The Monarchy

Inevitably in the UK, with this royal wedding, there have been discussions around the role of the monarchy.

With regard to the wedding itself, I must admit I’m not a big fan of weddings in general (I think I’m going back to childhood to think of the last wedding I attended, apart from my own). But I know how hard it is to make a marriage work, so I wish them the very best of luck. Just as if it were your wedding, I’d wish you the best of luck.

So you could take from that, that I certainly think the royals have a right to exist. I think there are big question marks surrounding inherited wealth, but that’s a different matter. You can have a similar argument about the UK’s benefit from something like slavery. None of us alive today, have had anything to do with slavery, and yet we live quite happily with the benefits that were accrues during that time. For me, these questions summarise why I think the concept of a state is something more than just the individuals who comprise it. It’s one of the areas where I think the state has a responsibility to involve itself.

Returning to the monarchy, where I’d draw my line is the involvement of the monarch (I’m being careful not to mention the queen here, since I don’t think this is about a person) in the machinery of state, for want of a better term. In things like lawmaking, in terms of royal prerogative, for example – the amount of power a prime minister can wield as a proxy of the monarch. We should be clear that these items benefit the state, not the monarch. When parliament debates and passes a new law, for example, the final act of royal assent is purely ceremonial. And, of course, we have people (Sinn Fein MPs) who have been duly elected, and who refuse to take up their seats because they won’t swear allegiance to a monarch. That seems a silly reason to me, and I think we need to be clear whether these people have been elected to serve the voters or the monarch. My own view is that the voters have priority, every time. So if you have a conflict, then the monarch gives way. And it might be fine for the prime minister to have special powers (again, an argument for another day) but we should be clear that these powers are because they are themselves the de facto head of state, rather than the monarch’s proxy.So I think we need to look at public service, and ask whether the service is provided on behalf of the monarch, or of the state.

So great news for the royal family about the wedding, but I think we also need to think of their context in our lives. God sabe our gracious state, anyone?

Fallen Ken

I like to keep up with the news. I’m careful to look at other sources too, but one of the sites I use most is the good old BBC. Last night, it ran the story:

Ken Livingstone to quit Labour amid anti-Semitism row

There’s been a lot about this one recently, not least because of his subsequent suspension from the Labour Party, and the whole row involving Labour and semitism. I suspect Livingstone has done them a favour by jumping before he was pushed. Having been an MP, and of course, the mayor, it was difficult to imagine him holding further public office anyway.

But in the mass media, this whole story has always been reported with a degree of furore which (I thought) obscured the basic source for contention, so I looked back at the detail on the web. In an interview (i.e. publicly), Livingstone stated that Hitler was a Zionist at one point. Whilst in later years Hitler obviously decided that his best answer to his “Jewish problem” was his Final Solution, he did, in 1933, adopt a policy of repatriation of Jews to Palestine. This is known in histoory as the Haavara Agreement.

There were strings attached to this policy, for example that people would be allowed to take a portion of their assets with them, and to take supplies bought from German vendors – Hitler obviously had one eye on his economy here – and there are further details in the Wikipedia article. Plus, of course, you can decide for yourself if allowing Jewish people to leave your state constitutes Zionism, as Livingstone claimed. Even taking into account the intimidatory atmosphere of Germany at that time, my own opinion is that Hitler’s manoeuvrings fell some way short of Zionism. I think his interests began and ended with getting the Jews out of Germany, whereas I think Zionism includes at east a degree of positivity about having a Jewish state. Actually, I think the ideal situation is to have a state which tolerates all religions, but that was clearly not the case in the 1930s/1940s.

Whatever your view on the actual history, I think simply trying to summarise this policy into a few words was erroneous. Brevity is good, but not at the cost of clarity. To claim that “Hitler was a Zionist” makes us judge for ourselves, “well, what exactly is a Zionist? Did Hitler fulfil those criteria?” So, whatever your answer to these questions, there is a need for the reader to apply some processing, so Livingstone was hardly unambiguous in his comment. Even if he meant it with the most decent of intentions, he relied heavily on his own interpretation.

It never fails to amaze me how senior politicians – not just this guy – trip themselves up with the words they use. I mean, even for me, writing a blog, it’s like walking a tightrope, but at least here I’m not looking for a soundbite and can (hopefully) talk about things fully.

Even now, it remains unclear exactly what Livingstone’s views are, as there have been a couple of other instances where he has allegedly been….less than generous, shall we say…..toward Jewish people. I’m not even sure if the Labour Party was intending analysing these or not.