Thursday, 10 March 2011

The monarchy, part one

It is a common misconception, among non-British people, that we're all fascinated by, and in love with, the monarchy. Many (by which I mean a very small number, because my internationalism is something that I need to work on) non-British people have said to me something along the lines of "do you go and drink tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace? Have you seen the Crown jewels? Isn't it a fairytale?" The answers to these questions, by the way, in reverse order, are, "no, not really", "yes", and "of course not, you blithering fool". (It's worth pointing out that this is actually made up, but go with it. I'm going somewhere, you'll see.) However, to a great extent this is cultural assumption and stereotype, and so there isn't really anything significant to read into it. Furthermore, the extent to which this is meaningful is very little - to most foreigners, the importance of the monarchy as a concept stretches about as far as tourism and some dollars and yen for the Exchequer.

On the other hand, it is rather more disturbing when the great British people seem to be wilfully rejecting any kind of rational debate into the issue of whether having a monarchy is actually appropriate, democratic or even legitimate. Three facets of this debate infuriate me. Let's deal with them in turn, by the process of male-dominant primogeniture if you insist.

Firstly, it came to my attention this week that it is actually forbidden to criticise the royals or their institution in Parliament. Now, OK, this takes some getting used to. There's this building, right, where people go and discuss matters of great urgency to the nation in order to get their political views into legislation. Excellent idea! One of the few things we Brits can be proud of is the exportation of democracy to the rest of the civilised world. But there's an issue. This week in Parliament, former Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant MP asked whether the disgraceful conduct of the Duke of York (porcine bloke, arrogant, loudmouth, altogether an arse) would be grounds for calling for his resignation as the UK's Special Trade Representative, a job which involves going round the world buttering up diplomats and politicians so we can flog stuff at them. Perfectly legitimate question. I'll let you guess what happened next, based on the normal rules of parliamentary procedure.

a) The Speaker took note of his comment and promised to arrange a debate on the subject
b) The Speaker took note of his comment and promised to deliver Bryant's concerns on the matter to the relevant minister.
c) The Speaker took note of his comment and promised to allow other hon. Members to talk on the issue.

Taken your guess?

No, you're all wrong! It's actually d) The Speaker took issue with his comment and forcibly told him that all references to the royals in the house should be "brief, sparing and respectful" and refused to let debate continue. I'll let you digest that.

This is a democratic house where people discuss social issues. Check. Free speech is a right in a civilised society. Check. People are elected to try to make the world a better place. Check.

So why in the name of all that's liberal can't we even debate this issue in a democratic house! This is a national disgrace - all that talk of liberty and equality is just arse-gas, it seems - us poor plebs should know our place and not question our betters, gawd bless 'er Majesty.

Good Christ! (Let's not forget that the established church is headed by the Queen herself. It doesn't take an Archbishop to work out the problems that causes...)

So. We have this situation, where 20% of the British people are unable to express their concerns about the monarchy in the elected House of Commons. OK, so. Where next? Yeah, the media.

In part two of this angry rant, we consider the role of the newspapers and telly in this national shitpile. Until then, keep warm, keep happy and keep well.

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