I’ve sternly repressed a lot of memories since leaving Britain for the U.S. in 1970, as I wrote when reflecting on the 2017 movie Dunkirk. But, just as with that movie, the touchingly sincere commiserations I’ve received today from American friends on the death of Queen Elizabeth II has brought them flooding back.
I suddenly remember, at the age of four in 1952, watching my late father coming home from work, switching on BBC Radio and standing erect (6 ½ years in the British Army) during the funereal music and announcement that George VI had died, and that Princess Elizabeth, then touring the Empire as Royals seemed to do in the winter months, was now Queen.
This long-buried personal memory is a minor example of the way that monarchies are Jungian institutions, in the sense of drawing on primordial human archetypes and emotions, in a way that elected officials cannot.
A double rainbow shimmered across the crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace. When the news of Queen Elizabeth II's death broke, after a hush, people broke into "God Save the Queen." https://t.co/XgIbaYjsEL pic.twitter.com/g0Q3ZDsNuv— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 8, 2022
Monarchies have surprisingly deep roots, as I learned in Toronto when, professionally surrounded by New Class journalists and misled by the relentless Leftist propaganda of Canada’s MSM, I complained to fellow-motorists to about a traffic jam caused by the visit of a minor Royal. I was surprised to find they reacted very badly.
Similarly, I remember British Conservative leader Michael Howard, in the pre-purge days when I was still invited to Bill Buckley’s National Review Editorial dinners, expressing utter astonishment at the emotional outpouring that followed Princess Diana’s death.
The Longest Reign, and a Sudden End https://t.co/47VlDGPoWL— Mark Steyn (@MarkSteynOnline) September 8, 2022
My reaction is somewhat different. I am compelled by British libertarian Sean Gabb’s 2011 critique:
She could have done much to slow the transformation of England into a sinister laughing stock. She might well have stopped it. Instead, even before she became a shambling old woman, Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen, Defender of the Faith, chose to sit by and watch.
Let me explain. By law, the Queen is our head of state, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and Commander in Chief of all the armed forces. She appoints all the bishops and judges, and all the ministers and civil servants. She declares war, and all treaties are signed on her behalf. The only thing she cannot do is make laws by her own authority and impose taxes. To do either of these, she needs the consent of Parliament.
On the other hand, she can also veto any parliamentary bill she dislikes—and her veto cannot be overridden by any weighted majority vote of Parliament.
These are the theoretical powers of an English Monarch. During the past three centuries, though, the convention first emerged and then hardened, that all these powers should be exercised in practice by a Prime Minister who is leader of the majority party in the House of Commons.
He may be called First Minister of the Crown. He may have to explain himself every week to the Monarch. Where things like Royal Weddings are concerned, he mostly keeps out of sight. But, as leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister draws his real legitimacy from the people. No Monarch has dismissed a Prime Minister, or tried to keep one in office, since the 1830s. No Monarch has rejected a parliamentary bill since 1708.
Because it is unwritten, and because its various conventions are in continual flux, the English Constitution can be rather opaque to foreign observers. Some of these fail to understand the nature of convention, and assume that the Queen of England is an absolute monarch—though more genteel than the King of Saudi Arabia. Others see the conventions as the only reality, and regard England as an odd sort of republic.
Both are wrong. Our Constitution is based on an implied contract between people and Monarch. This is that, in public, we regard whoever wears the Crown as the Lord’s Anointed. In return, the Monarch acts on the advice of a Prime Minister, who is accountable to us.
But this implied contract has one important limiting term. It holds only so long as politics is other than a cartel of tyrants and traitors. But just such a cartel is exactly what has emerged in Britain as the 1960s radical generation completed its Gramscian ”Long March through the institutions,” as I have documented in my pamphlet Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back….And once the politicians make themselves, as a class, irremovable, and once they begin to abolish the rights of the people, it is the duty of the Monarch to step in and rebalance the Constitution.
The need for this duty to be performed has been apparent since at least 1972, when we were lied into the European Union. The Conservatives did not fight the 1970 general election on any promise that they would take us in. When they did take us in, and when Labour kept us in, we were told that it was nothing more than a trade agreement. It turned out very soon to be a device for the politicians to exercise unaccountable power. The Queen could and should have acted then, beginning by insisting on a General Election after the terms of Britain’s entry were settled.
There have been many times since when she should have acted. At all times, she could have sacked the Government and dissolved Parliament without provoking riots in the street.
But so far as I can tell, the Queen has acted only twice in my lifetime to force changes of policy—typically, on behalf of the emerging Politically Correct consensus. In 1979, she bullied Margaret Thatcher to go back on her election promise not to hand Rhodesia over to a bunch of black Marxists. In 1987, she bullied Margaret Thatcher again to give in to calls for sanctions against South Africa.
And that was it
[Monarchy, Nation-States, And The Failed Reign of ”Elizabeth The Useless,” April 29, 2011, emphases added]
Nothing grows to the sky. As an ex-Briton, I am sadly willing to face the fact that the Union and its symbols may have outlived their usefulness.
Peter Brimelow [Email him] is the editor of VDARE.com. His best-selling book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, is now available in Kindle format.