When the royal baby is born will any politician dare to be a modern Keir Hardie?

Soon William and Kate will have a baby and there will then be a ritual outpouring from the political class united in its uncritical adulation for the institution of royalty.

William and Kate

Tom London is a London-based writer and blogger

Soon William and Kate will have a baby and there will then be a ritual outpouring from the political class united in its uncritical adulation for the institution of royalty.

According to opinion polls, there has been for decades a fairly constant 20 per cent of the population who would like to replace the monarchy with an elected Head of State but no mainstream politician speaks for those millions of Britons.

Some prominent politicians may be closet republicans but stay quiet as they are fearful that they would pay too high a price if they ever challenged the prevailing consensus on royalty.

This is so powerful that it suffocates debate and leads to an attitude of unthinking deference and self-censorship which smacks of attitudes to leaders in North Korea.

In recent weeks, for example, the Queen received a 5 per cent pay rise and it was announced that £1million of public money had been spent to renovate William and Kate’s accommodation yet, even at this time of austerity and acute hardship, no mainstream politician breathed a word of criticism.

Back in 1894 a politician spoke up for those millions of Britons who are republicans.

On 23 June 1894, a future king was born. Keir Hardie, who had been elected as the first Independent Labour Member of Parliament, spoke in the Commons:

“From his childhood onwards this boy will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score – [cries of “Oh!,oh!] – and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation [cries of “Oh,oh!]. A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over. …and the end of it all will be that the country will be called upon to pay the bill. [Cries of Divide!]”

Hardie spoke just over a century after the defining moment of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution. The world had thrilled to the novel idea that all men are born equal. No institution stands so completely in opposition to that noble idea as does monarchy.

The central principle of monarchy is that some people are superior to others as a result merely of their birth or marriage. Hardie’s words are as true in 2013 as they were in 1894.

The baby boy that Hardie was talking about grew up to be an unimpressive and irresponsible man with Nazi sympathies. In January 1936 he became Edward VIII. In December 1936 he abdicated, before his coronation, over his relationship with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. In 1937, notoriously, he visited Hitler.

Keir Hardie is today a respected figure in British history. Unlike the baby boy he spoke about in 1894. Who will dare to be a modern Keir Hardie?

11 Responses to “When the royal baby is born will any politician dare to be a modern Keir Hardie?”

  1. 3arn0wl

    I wonder if perhaps the perception of monarchy has changed over the reign of our current Head of State. The Queen’s commitment to duty is unimpeachable: from her coronation she made herself, if not the servant of the people, a servant of the state. The buildings and the trappings of the role, seem also to have passed into the hands of the state, such that the restoration of Windsor Castle after the fire, was matter of saving national heritage, as much as restoring one of the homes of the Queen.

    And the fact is, there is something to be said not only for the need of a higher tier above the parliamentary brawl, but the wealth of knowledge that someone who has fulfilled that role with commitment brings. Of course you’re right to cite Edward VIII as a warning of how things might not work quite as well, but then, he was removed and replaced by a more [insert suitable verb here] candidate.

    I suppose the model of monarchy is imperfect from both sides: the Queen is somewhat restricted, and the country has no choice. However, I assert that this iteration of monarchy is preferable to a presidential system, where there is simply more ideological politics at the top.

  2. robertcp

    Nobody if they have any sense! Constitutional monarchy is perfectly compatible with social democracy.

  3. Stephen Wigmore

    “This is so powerful that it suffocates debate and leads to an attitude of unthinking deference and self-censorship which smacks of attitudes to leaders in North Korea.”

    Why are republicans incapable of opening their mouths without making idiots of themselves?

    Maybe if they were less insufferably humourless they might have more of a chance of convincing ordinary people.

  4. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Well that’s 3 minutes of my life I want back.

  5. Luke W Richards

    This piece is perhaps a little hyperbolic, but I for one am getting pretty sick of the gushing support we’ve seen for the monarchy since the royal wedding. Could write at length about why robertcp is totally and utterly wrong that monarchy is compatible with social democracy, but I’ve already broken one of the most important rules of the internet: not to look below the comments line. Suffice it to say this: our ‘democracy’ is missing the vital checks and balances that come from a seperation of powers.

  6. EvilTory

    Why are monarchists incapable of opening their mouths and presenting a credible argument for unelected hereditary positions of influence and power?

    Maybe if they were more talented than the usual monarchy drone they might consider themselves of more value than monarchy tells them they are, subject Wigmore.

    Who’s the real idiot in this discussion? Stockholm syndrome Wigmore or those damned pesky republicans?

  7. Stephen Wigmore

    That’s one hell of a chip on your shoulder you’ve got there. Feel free to keep abusing 80% of the population. It’s not like anyone’s actually listening to you.

  8. EvilTory

    What have monarchy drones got to be afraid of in an election for head of state?

    If the current family who occupy this position are so very beloved by 80% of the population, why not go to the ballot box, say every five years?

    I would be more than happy to sit up and shut up should an election deliver us with another Windsor.

    So how about it? An election? A choice?

  9. RighteousTory

    robertcp – please could you let me know the sense you have that I am lacking?

    I’d feel a lot better if you could let me know how an unelected head of state is compatible with this thing known as democracy, where leaders are chosen at the ballot box.

    Waiting for your reply….

  10. RichTory

    By the Queen’s commitment to duty (and her people), would you include the dinner for despots that she decided to hold in Windsor Castle in May 2012?

    This is where the Queen hosted a tax payer expensed dinner where she entertained, amongst others, the King of Bahrain who uses military troops against their own people, amongst other despots. A google search for ‘despots dinner’ will provide more details.

    Does this show a Queen who is in touch, or even has the slightest concern about, the people she reigns over? Not to many.

    I could go on…..

    You talk of the wealth of knowledge that the Queen brings. Over the sixty years of this reign, has Britain really benefitted from this wealth of knowledge?

    The USA is more powerful than Britain, and they have no king or queen. We have seen Germany rise from devastation to be the economic powerhouse of Europe, all without a monarch to ‘warn and advise’ government.

    I agree that there should be a balancing power to parliament, which I call an elected president with defined powers.

    Presidential systems with a written constitution have delivered more guaranteed freedoms, economic well being and stability than monarchical systems ever have, yet somehow, people buy into this British myth that monarchy is great and patriotic.

    History is history, Edward VIII was then, this is now. It’s time for a change to a real democracy, and this is what patriotic republicans want – put simply, we want the best democratic system for our country – and our country is not best served by monarchy.

  11. 3arn0wl

    The road not taken… How can we possibly know what Britain’s history would have been if we’d had a presidential system rather than a monarchy? The truth is though that parliament, not the Queen, is ultimately responsible for matters of policy, and it’s parliament’s choices which have seen the country out-performed, not only by the United States or Germany, but by China and other emerging economies.

    As for the current US president, he seems to have encountered enormous opposition to anything he wished to accomplish: closing Guantanamo, government spending, gun law, even healthcare… That’s not really a great model of governance since, as his reelection suggests, American opinion is far less right wing than Congress.

    As for Her Majesty’s choice of friends, I don’t know. I personally wouldn’t choose to hang out with the King of Bahrain or Saudi Princes. But presumably, a State function is sanctioned by government.

    But I can’t imagine that I could persuade you, any more than you, me.

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