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Reigning for dummies

22 October 2011


What is the Queen’s secret? She seems to defy political gravity. Right now, an English monarch is in Australia being feted by her subjects, who seem delighted by this very un-modern constitutional arrangement. Paul Keating, the former
Prime Minister of Australia, recounts in The Times today the time he advised the monarch to let go. “I told the Queen as politely and gently as I could that I believed that majority of
Australians felt the monarchy was now an anachronism; that it had gently drifted into obsolescence.” This was 18 years ago. There is no such sign of this now, with just 34 per cent of Australians being in favour of dumping Her Majesty – the
lowest figure for 20 years. Why? You’ll find no explanation in political science.

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But there is a formula. At the risk of letting daylight in on magic, it is revealed in the cover story of this week’s Spectator. Robert Hardman, who was granted unparalleled access to the
monarchy for his book Our Queen, says that there is a ten-point code. It’s
about being ‘head of the nation’ rather than ‘head of state’ and the code was drawn up by the author of Yes, Minister, Sir Anthony Jay, when he was observing the monarchy
for the film Elizabeth. His book simply codified the principles of monarchy he saw being used around him: how a monarch behaves in an advanced democracy. It is ‘reigning for dummies’, a
guide to hand down when needs be. There is a great paradox that this 85-year-old is one of the most popular and unifying figures in the opening years of the 21st century. Her Diamond Jubilee next year will celebrate the incredible success of her reign, and an approval rating that Britain’s political
class (and, for that matter, America’s) can only dream

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Show comments
  • Tarka the Rotter

    There are those who believe HMQ has violated fundamental constitutional principles (Magna Carta, The Bill of Rights, the Coronation Oath, the Act of Supremacy) by signing away our sovereignty to ‘a foreign power’ aka the EU. When the question of the oath relating to the Act of Supremacy, taken by every CofE cleric, arose recently, it was referred to Brussels. The response was illuminating – ‘It can stand for the present.’

  • Ghengis

    Rhoda – I so agree with the principle you express I seek your forgiveness for not only plagiarising but also editing it so as to refer to our Sovereign Nation
    If we do not have a working democracy, and I believe we don’t, if there is a democratic deficit, and I believe there is, then our sovereign is failing to protect our nation. It is my belief that HMQ has put a lot more effort into preserving the monarchy and the place of the Windsor family in it than she has into preserving the sovereignty of our nation which has obviously been diminished if not destroyed.

  • Ron Todd


    Are you getting confused between Prime Minister and Head of State.

    I did not say 50% of people voted for the Prime Minister.

    I said that a head of state voted for by 50% of us, is better than an unelected head of state.

    I agree that our main parties do not always offer as much choice as some of us would like, but not that they are all corrupt or self-serving.

    They offer a referendum and we don’t get one. Unlike our unelected head of state an elected one might be able to say to them keep your promise or have an election.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Ron Todd, can you explain how we get to vote out the corrupt and self-serving? I don’t see that our present system allows us to do that at all.

    We can choose between Millband, Cameron or Clegg – the three headed-hydra. How can we get rid of this monster? We can’t vote it out. And where did you get the idea that 50% of people voted for Cameron?

  • oldtimer

    I think the monarchy has survived because it has managed to adapt to the times as those time have changed. It started with Victoria and Albert, following the excesses William IV, and has adpated ever since while overcoming some little and not so little in house difficulties. The present monarch achieves and deserves respect and affection for her strong sense of duty and her willingness to endure a still punishing schedule despite her advanced years.

  • Ron Todd


    Was is wrong in getting to elect our head of state? Bertter somebody 50% of us vote for than somebody nobody voted for.

    If you want prince Charles and he stood as a candidate you could vote for him.

    Yes there is a risk we get a copmlete and utter scunner, Preident Prescott or President Cherri at least we could vote them out again.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    If we do not have a working democracy, and I believe we don’t, if there is a democratic deficit, and I believe there is, then the constitutional monarchy is not working. It is my belief that HMQ has put a lot more effort into preserving the monarchy and the place of the Windsor family in it than she has into preserving the constitution, which is in disarray. Note that she has never dared to do what the Governor-General of Autstralia once did in her name.

  • John DEAN

    If the once PM of Oz P.Keating suggests anything do precisely the opposite and you’ll be in clover.

  • London Calling

    Buckingham Palace…A week earlier…

    Her Majesty’s En Suite
    Phillip gently taps on the door

    Are you alright me dear, you’ve been in there an awfully long time?

    Yes I’m fine thank you Phillip…I’m twittering on my Tweet, its such good fun

    Is that wise me dear… What with protocol and all that?

    Don’t be silly Phillip, I’m not tweeting as the Queen, my name is anonymous and I’m organising an uprising, not a real one of course, nobody takes these things seriously do they?

    Well that might explain why the police are downstairs me dear

    The police?…whatever do they want Phillip?

    They say a member of staff may be organising a revolution from inside the Palace, what shall I tell them me dear?

    OOPS…Tell them I’m packing for Australia, they can return when I’m away…

    Very well me dear…but if you don’t stop twittering …I’m telling William…

  • daniel maris

    Andy Leeds-

    I don’t think you’ve got much evidence for your contention, or rather it’s kind of true by definition i.e. constitutional monarchy implies a functioning democracy and a constitutional settlement. In fact, democratic republics are just as stable. Ireland as a republic has been much more stable than when it was part of a constitutional monarchy. Italy began as a constitutional monarchy and degenerated into a dictatorship – the Italians got rid of the monarchy after the war. The Greek constitutional monarchy also fell prey to dictatorship and the Greeks went with a republic afterwards.

    The US and Switzerland have had stable republican government for hundreds of years.

  • David Lindsay

    If the neoconservative nightmare of vast neoliberal “republican” federations across Europe, North America and Australasia were ever to become a reality, then expect the same person to remain Head of the former United Kingdom or whatever entities it was divided up into, Head of each of the former Australian states and of New Zealand, and Haed of at least some former Canadian provinces.

    “Not until the present Queen dies” is not only an utterly unprincipled position, yet tellingly now the only one ever articulated anywhere where she is the monarch. It is also, as those expressing it must surely know, founded on a fallacy: the succession happens in an instant.

    The monarchy was hugely unpopular, not least in Australia, in the middle of the Victorian Period. The monarchy was hugely popular, not least in Australia, by the time of the Diamond Jubilee. Next year, there will be another Diamond Jubilee.

  • Sarnia

    Thank God we do not suffer the indignaties of a presidential system.

  • Andy Leeds

    Of course the reason is that Constitutional Monarchy is the most stable form of Government, but the chattering classes don’t understand that. And of course the glory of Monarchy is not the power that it enjoys for itself, but the power it denies others.

  • daniel maris

    Whilst I like to maintain our historical heritage, the problems with monarchy are those of the capricious nature of genes, upbringing and personality. Prince Charles has not been the quiescent presence that Princess Elizabeth was. He has been an actor on several stages. Mostly, I personally agree with his concerns, but then one comes to his determination to be a defender of all faiths, however indefensible one of them in particular may be. It is at that point that one queries the value of monarchy – when it can become a trojan horse for a value system opposed to all you hold dear. Something similar happened in the 1930’s with King Edward’s flirtation with fascism.

  • roman lee

    You only have to look at the recent political leaders is Australia to see why her ratings are going up over there, now look at the rubbish leaders we in the UK have had and you wonder why we do not restore her to a full monarchy. even Charles when he succeeds her will be to busy contemplating his navel to do any damage, unlike politicos who try to think of ways to make a mark whether they merit one or not,

  • Ed P

    I’m sure her popularity is bolstered by her keeping that green-obsessed son off the throne. Despite having a family every bit as disfunctional as the average Chav, she herself is serenely detached from worldly distractions – a living iconic example at odds with this degraded & corrupt age.

  • Austin Barry

    Dennis Churchill:

    Yeah,one of the interesting aspects of Australia is the Darwinian struggle between the English and the Irish. It even surfaced in the great Oz cricket team of the 1940’s with the enmity between Bradman and Bill O’Reilly.

  • ms m davies

    Long live a stable Monarchy!

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Why is a constitutional monarchy not as modern as any other form of Government? The fact that it is rooted in centuries of history and tradition doesn’t make it old fashioned.

  • Dennis Churchill

    Keating? Sounds like an Irish name. Maybe he meant a majority of Australians of Irish decent.

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