Royalty is above politics.
These words are often used in a collective defence of royalty with respect to political matters. If, therefore, that is actually the case – if the royals are indeed politically neutral – then why is secrecy needed in order to protect this neutrality? Would not the principle and practice of the political impartiality of royalty, particularly those royals at the apex of the system, be better served through a policy of transparency?
Readers of this blog may be aware that The Guardian newspaper has recently been engaged in a struggle to require public access to letters sent by Charles Windsor to government ministers. The British government continues to resist every court decision that has been made in favour of The Guardian in this matter. This is an affront to British democracy and a disgrace for the present government.
As a member of the Republic movement I am strongly of the view that the British public has the right to know if Charles Windsor – or any other royal for that matter – is trying to influence government decisions. Republic has recently launched a campaign against royal secrecy. In a letter introducing this campaign, Graham Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of Republic, said:
“Secrecy is the key to the monarchy’s survival – if we all knew what the royals were up to behind closed doors support would start to fall away”.
Opening up those doors is the inspiration and rationale for this article. The monarchy may be said to be above politics, but royalty is not beyond accountability to the British political system and the laws of the nation state whom they serve.
In line, therefore, with the Republic campaign, there are three simple demands of government in the handling of this matter: *
* Full inclusion of the monarchy within the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), so that the royal household is legally obliged to respond to information requests.
* Repeal of existing exemptions from the FOIA that allow communications between other government bodies and the royals to be kept secret.
* Full disclosure of the royal lobbying and influence, including disclosure of meetings between royals and ministers.
The above are matters that deserve the serious consideration of politicians such as the Justice Secretary, Christopher Grayling, and the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright. Their present in-trays should include a review of the freedom of information laws, the releasing of Charles Windsor’s letters and an agreement with the above three demands.
There is an argument that states that, in consequence of Elizabeth and Charles Windsor being politically impartial, they have the right to discuss matters of state with ministers. Whether that should include matters of political policy is another matter. As well, it is Elizabeth Windsor who is the official British Head of State – not the royal family per se.
Hence the role of Charles Windsor in practical matters of British politics is, at least, arguable. He should be held accountable for his role in the British state, including matters to do with his estate holdings and charitable causes, rather than, as it seems, using his position to influence government policy and decisions – especially in those matters affecting him personally!
Notwithstanding, the present existence of secrecy in the above-mentioned matters ensures that we, the people, have no idea whether the royals are being impartial or not, or whether they are interfering in British politics. If the royals are indeed politically neutral, then let them prove it; if they have nothing to hide, then let the people know that their government isn’t being lobbied in secret by the royals. This is the 21st century, not the 16th!
The requests being made in the above, as well as the more general matters mentioned, though specifically to do with royal lobbying of a government, also pertain to the present state of British democracy. Is the British government acting on behalf of or against the people whose well-being is the first priority of its administration? This is not a matter of being pro- or anti-monarchical, it is a matter of lawful and just government.
We are citizens of this nation state of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not the subjects of a monarch or royal family. Democracy is the defence of all the people who live under this system of government, not the selective attention to the privileges of the few. In this democratic nation state, royalty, as with government, serves the people – not the other way around.
The Guardian newspaper’s recent efforts with respect to public access to Charles Windsor’s letters to government officials, supported by the decisions of the law courts, should exemplify this fact.
Why is this not the case?