Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Thursday, 18 October 2012

036- "We're sorry for telling the truth, ma'am"

On 25th September 2012, the BBC was forced into an embarrassing U-Turn over a decision to reveal that the Queen had breached royal protocol on political neutrality. It was reported that she had met with "the Home Secretary at the time," in order to express her dismay at the prolonged extradition process of Abu Hamza al-Masri.

At this point, there is neither value in becoming embroiled in the debate about deporting (foreign) "criminals," nor any worth in questioning the efficacy of a supranational judiciary to deliver a favourable judgement for the state. 

What is worth querying however, is why the Queen has (inadvertently) waded into the national debate on British extradition policy? Moreover, we ought to question why her commentary has been revealed- against a sixty year backdrop of (feigned) neutrality- and to what purpose this might serve in the light of expected future disclosures?

Royal Neutrality

Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant - Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince Harry, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge
Credit: Andrew Wagg (2012) source: flickr.com

Any website dedicated to the Royal Family, is quick to emphasise the politically neutral stance of the Monarchy, and how this is fitting within the context of a constitutional monarchy arrangement for a parliamentary democracy: 
'As Head of State, The Queen must remain politically neutral, since her Government will be formed from whichever party can command a majority in the House of Commons.'
'Queen and voting' - royal.gov.uk (Sept 2011) 
It is a position which has been much vaunted throughout the reign of the current Monarch, and one which has certainly done the rounds, during a year in which it had almost become mandatory to state that "she has hardly put a foot wrong in 60 years."

This much is fairly easy to understand - if you overlook the fact that this neutrality is more of a customary than legally-binding position, or if you wish to delve into the nature of the weekly 'audience' between the Prime Minister and the Queen. It is here that we begin to find our doubts, about the great neutrality charade of the British monarchy.

No human is selfless, and it does not require much cognition to determine that fulfilling a role at the heart of a nation's political framework for six decades, is time enough for any initial feelings of selfless duty to cave in to personal ambition. Make no illusion that even the Queen has her vested interests. She is after all human, and will seek from life that which we all do; the best for herself and the best for her family. Being fortunate enough to have emerged into the world from the womb of someone, upon whom absolute social, political and economic pre-eminence is inherited and maintained by an entire state, it can be safe to assume that she would harbour no desire to relinquish such an advantage.

We know this, because whilst -up until the 25th- Elizabeth and her PR machine- had been very good at concealing any information about her interactions with the arms of the state, her eldest son - and heir to the throne- Charles, has made no secret of his desire to ignore traditional royal protocol on political issues:
Paul Richards, a former Labour special adviser between 2005 and 2009, told the tribunal, that the Prince’s letters were “put before the minister, effectively at the top of the file and treated with great reverence.
'Neutrality of Prince of Wales might be questioned if 'black spider' memos made public, former aide warns' - The Daily Telegraph (18 Sept 2012) 

Even if Charles behaviour defied convention, the final barrier would of course be our elected representatives, who have the democratic mandate to be able to reject any interference from non-elected members of the state authorities.

But of course, over half of the British parliament is already unelected(*1) and this year has demonstrated yet another collapse in political will to rectify this situation. In the light of this, why would anyone oppose the interference of a monarch-in-waiting? It is thus far fetched to even expect the monarchy to censor its own opinions, as demonstrated on 25th September.

It thus is apparent that the declaration of royal neutrality is nothing more than a gross charade, designed to dupe the British public into believing that monarchy is a harmless dressing on the often hard-to-stomach world of politics.

Opining or lobbying?

Following an outcry by the Scottish Information Commission and the ruling of a Freedom of Information (FoI) tribunal, we will soon be able to delve into the nature of royal lobbying and vetoing, to acts which have forever been reported as either being beyond the remit of the royals, or only exercised in 'extreme' circumstances.

Quite who determines what constitutes an 'extreme' circumstance remains to be seen, but we are now already aware that as head of the Duchy of Cornwall, the government has been presenting legislation to Charles before it is debated, so as to ensure that it does not affect any of his personal interests in that particular duchy.

This brings the position of the monarchy into a whole new realm, or rather, confirms the suspicions of democracy activists and British republicans. Suddenly, someone who has arbitrarily been placed at the head of the British political and social structure is being consulted on laws before the electorate. This practice begins to bring to doubt the legitimacy of the British democratic model.

It is beyond mere opining, if correspondence sent by the Prince, "is treated with great reverence" in comparison to correspondence from others. This would appear to be irrespective of the topic at hand, and thus suggests a shift towards the lobbying end of the spectrum. Charles would have been fully aware that his polite suggestions- given his position to the British "constitution" - will have carried a great deal of sway in the actions of MPs, in comparison to a lay constituent, who would have been politely ignored, if their query was not a vote winner.

Abu Hamza

So this brings us to #queengate - as so eloquently put by the Twitter realm on the 25th- with revelations by the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardener OBE on Radio 4, about the Queen revealing that she had spoken to a former home secretary, about her concern about the inability of due process to expedite the desired expulsion of Abu Hamza, amidst his diatribe against the British nation.
Abu Hamza al-Masri - Source: BBC News (2010)

A subtle admission of having expressed an opinion, which quite naturally is a normal human act. But reconsider that revelation for a moment; the Queen, who has sworn to remain politically neutral as head of state, not only providing an opinion on a politically sensitive subject, but also going out of her way to convey this to a Home Secretary.

Some (such as Labour MP Keith Vaz), have claimed that as head of state, it is Elizabeth's right to question events in "her realm." But this revelation raises serious questions about where decision-making lies in our democracy, and to what extent our representatives are yielding power to the unelected core of the British political system.

This revelation can of course, also be considered as opportunistic. Perhaps Gardener - and conspiracists may even claim the Palace themselves- sought to reveal information about this private exchange, as yet another piece in the unrelenting royalist PR exercise in the year of the Diamond Jubilee. How convenient to posit the Queen as sharing populist opinion on a controversial matter! This of course, ties in with the trend of 'sixty years and not a foot put wrong' myth.

If this was the aim, then it is even more perplexing that the BBC made it a breaking news issue earlier in the afternoon, proclaiming that they had apologised to the Queen for having revealed the details of the conversation. They were essentially apologising for revealing the truth. 

There are two things which may have been the aim of this revelation; either the news was designed to pacify the public in the wake of future FoI tribunal revelations about dealings between the Queen, Prince Charles and Ministers, or it was designed to sway the public to condone this type interference, so that it may continue without arousing suspicion. For either, this particular opinion revelation meets both of those aims. 

The danger with this of course is, which other events has the Queen commented and lobbied on? And how do we the people, determine whether her influence is always in the public interest? It is a most conniving action, that the Palace has jumped onto the Abu Hamza bandwagon.

 Republic Campaign spokesperson Graham Smith is cited as follows:
“Usually the royals are very secretive about their involvement in politics, yet when there’s an opportunity to court public opinion the Queen makes her views known. Will she also be making her views known on Julian Assange or Gary McKinnon? Is she all the while meddling in the political process and demanding action from the courts?” 
'Queen must keep out of politics' - Graham Smith, Republic Campaign (25th September 2012)
Specifically, what more has the Queen- or even Charles- had to say on the hot topic of extradition and deportation? Perhaps her sweeping assessment of Abu Hamza, also applies to Babar Ahmad, who has been detained without trial since 2004, pending extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003.

What does she have to say on freedom of movement in the EU, the granting of visas to non-EU citizens or even the domestic demographic make up of post-empire Britain?

It all would not really matter, if she was just your average old lady with a political opinion. She would merely be exercising her right to freedom of speech. Instead, the present reality is that she is centrepiece of the current version of British democracy, is conventionally and legally bound to be politically neutral and must not divulge such comments so as not to interfere with due process.

If she wishes to have a legitimate say, she should do the right democratic thing and stand for election. 

  1. Parliament of the United Kingdom, Wikipedia (Accessed: 25 Sept 2012) 1,436 members of parliament. 650 MPs, 786 peers.

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