söndag 29 juli 2007

Is monarch the key to Britain's liberty?

In today's Observer is an article by journalist John Gray with the title "Monarchy is the key to our liberty - The institutions that attract the keenest scorn are actually what protect our democracy today."

This has attracted plenty of comment. Most of it is hostile and ridicules the stance he is taking.

I am no flag-waver and would not bother to turn out on the street to see the Queen if she came to town on an official visit. However, I find it depressing to read the barrage of comment which shows how little the British "intelligentsia" understand the way the British constitution works and where the built-in safeguards lie. The problems with reform of the House of Lords have demonstrated the problems that can come with attempts to change matters of constitution. The growing inequalities in British society have nothing to do with the monarchy and everything to do with poor economic management by elected politicians and the advisers they have chosen.

For what it is worth, this was my own reply...

"A recent survey showed that the happiest children in world were to be found in the Netherlands, closely followed by the four Scandinavian countries. Four of these five are low-key monarchies. They are also, arguably, the most equal countries in Europe (and probably the world), and the most democratic.

"Sweden managed to engineer an (arguably) successful socialist revolution which is, more or less, still functioning. It has been able to absorb (not without continuing problems) a large flow of immigrants, mostly refugees, in the last 40 years, to the extent that incomers and their children now form over 10% of the population. The outskirts of the cities have large areas of what look to British eyes like grim council estates for the underclass, but they are generally well constructed, well planned, well maintained inside and out, and there doesn't seem to be an underclass, or if there is, it is scarcely visible. Public services are good, the streets are well cleaned and maintained, and public spaces are a pleasure to be in. And you don't see people living in shop doorways.

"Whether the fact that these countries are monarchies is relevant is a question at least worth asking. There may be no connection but I suspect there is.

"It is questionable whether the UK can make a transition to a fair society without undue inequalities, but the presence of a monarchy does not appear to be a major obstacle. Certainly, the monarchy did not get in the way of the radical changes that were made immediately after World War 2.

"Since the 1980s, Britain has suffered from politicians with a megalomaniac streak - arguably, those who most want to govern are, by personality and temperament, the ones who are least suitable for the task. To put the point as politely as possible, they see themselves in a presidential role. In the circumstances, the monarchy could well be acting as the safeguard against tyranny."

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