On the day the Queen died, @RussinCheshire tweeted: “The Queen is this nation’s last constant. She, not the monarchy, is the last national institution that hasn’t fallen into disrepair, disregard or distrust. I don’t think we’re remotely ready for her loss.”
He’s right. Since the news broke, the UK has been involved in an orgy of reminiscence about the Queen’s reign. Not once has anyone asked what sort of King and head of state Charles will be and what sort of country we now have.
What sort of King?
The Royal Family is supposed to represent the best of Britain and many will be looking to Charles for continuity. But as Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer put it, the Queen was “almost too perfect”. That places Charles in an almost impossible position. His every move will expose him to comparison and he will be found wanting by many. “I will miss her terribly“, said a member of the public 24 hours after the Queen died. That’s not a vote of confidence in him, is it?
Is he the unifying figure the nation needs at the present time? While the Queen could connect with people, Charles is a man in his 70s on his second wife and many won’t have forgotten how he and ‘The Firm’ (as they like to call themselves) treated his first. His brother Andrew is in disgrace because of his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, not helped by his interview with Emily Maitlis (not to mention a $12mn payment to the woman at the centre of the Epstein scandal). These are not endearing characteristics.
In an excellent piece, Otto English argues the late Queen managed to be all things to all people because she gave away little of herself. But he recounts the tale of a governess who published a memoir of her life and was promptly ostracised and then erased from the record. That behaviour wouldn’t be out of place in the Mafia. Nor would news that they sought to apply Queens Consent – the mechanism by which the government is required to present draft bills for the monarch to vet – to lobby for beneficial changes to proposed laws affecting her estates.
Preserve the image
It is highly likely that Charles will want to maintain The Firm’s image. Custom and practice will dictate much of what he’s able to do. It will be royal business as usual. He will have meetings with ministers but, as Anthony Barnett writes, he will have no power. There will be endless official ceremonies and official visits, done mostly for show. We know some of his interests, especially environmental ones, but he’s unlikely to have much involvement with them, given the protocols of a constitutional monarch. Indeed, John Redwood MP has already gone public with a tweet warning Charles not to get involved in political matters.
The picture that emerges is of a toothless figurehead dedicated as much to its own survival as anything else. “The lifeblood of the monarchy is self-preservation”, writes English. “Nobody is indispensable. Nobody is bigger than the machine.”
We see this already. The Queen’s existence will soon be obliterated. Barristers who were QCs have already been restyled KCs, while new stamps and coins bearing the new King’s image will enter circulation. Soon she will just be a memory. That’s when King Charles III will be on his own and facing his biggest challenge – a country in denial about its direction of travel.
What sort of country?
It was obvious from the time the Duke of Edinburgh died that the Queen was in the final months of her life. The country still clung to the fantasy that she would be ‘the nation’s last constant’ but her allure was waning especially among the young, as Polly Toynbee has argued. So just what sort of country do we now have?
Let’s begin with parliament, that cornerstone of what we like to call our democracy. A compelling thread on Twitter from Richard J Murphy pointed out the absence of ‘accountable’ government during the summer while industrial unrest increased in frequency and energy bills grew bigger, which he called “utterly unacceptable.”
Murphy was also concerned at the unquestioned acceptance of Charles’s right to become king of a country that calls itself a democracy. He went on:
“I was astonished that the Accession Council was not asked its opinion on the ascent of Charles III to the throne: not once were the 200 or so Privy Councillors assembled asked their opinion. If the so-called ‘great and good’ were present to offer counsel – as is their task – why was their opinion not sought on the matter laid before them? And yet it was not.”
This display of ‘eugenics over democracy’ as Murphy put it, exposes a fundamental deceit about Britain. We have a new head of state, a new prime minister and a new government, all in the space of a matter of weeks; only one of them has the very limited credibility of an election to underpin their position. And the public doesn’t seem to care.
Behold the one party state
Brexit started this decline towards what looks increasingly like an autocracy. Everything the government is now proposing is being done with the aim of removing everything upon which our current way of life (after 45 years of European Union membership) is based. There will be significant consequences, as we have seen from reaction to the ‘Kamikwasi‘ mini-budget. When it was announced on 23 September, sterling immediately lost 3% of its value falling to $1.08. The following Monday, it nosedived to $1.04. If you’re concerned that 10% inflation is bad, there is more to come.
In all likelihood, we are about to see a firesale of national assets. Everything of value will be bought by speculators. A further increase in interest rates from the Bank of England is extremely likely. Prices, from a mortgage to a tin of baked beans, will increase. But concerns about blatant handouts of public money to the wealthiest, the climate crisis, the removal of hard won rights, the deterioration of our countryside, beaches and infrastructure, fracking, the gradual privatisation of the NHS are simply dismissed with a shrug or ignored, especially by client media.
The BBC is particularly culpable here. Its news service was once judged the most reliable source of unbiased information in the world but in the last three years, it’s been bullied by the government into passivity, as Emily Maitlis so powerfully told the country last month.
But the greatest concern must be reserved for the behaviour of the Truss cabinet. There, the ERG libertarians have the whip hand and are now launching free market capitalism at its worst.
They want the UK to be a one-party state financed by corrupt Russian money, with the safeguards and scrutiny of the parliamentary system removed and the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill used to stifle protest and opposition.
When it was being debated, it was pointed out how threatening this bill looked. These warnings went unheeded, but now we see they were justified. Several people demonstrating against Charles’s accession were detained by police. Those demonstrating against the damage to the environment being caused by the fossil fuel industry are treated similarly. Parallels are often drawn between what’s happening in the UK right now and what happened in Germany as the Nazis came to power. That may be far fetched but take a look at the 14 Characteristics of Fascism described by political scientist Lawrence Britt. There are far too many features of that list that can be applied to the current government for anyone to feel comfortable.
Cometh the hour?
Is Charles the man to help Britain weather these crises? Undoubtedly he will begin with the good wishes and hopes of the majority for providing the same certainty as the Queen. But compared with 1952, when she took the reins, he faces considerable difficulty.
Back then, the country was fired with enthusiasm for a fresh start after the horrors of World War II and saw in the a symbol of that start, a young person leading a country emerging from the ashes of conflict. How different it is for Charles! For a start, he’s an old man. How much time will he have?
Then he faces the self-inflicted trauma of Brexit. In 1952, the world was ready to give Britain much credit for its moral leadership in opposing fascism. It had the resources of the new Commonwealth to help it recover. Now, the whole world looks on and wonders whether Britain has lost its mind – deliberately severing itself from its largest market, seemingly intent on sparking a trade war with the EU by breaking international law over the way Northern Ireland functions and on the verge of recession. Overseas sympathy and good will there may be for Charles and the country after his mother’s death. Not much else.
There will be little sympathy at home, either. As the country resumes its normal rhythms, problems that have been set aside are returning and people will resume wondering how they will cope with the cost of living crisis. When the bills for the Queen’s funeral and Charles’s coronation come in, expect many voices to be raised in condemnation that so much could be spent when so many people are facing hardship.
There can be little doubt the monarchy needs reform. So does the country. What it needs is the reassuring presence the Queen gave us. Charles is who we’ve got, unfortunately. He may not be up to either task.
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