GLORIA DE PIERO: It was just a few
months ago that the nation celebrated the Queen's fifty year reign over
us. But a poll last week showed even lower public support for the royals
than at the time of Diana's death. An embarrassing court case, allegations
of rape and rumours that you're raising cash on the side, are bound to
spoil the festivities.
PAUL FLYNN MP: It's an extraordinary end
to a wonderful year when the royal family, the monarchy, had been promoted
and the press and public had been very kind, but suddenly it all collapsed
in ruins and we had these stories that are more reminiscent of events in
a porn movie, or of the fencing that takes place in an Arthur Daly shop
than a group of people that we are meant to look up to and respect.
DE PIERO: On The Record asked 101
back bench Labour MPs "how much, if at all, do you believe that recent
events have damaged the royal family?"
56 said a great deal, 36 said a little, just 9 said not at all.
Even the best parties
have to come to an end and this one ended pretty abruptly, aided by the
lurid headlines detailing the unconventional comings and goings at the
House of Windsor. It's not just members of the public that are getting
fed up, many on the government side of the House are now saying the monarchy
has to change.
We asked our sample of
Labour MPs "which of four options comes closest to your preference for
the future role of the monarchy?" The 'no change' option was favoured
by just 7 of the 101 and some of those supporting the status quo seemed
to do so for pragmatic, rather than principled, reasons.
KATE HOEY MP: I don't find any appetite
for any constitutional change relating to the monarchy in my constituency.
Most of my constituents would much prefer us to be worrying about, you
know, they're worried about how to get a job, how to get their children
educated, how to get round London, that kind of thing, it really isn't
DE PIERO: The level of support
for the Jubilee led the Prime Minister, privately of course, to express
his unease at such enthusiastic embracing of a deferential age. The Jubilee
year provided the perfect stage to explore ideas about a modern monarchy
for the Labour affiliated Fabian Society. They're discussing all the options
- leave it alone, make cosmetic changes, restrict it to a ceremonial role
or declare a republic.
MICHAEL JACOBS: I do think that people
will look at this and over the last few weeks and think maybe reform is
the option that at least we should be properly debating now. I think some
people will feel there simply needs to be some kinds of cleansing process,
that something rather serious has happened, and there needs to be, something
has to be done and that I think a lot of people in the public, but also
a lot of parliamentarians will now be feeling.
DE PIERO: Yes it was spectacular
but it was expensive too. Some of the cost of the Jubilee - nearly half
a million pounds - was borne by the civil list - that's the �7.9 million
a year we give to the Queen. One of the options we asked MPs to consider
was cutting this back which in turn would reduce the money available for
the Queen's extended family, for her staff and for a suitably regal lifestyle.
This might help to modernise the royals but it would leave untouched the
Queen's constitutional role.
Asked if the monarchy's
constitutional powers should remain but the civil list be reduced significantly,
15 of the 101 MPs we spoke to agreed.
JACOBS: It's essentially the kind
of reform that would leave the monarchy more or less unchanged, so it would
be things that would gain the monarchy some degree of public support that
it may have lost, for example, over the last few weeks. So for example,
reducing the number of members of the royal family who receive the so called
civil list money, money from the tax payer and clarifying their duties
DE PIERO: Laws devised in the 16th
Century still govern the way the monarch reigns and that's what prompts
some MPs to say the royals must move with the times
TONY WRIGHT MP: We've known for years the
kind of things that we needed to do to the monarchy to bring it up to date,
and make it work in a democratic age. I mean I can give you the whole
list, I mean it means stopping the discrimination against women, it means
stopping discrimination against Catholics, it means culturally sorting
out the, you know, the double barrel flummery that surrounds the royal
DE PIERO: A large number of the
MPs that we spoke to expressed a desire to reform the monarchy radically
and strip away the Queen's Constitutional powers. Among other things that
would mean no royal assent to laws, no Queen's Speech to announce the legislative
programme, and no Parliamentary oath of allegiance - keep the pomp and
circumstance but lose the political power.
PROFESSOR STEPHEN HASELER: The monarchy in this country is above
the law in the sense that power and authority technically flows from the
crown downwards, the government is Her Majesty's Government, the courts
are Her Majesty's Courts, judges take oaths of allegiance to the Queen,
so in a very theoretical sense, power flows down and authority flows down
from the crown, and that is quite important in the way the country is
DE PIERO: Political power in this
country is formally exercised by the monarch through Parliament. It's Her
Majesty's Parliament and that's why she announces the government's legislative
programme. It's this constitutional power that grates with a large number
DE PIERO: We asked "should the
monarchy's constitutional powers be cut but the ceremonial role remain?"
and 44 out of the 101 Labour MPs agreed.
JANE GRIFFITHS MP: We live in a parliamentary democracy
and I find it difficult to see why a hereditary monarch should have political
power effectively, which is what she does have. I have no difficulty with
the way she exercises the power she has as head of state but I'm not sure
that as she's a hereditary monarch she ought to be doing so. It's old
fashioned in its feel and I certainly find as a Member of Parliament, I
feel slightly demeaned by having to trot along and listen to her majesty.
Her majesty I'm sure is a wonderful person but I have to trot along and
listen to her, it' not the government.
DE PIERO: Exercised through the
Prime Minister, the Queen has prerogative powers - remnants of the immunities
and authorities possessed by feudal lords - so in some matters the Prime
Minister can act without consulting parliament.
PROFESSOR HASELER: Two aspects of the royal prerogative
powers are extremely controversial actually, but are there and are real.
One is the ability for the Queen to declare war without reference to parliament,
another is the ability of the Queen or the monarch to ratify, not only
sign, but ratify treaties.
FLYNN: We are in an extraordinarily
unhappy position about declaring war and making other major decisions.
We flatter ourselves that we're a sophisticated democracy, but in these
most important of all decisions, MPs have no voice and no vote and that
is a nonsense and a constitutional outrage that we have to correct, if
we're going to become a modern democracy,
DE PIERO: This concern about the
constitutional role of the monarch is compounded by the fact that the Crown
is handed down the generations, through the male side of the family of
course. A surprising number of Labour MPs are prepared to commit an Act
of Treason by calling for a Republic. They believe it's simply unacceptable
to choose a head of state by birth rather than election. In our
survey of 101 Labour MPs we asked if they felt that the monarchy should
be abolished and replaced by a republic - 35 said yes.
FLYNN: What we need as a democratic
country is the ability for everyone to have the chance of being head of
state and to have a head of state who will take on a Prime Minister who
is acting in her or his own interests and against the interests of the
country, so we do need this strong character, but I believe choosing it
on the hereditary principle is all wrong
DE PIERO: This feeling is intensified
by concerns about the next in line to the throne. On the weekend of the
Countryside March a letter to the Prime Minister was leaked in which Prince
Charles agreed with the Cumbrian farmer who said "if we as a group were
black or gay, we wouldn't be victimised". MPs are concerned that the heir
to the throne has a habit of expressing views - particularly on rural issues
- and that this blurs the line between head of state and political participant.
FLYNN: I think Charles is a well
meaning but deeply unhappy man who's had a tortured marriage and now spends
his time as Mr Angry of Highgrove, writing letters, some of which are very
sensible, some of which are eccentric and some of which are barmy and unfortunately
he's put himself in a position where he cannot be monarch and be both above
politics and be intimately involved in dozens of political issues, the
two things are not compatible.
WRIGHT: He strikes me as being
someone who is both you know decent and dotty in equal measure. Now that's
what happens when you have a monarchy, you take what comes along. I think
you get in to dangerous waters though when people do start thinking they
know what you believe in and when you do start sounding off about issues
of the day. So I'm not surprised that it was said, whether true or not,
that the Queen was not amused by some of those letters from disgruntled
of Highgrove, because if you go down that route, you put the monarchy into
DE PIERO: Labour MPs seem convinced
that the party's over for the royals. In our survey of 101 backbenchers
a massive 79 said that the monarchy should have no constitutional power
or even be abolished. With this level scepticism about the monarchy brought
to a head by the recent royal revelations it could be a while before the
Windsors need to get the party poppers out again.