Beware of the Queen

zimbio.com
There is a certain euphoria in the air….the House of Commons, so long a lickspittle of succeeding governments, told the current one where to go.
The Legislature had landed one full on the nose of the Executive and the Prime Minister was thwarted in his aim of bringing about British participation in American led strikes against Syria.

I am not euphoric….there was crass arrogance and bad management in whipping in the vote on the government side.
Ministers were allowed to absent themselves for ‘family reasons’, ‘holidays’ etc., while two of those actually in the Palace of Westminster managed not to hear the division bell – none so deaf as those who won’t hear….
A more professional performance would have had wiped out the thirteen vote margin by which the government were defeated and the way would have been open for preparations to be made pending a final vote in the House on taking Britain into yet another armed conflict alongside America.

Not, in theory, that the government needs Parliamentary approval to make arms manufacturers rich and mutilate and kill the children of the poor.
Since 2003 there has been an ‘understanding’ that there will be a vote in the House; an ‘understanding’ brokered under Blair, anxious to legitimise his breach of international law in the invasion of Iraq.
But it is only an ‘understanding’.
It has not yet grown into a ‘convention’ – one of those fixed ‘understandings’ which form the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom – and as such cannot claim to have overtaken that constitutional relic….the royal prerogative power to take the nation to war.

I doubt it was noted in the news media, but, victory in the House attained, the leader of the opposition specifically asked the Prime Minister for assurances that the prerogative powers would not be used to achieve his ends despite the vote and those assurances were received.
The constitutional relic is alive and kicking.

It is customary to refer to the Queen as a constitutional monarch, her powers limited by law and exercised on her behalf by government….innocuous indeed, allowing her to concern herself with the receipt of sturgeon and the award of membership of a limited number of the Orders of chivalry…the Garter, the Thistle and the Royal Victorian.

So why should you beware of the Queen?

For the very reason that the prerogative powers are vested in the person of the monarch.
The monarch who is regarded as the fountain of justice and as such immune from criminal prosecution and civil action in the courts.

So? That’s a problem?

Not necessarily in the person of the monarch….but those exercising the prerogative powers on her behalf – the government – claim the same immunity, thus limiting the power of the citizen to ask the courts for redress for government action.

The courts are not without resources…judicial review…the Human Rights Act ….but the problem remains that decisions regarding war and peace, and the power to take measures of internal control when there is no state of emergency give a great deal of power to government to act with neither debate nor discussion and leave the aggrieved citizen – or the relatives of those killed as a result of government action – to rustle up the money to challenge them in court.

There have been attempts to abolish the prerogative powers…there have been consultative committees….but in the end the government claims that it is too hard to disentangle prerogative powers from surrounding legislation and they continue on their stealthy way: relics of an old power, zombies of a new.

In this post democratic age, when the House of Commons – unworthy descendent of Mr.Speaker Lenthall , Wilkes and Bradlaugh – manages a last kick, let us hope that it will manage yet another and reduce the royal prerogative powers to a relic of history, instead of a harbinger of yet more behind the scenes control.

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30 thoughts on “Beware of the Queen”

  1. And once we disentangle profit from war itself what an enlightened race we will be. At that point politicians may well become redundant.

  2. For once in my life, I’m pleased with what Ed Milliband accomplished. I’m fairly sure that this will be the last time such a phrase leaks from my fingers to the keyboard but we owe him a debt of gratitude.
    I vote that we become a new Switzerland, who gives a s**t if we lose some perceived standing in the world. How about canceling Trident and putting the cost of that and every cruise missile we won’t need into education and the NHS?
    Now see what you’ve started Helen?

    1. Miliband astonished me too. I’ll be astonished if he astonishes me again, though….

      And what ‘standing’ in the world? America’s poodle? That’s a standing we can well afford to lose and as you say the savings can be well employed on important things.

  3. Thanks for this Helen – started my Saturday with some stimulating thought.
    Over the last few weeks I’ve been amusing myself, comparing and contrasting the US/Westminster models of power – and considering the checks and balances (or not) built into the system…
    We British subjects have never had the protection afforded (or not – it’s increasingly debatable) by a written constitution and Bill of Rights. In reality this means that the power vested in the Prime Minister of the day is immense. And we know just how ‘presidential’ Cabinets became – under Thatcher and Blair.
    The creeping growth in Executive power frightens me. Thing is – some of those who’ve been criticising the growth of that power have begin to frighten me even more. Take a quick look at the connections between libertarians (like Greenwald – of The Guardian fame) and right wing extremists for instance: Glenn Greenwald had been a speaker on ‘The Young American Liberty Tour’ along with three civil liberties experts titled “The War on Terrorism, Civil Liberties, and the Constitution’.”
    The other two experts were Bruce Fein (Snowdon’s lawyer – the same Snowdon who revealed the extent of the security services reach into personal email and searches etc) Jacob Hornberger, (who believes the US was better off before the Civil War) and Jack Hunter – aka ‘The Southern Avenger’. Jack Hunter supports seccession and believes ‘the negroes in America benefited from slavery as they’re much better off than negroes in any other country’… Jeez. A warped piece of work.
    I don’t (and that is a big loud don’t) want to share the same mental space as the Southern Avenger. I am not a right wing conspiracy fiend. But I fear the ever-growing encroachment of government control into private spheres – the loss of liberty and freedom that this entails.
    Is it simply the case (regardless of political hue) that it is the nature of ‘government’ to seek fresh powers for itself? And that in time of an almost paranoid fear of terrorists and terrorism this power will be exercised even more vigorously? I suspect the answer’s ‘yes’. In which case to whom do we turn if we want to a) ensure that ‘the public’ are as safe as they can be and b) powers are proportionate and used legitimately?

    1. Those in power can subvert anything…looking at the make up of the U.S. Supreme Court it seems to me that only candidates having the same attitude to words as Humpty Dumpty will be considered.
      Mark you, looking at U.K. senior judges can be dispiriting too…tell them something is connected with ‘security’ and they’re straight into grovel mode when they should be asking ‘whose security?’….the real security of the people or the job security of senior civil servants.
      Whoever would have thought that the judiciary would have accepted secret courts…first in family law and now, with the Justice and Security Bill, to be extended universally on the say so of givernment.
      As far as the U.K. is concerned I feel that membership of the EU has been deleterious to the idea that government should be responsive to the people…an unelected body whose legislation passes almost without scrutiny in Parliament has gained acceptance and this encourages the home government to push the envelope in imposing systems and structures without real consultation; echoing the EU again where consultation means interaction with Civil Society…interest groups who live on government and EU grants.

      A spineless press does not help….look at that wet week editor of The Guardian who allows ‘security’ operatives to smash his computers….why the blazes didn’t he publish the lot…and come to that why didn’t he publish all the details of the tax evasion operation that his newspaper (and others including even our staid old La Nacion of Costa Rica) worked to discover.
      Another case of disengagement with the people…hugging information to himself, feeling himself part of the ruling caste, able to decide what we should be told.

      As to terrorism…a bogey to frighten children, to keep us in line, a weapon in the hands of governments to justify control of communications, of transport, of the power to move your money out from under their control – and to what end?
      What is it that they want to do which justifies any of this?

      We have to start relying on each other again…to try not to be afraid of the social pressure to conform to the norm of ‘model citizen’ imposed by government and media…to support each other under persecution when we refuse to accept unfair and abusive government measures.

      What we need is a revolution.

  4. ‘What we need is a revolution’ – I thought we just had one? Parliament giving the executive a bloody nose, does that count?

    I for one am glad, whichever way it came about. Syria is too huge and complicated a problem to let career politicians on both sides of the Atlantic plant their big feet in the middle of it and fan the flames all over the region.

    Something needs to be done, that’s clear, and no doubt the USA will wade in and do something. God help us.

    1. I wish I had any confidence that M.P.s would do it again, but it looks more like mismanagement than revolution to me…

      And as for Syria…where have we all been looking for the last twelve or so years…?
      Gassing the population? Saddam got away with that for years until he was no longer the blue eyed boy when he wanted to stop using the petrodollar…

      So what’s suddenly started the gastric juices flowing in the U.S. financial/military machine…?

      Thank goodness that at least this time British troops will not be involved.

  5. Like Mark, I didn’t know that either. I’m glad about the result of the vote, but fear that it was just a one-off show of independence by MPs rather than a change of direction.

  6. I may have indicated some measure of delight that we did not enlist in this conflict. I stay wary of the real underlying reason for all this, and indeed where it may lead.

    The decision to go to war cannot always rest with the populace, many would not have fought Hitler! The decision in such cases must be made by a few I think, and taking it before parliament and making the case clear is the only way to reasonably have the nation on your side.
    Thursday showed the nation was agin it!

    I am amazed however at the ten who avoided voting, how could they?

    Cameron may sack a few to strengthen his leadership, but even that may weaken him also. Resentment is a terrible thing in an MP.

    1. I agree about those who did not vote…you must have some opinion when your country is likely to take military action….
      To be fair to Cameron he did promise to take such matters to Parliament before the election and stood to his word…but I’m sure he didn’t expect to lose!

  7. I love it when you tell it as it is. I haven’t seen enough or heard enough to make further comment about what happened but heaved a small sigh of relief when I heard the result. Doesn’t help the people and children of Syria either way though – that’s what bothers me.
    Axxx

    1. Yes, amazing how the great powers can hold up their hands in horror at the dreadful suffering of ordinary people and say…but we can’t intervene in the affairs of sovereign states…until they decide that they can.
      We need a new basis of international humanitarian law but there’s no way it is going to come out of the U.N….who have managed in the past to appoint Zimbabwe to chair the human rights committee….

  8. Dare I say that I have always liked the queen? 🙂 One of the things I like about her is that she has a good sense of humour, as can be found in many photos of her laughing. I don’t get into political discussions, but just wanted to share my thoughts. Thanks, Helen.

  9. I’ve just returned from my morning coffee in the bar with the paper…..aiming to read at least one serious article in French, and understand most of it. ( I don’t have too much trouble with the reports of village hand ball and petanque games). Hollande is clearly facing une situation de plus en plus compliquee, now that Obama has joined the ranks of those who decide to check with parliament first…for whatever reasons. I think I worked out what most of the article was about !
    I’m spending more and more time worrying about what the consequences of whatever limited attack response Obama may have planned, would be……but also so horrified at some of the images being displayed on our screens from Syria. No answers, no solutions, just horrible despair at what people can do to each other, for reasons that are completely beyond my comprehension.

    1. I see the PS is divided – what’s new – about whether to have a vote…at least the PS politicians are. From what friends say the PS on the ground…the ones who canvas, etc., are all for a vote even if it means Hollande losing it.
      They, as you, I imagine, want an end to party tactics being regarded as more important than what is happening, not only in Syria but in so many other countries.
      We need a new system of international humanitarian law, where intervention is mandatory long before things descend to the Syrian level….where governments starve their people, where governments persecute minorities, where governments permit disgusting practices such as female circumcision, where militias kidnap children,…..but we won’t get it through the U.N.

  10. There are rumours that if the US, France and the UK attack Syria, it’ll be the start of WWIII once all the other alliances start joining in. Very worrying.

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