daily lives. The Three Day Week of 1974 is a distant memory for most and unheard of for others. However, over the next few decades, our electricity usage is set to rise exponentially and thousands of green, clean jobs will be created as we pursue getting to Net Zero by 2050. But, as we electrify more and more of what we use, our grid will come under increasing pressure.
Having a plan to deal with this transition is critical. Many countries around the world are now setting out their ambitions for this change ahead of COP26 later this year.
Now we need to map out a clear pathway for how we get there.
While recent years have seen us invest significantly in forms of renewable energy such as offshore wind, the importance of having a reliable baseload of firm power remains essential to the energy mix. Investing in renewables such as solar and wind is essential to the energy mix, but when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, where do we turn?
One essential answer is gigawatt nuclear: a zero carbon, continuous, reliable source of firm power. If we are to get to Net Zero it has to be not just a part of, but central to, the energy mix.
However, over the next decade all but one of the UK’s currently operating nuclear power plants will shut down. This is a frightening prospect. Hinkley Point C is the only other under construction, while the Government is in discussions over Sizewell C, the proposed new nuclear plant in Suffolk. If we are serious about getting to Net Zero, it is essential that Sizewell C is built, and that construction starts soon.
New nuclear will allow the UK to take further control of our energy production, reducing our reliance on imports from overseas. While interconnectors, which import this energy, play a vital role in keeping our power switched on, we should be looking at what we can do domestically to build our own firm power supply of clean energy. As we saw with French power supply threats in the Jersey fishing row, it’s important we have control over our power supply.
Moving forward with Sizewell C quickly is the essential next step in the resurgence of an industry that Hinkley Point C has revitalised over the last five years. As a former nuclear supply chain worker, I can testify to the value of the 70,000 highly skilled job opportunities it supports across the UK. The heart of its supply chain will be based in the North West where 65 years ago this year the Queen opened the UK’s first nuclear plant in Calder Hall. The industry is the blueprint for levelling up the UK and for showing British industry at its best.
Not only this but investing in new nuclear has the power to support our Net Zero ambitions. Surplus power and heat can be used to produce hydrogen and power carbon capture. The recent successful Freeport East bid to secure £250,000 of government funding will support a Direct Air Capture project which will help demonstrate the exciting potential of this technology. These projects will also all lay the groundwork for Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Modular Reactors as the supply chain continues to be established, enabling the UK to become a world leading exporter of nuclear technology.
After overwhelming backing not just in the last General Election but at the recent local elections, voters are now expecting to see delivery. Words put into action. Sizewell C is ready to showcase the best of what Britain has to offer – highly skilled jobs across the country which will power us forward on the road to Net Zero and give us control of our own energy.
So, while it won’t have been the first thought in everyone’s minds as they switched on their TVs to watch the footie, we should remain thankful to have an energy system which we don’t even need to think about.
By the way, I rightly guessed 2-0 to us last week when we went head-to-head with Germany so my prediction now? It’s coming home.
Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: it’s impact on civil-military relations in Britain.
It’s been a bad week for the heretics among us who do not worship at the altar of Britain’s National Health Service.
Unlike Lord Ashcroft (of this parish), the news that the NHS was being awarded the George Cross did not cause our souls to rejoice, but our hearts to sink. And with even Her Majesty the Queen being caught up in the cult of this over-mighty bureaucracy, NHS naysayers started to wonder how long it would be before they were treated like religious dissenters of old – and burned at the stake. Matt Hancock can easily be pictured setting a flaming torch to the faggots.
The secret of the Queen’s success during her exemplary reign is being above politics. By allowing her to become so personally invested in the award to an institution which is the most bitterly fought over by the country’s politicians, Her Majesty’s Government has dragged the monarch into the political murk. Should Nicola Sturgeon seek the royal imprimatur for Scotland’s separate health service, could the Queen refuse the request? What if the London Fire Brigade lets it be known that it too considers itself deserving of recognition for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”?
The George Cross can now join banging on pots and badly-drawn rainbows in the NHS reliquary. Witnessing this national idolisation of an institution which has neglected its elderly patients to the extent they drank the water from flower vases is as close as we will get in the 21st century to experiencing the mass hysteria which led to the 1212 Children’s Crusade.
Britain does indeed offer world-class healthcare – if voters are prepared to pay extra for it on top of their taxed income. And despite the ongoing fiction that all in Britain are fully committed to what the Prime Minister called “our greatest national asset, the NHS”, an increasing number simply by-pass it.
With 5.1 million currently on the NHS waiting list, a figure that Sajid Javid, the new Health Secretary, finds “shocking”, more might go down the path of private healthcare. This is of course the option they choose for their pets, minus censorious judgements about “jumping the queue”. They will be joining the estimated five million who already have health insurance, as well as those who happily pay to see a private healthcare practitioner on an ad hoc basis.
Why the taboo surrounding the extensive reach of the private sector into Britain’s healthcare? As the King’s Fund reported in March, “private companies have always played a role in the NHS”. It adds, “identifying NHS spending on the private sector is not straightforward” but suggests that some estimates put it at 25 per cent. (Thanks to the byzantine manner in which NHS GPs are funded, some now include them in the ‘private’ sector.)
Any talk about private healthcare, let alone its involvement in the NHS, prompts foaming-at-the-mouth denunciation from most politicians. Such hysterical over-reaction might be a cue to seek medical help – if only public sector doctors were available. Many NHS GPs shut up shop for the duration of the pandemic: should “Dr No” now deign to be available in person rather than via Zoom, they might give a patient seven minutes – often only to prescribe yet more antibiotics, contributing to the under-reported threat to Britain’s hospitals of antimicrobial resistance.
NHS cultists are dishonest and in denial. If we could afford it, most would leap at the chance of a face-to-face consultation with a private doctor within hours of calling their surgery for an appointment. According to the Association of Dental Groups, one-third of us, including Love Island contestants by the look of things, already visit private dentists. The Queen’s experience of NHS hospitals is surely limited to opening them. King Edward VII’s Hospital, where Matron gives good curtsey, is like a country house hotel off Harley Street.
Last year, following his brush with Coronavirus, the Prime Minister paid effusive tribute both to the NHS and St Thomas’s staff. On its website, the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust openly pitches for private patients, especially from overseas. It promises “exceptional care in a safe, trusted and comfortable environment”. Whether the country’s most famous NHS patient had a view of “iconic London landmarks” from his hospital bed, it is unlikely he would have been given food unfit for a dog, the experience of many up and down the land while under NHS care. Indeed, the PM probably only had to worry about the depth of the pile of the red carpet.
With seven million not coming forward treatment since March last year, including for cancer and heart disease, it is an utter falsehood to claim that the NHS was overwhelmed during the Covid crisis. Why did it have to requisition private sector capacity? The supreme irony is that the health and wellbeing of a large proportion of our population have been sacrificed to “protect the NHS”. This is a service which chose to discharge elderly Covid-infected patients back into care homes: given the deaths caused, they might as well as have been psychopaths with AK-47s.
Originally published in 1973 by the feminist Boston Women’s Health Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves argued that each individual woman was the best judge when it came to her own health and healthcare choices. Thanks to the worship of the NHS, healthcare choice remains an anathema in Britain in 2021 where politicians remain deaf to any rational discussion about the Service’s huge shortcomings and need for reform.
The collectivist Second World War not only cemented the position of the BBC but led to the creation of the NHS. In our multi-platform digital age, it is no wonder that the national broadcaster funded by compulsory taxation shills for a national health service.
The NHS failed the nation during the pandemic.
By George, it’s past its sell-by date.
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?
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.