The British Republican Movement has a documentary film on its new You Tube channel. The film is called “The Man Who Shouldn’t be King”. The documentary is, of course, about the man, Charles Windsor, who, in the not-too-distant-future, as King Charles III, is expected to replace his mother, Elizabeth Windsor, as the British Head of State. Republic’s documentary film focused on Charles Windsor, the Duke of Cornwall, and the Duchy of Cornwall.
Historically speaking, the Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate established in perpetuity by Edward III in 1337. The purpose of the arrangement was to provide independence for his son and heir, Prince Edward. A charter ruled that each future Duke of Cornwall would be the eldest surviving son of the monarch and heir to the (then English) throne. The current Duke of Cornwall, Charles Windsor, HRH the Prince of Wales (another title established in perpetuity), is the longest serving Duke in history. The very substantial revenue from the estate is used to fund the public, private, and charitable activities of The Duke and his children.
With the views and comments of experts, and the opinions of ordinary people, the film shows how Prince Charles is “unfit to be king and how his failures are the failures of the monarchy he inhabits.” One of the commentators seen and heard in “The Man Who Shouldn’t be King”, Dr John Kirkhope, states that “the Duchy of Cornwall is oppressive, they’re threatening, and the people are afraid of them.” A variety of experts and commentators question Charles’s conduct as Duke of Cornwall, his interference in politics and public debate, and whether his character is suited to high office.
The overall answer given by the programme is that we, the British people, need to choose our next head of state, and not have one imposed on us according to the principle of hereditary monarchy, self-serving royal practice and expectations, and anachronistic conventions.
There are, of course, other reasons as to why Charles Windsor is unfit to be the British Head of State. According to existing rules and protocols, the Head of State is also the Head of the Church of England – the Established Church in the UK. As a known adulterer and divorcee, Charles Windsor should be excluded from ecclesiastical office in the Church of England, and, by association, political office as Head of State. In view of the growing multi-national and multi-faith nature of British society, the indivisibility of the two offices is, in any case, a highly contentious matter.
I reflected on Republic’s You Tube documentary as I, unavoidably, listened to the recent news of the wedding of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. If ever there was a person who is unfit for public office, it is Boris Johnson. During his period, since 2019, as the person filling the top public office in the land, as well as his previous occupancy of other public roles in journalism and politics, Mr Johnson has proved as unworthy of these positions as anyone in recent memory.
Scandal upon scandal has accompanied Johnson, a charge sheet that the journalist Jonathan Freedland considered, “might well have felled another person years ago.” Boris Johnson is nothing, however, if not a survivor. His public office might well be called public “offense”. His recent marriage to his Downing Street live-in partner, and the mother of the latest in a growing line of offspring, took place at Westminster Cathedral, the prime edifice of the presence, if not ecclesiastical power, of the Roman Catholic Church in the UK.
Boris Johnson was born into the Roman Catholic branch of the Christian faith. Perhaps with visions, if not expectations, of a future life in public service – if not directly in politics – during his days as a student at Eton, Johnson renounced Roman Catholicism for the establishment Church of England. His marriage in a Roman Catholic church was, therefore, something of a surprise. What is also surprising is that the church permitted such a marriage of a divorcee, known adulterer, apparent father of illegitimate children, and, perhaps most blatant of all indictments, a person who had formerly renounced his Roman Catholic faith! Special considerations are said to have been discussed. Perhaps, after all, there is one rule for some, and another rule for others – even in a supposedly sacred organisation. (It is rumoured that the music at the secret wedding of Boris Johnson to Carrie Symonds, was provided by the group “Fiddlin’ About”. How appropriate!)
Notwithstanding any, or all, of the above, Boris Johnson is to be associated with a long list of political and personal scandals, so well described in a recent Guardian article by Jonathan Freedland. The most recent, of course, is his refusal, “whilst the Westminster village obsessed over soft furnishings and the precise class connotations of the John Lewis brand”, to divulge the person, or organisation, that first paid for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. This was not the first time he failed to disclose the source of his privileges, even whilst not holding back on the public vaunting of his privileged existence.
The Prime Minister’s personal privileges smack against such gross decisions as his government’s slashing of the overseas aid budget to UN projects. Scandal too is attached to delayed decisions to lockdown the country during the initial and subsequent phases of the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the indecision over border controls – a situation described by one commentator as “putting a double bolt and extra chain on the front door, whilst leaving the back door swinging wide open.”
The list of scandals occurring during Johnson’s watch continues. The seeding of coronavirus in nursing homes by returning elderly hospital patients to their nursing homes without first being tested for coronavirus; the doling out of PPE contracts to the mates of government politicians; and the abject failure of the expensive test-and-trace programme.
Through all of this, there was Johnson’s refusal to sack government ministers, including Robert Jenrick (for a favourable planning decision that saved a Tory donor millions of pounds in local taxes), the Home Secretary Priti Patel for several offences (including that of breaking the ministerial code), Gavin Williamson for oversighting a chaotic education department, and Matt Hancock for continually misleading the public about the state of the nation under the pandemic (including the mis-information regarding testing of the above-mentioned rest home residents returned to their institutions from hospital)
There is also the question as to the extent of Johnson’s understanding of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. He failed to attend a significant number of Cobra meetings through 2020, ostensibly as he was hidden away at his Chequers residence concentrating on the writing of his autobiography.
Then, of course, there was the Mr Johnson’s protocol that put a border down the Irish Sea, even after he had vowed never to do this, or put the Irish membership of the union in peril; his internal market bill that declared its intention to break international law; his illegal suspension of parliament – overturned by the supreme court as a violation of fundamental democratic practice. Added to this were his previous lies as he added his jovial personality, and self-serving objectives, to the Brexit campaign. These lies included the NHS £350m on the side of the bus, the story that lucrative trade deals with numerous countries were just waiting to happen post-Brexit, and the news that Turkey was poised to join the EU, with the UK powerless to do anything about this.
Boris Johnson was guilty of “racist musings” against the President of the USA, Barack Obama, his designation of Muslim women as “bank robbers and “letterboxes”, and Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. He ran Spectator newspaper articles castigating Liverpool FC fans at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. It is no surprise that Johnson has been fired from both the Tory front bench and the Times newspaper – both times for lying.
For many, however, the biggest of Boris’ bungles was the appointment of Dominic Cummings as his top adviser at Downing Street. Cummings was, of course, the person the “Leave Campaign” employed to successfully mastermind the Brexit operation during the EU Referendum process. That seems a long time ago and, thankfully, the tide now seems to have turned in the outward direction for this Machiavellian figure in British politics. It remains to be seen what impact the accumulation and accounting of these scandals will eventually register with the British public, especially when it is viewed against the background of the strange and continuing affection of so many citizens of the USA for that walking scandal of a President, Donald Trump!
Who bears the responsibility for the person that is Boris Johnson becoming the leader of a once-respected Conservative Party, the party that took the UK out of the EU? Who and what is the real Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister of a British Government that governs with seeming impunity, in a Parliament that ill-deserves its large majority in the House of Commons? Moreover, a Prime Minister surrounded by multiple scandals, and who is, so often, the judge and jury of his own progress and fate.
Is it the system of government, or the characters who compose it – or both, as one inevitably impinges on the other? Does the fault lie with a parliamentary opposition that seems unable to approach its task with strong conviction, unalloyed effort and unity, and relish for the task? Does the scandal lie with me, you, and the British public who are seemingly seduced by the privileged, buffoonish, Boris Johnson – whose unkempt appearance seems to reveal a similar mind? Is it a testimony to the contemporary mind-set that Johnson’s appeal seems to resonate with a country that increasingly looks to the past for meaning and fulfilment, but fails to find answers in historical institutions such as the Church, royalty, and other established institutions?
Late last year, the people of the United States began a fightback against the four years of reckless, rationale-defying, popular and personality-centred government of the Trump mal-administration. But, even so, lies and half-truths remain like a cancer in the American body politic. However, as much as we, the people of the UK, can learn from the American experience, we cannot allow ourselves to be pre-occupied with affairs across the pond. This is surely not a time in the history of this country when we should be following the fads, fashions, and follies of the USA.
What can, and should, be done, about the automatic assumption of a new monarch – in the event, as shown by examination and analysis, a man not fit for purpose – when the present Queen passes on? What action can be brought against the ownership of a Duchy of Cornwall that keeps UK citizens in perpetual dependence upon the privileges and power of the past? What can, and should be done to alleviate the shame on us, the people of the UK, for allowing a shameless man the license to manage a government in our name – a man and a government also not fit for purpose?