Do we actually understand our parliamentary system?

There’s a general election on its way. You might have noticed, but if you haven’t: it’s on Thursday 7 May 2015 at a polling station near you, during which the 650 constituencies of the United Kingdom will elect one person each to represent them in the House of Commons.

It is worth noting that we in Britain elect a single member of parliament to represent us—we do not elect a party, neither do we elect a Prime Minister. We elect a person; and these persons subsequently group themselves together, at which point the largest of these groups forms a government.

OK, so the party affiliations of each candidate are well-known before votes are cast, but the principle stands: people often vote for someone they like even though they might not be too keen on their party. This is our system, and it has worked extremely well for quite a few centuries.

Yet some people – advocates of proportional representation in particular – don’t seem to get this. They propose that if a political party wins, say, ten percent of votes, it should be allocated ten percent of seats. First Past The Post, they say, prevents this, which is supposedly undemocratic.

There’s a logic to their argument, of course there is. It’s the logic of PR. It is also a logic that begins from a misunderstanding about our system. That is a problem. Our system is not primarily a party system. It is a system of individual, personal representation, whereby those individual MPs are accountable to their constituents—not to their party.

Of course MPs are accountable to their parties, you might say. What are the whips for if not to ensure MPs answer to their party? Sure, but their first loyalty is to their constituents. MPs are elected by their constituents, not by their parties.

I raise the point because James Kirkup has been wondering how many seats UKIP will win. He concludes that it is unfair for them to get only one percent of seats in the Commons if they have won ten percent of votes. Not only is it unfair, but it will also feed one of the resentments he believes fuels support for UKIP in the first place. Namely:

‘Ukip is at least in part an expression of anger at the system, the cosy Westminster establishment that Kippers believe colludes to ignore and frustrate their wishes and the wishes of the electorate as a whole.’

He fears that if UKIP voters notice the discrepancy, they will only become more frustrated with the system:

‘Because an electoral system that could well leave a party with 2.5 million voters holding just 2 seats in the legislature is a poison that could kill faith in representative democracy.’

He has a point. People do say that our political system is a conspiracy against the people. But if that is the case, it might be a good idea if the people had our ‘system’ explained to them. That way, they might not get so angry.

It is false to assume that an MP voted into parliament on, say, thirty percent of the vote cannot represent the seventy percent of constituents who did not vote for him or her. Representation is not an absolute. There will be times when even the thirty percent feel their opinions are not being adequately represented by the person they elected. (For example: Conservative MPs agreeing to defence cuts against the wishes of many of their voters).

But that’s the nature of politics. That’s what happens when you elect one person to represent thousands of people. They all have their own pesky point of view. That’s the problem with people: their individuality. It’s what certain celebrities playing at politics don’t realise. There is no way to represent everyone’s view absolutely in parliament. Those who think there is simply misunderstand how representative democracy works.

I am not referring to James Kirkup here. But his thought about FPTP is interesting:

‘First-past-the-post really is a conspiracy between the Conservatives and Labour against smaller rivals and against the electorate.’

FPTP certainly encourages a two-party system, even though sectarian loyalties in some parts of the country seem to refute this principle. It is indeed one of the arguments cited in favour of FPTP: that it enables strong government and an easy way to change government.

But the charge that FPTP is ‘a conspiracy… against the electorate’ is the exact same charge levelled at PR. Which one is it? It’s probably both, up to a point. But that brings us back to the original point: people not understanding our system.

We do not have PR. We have FPTP. And the main advantages of FPTP are that it enables strong government; it offers a straightforward way to change government; and, perhaps most important of all, even though I put it last, it allows us to cling to the notion that we are represented by an individual and not by a party machine.

There may be weaknesses to the system as it stands today, but there are weaknesses in all systems (as James Kirkup acknowledges). We miss the point if we simply look at the maths and deduce that our system is junk because a small party gets a higher proportion of votes than seats.

Our system is not about voting for parties. It is about voting for people. If we don’t like voting for people, and want to vote for parties instead, leaving the selection of MPs even more in the hands of parties than it is now, then fine. But let’s be clear about what we will be doing. And let’s be clear that there will be consequences, some of which we won’t like.

Devolution causes as many problems as it solves

The more one thinks about it, the more one realises that devolution in its present form causes as many problems for the Union as it solves. The Union, after all, is just a nation state known as Britain, in which citizens as far afield as Penzance and the Hebrides have equal political rights to one another – further, and flowing from these political rights, we citizens also have equal access to cultural and economic benefits offered by the unity of Britain.

If we are to continue to recognise Scotland as a political entity, not just a cultural entity, then we have to recognise England as a political entity too. So far so good. But if the Union is going to comprise four political entities, one of which dwarfs the lot, the Union will be grossly imbalanced. Resentments and jealousies are as likely to grow as they are to diminish – probably more likely. This may serve nationalist interests, but it does not serve the interests, in any way, of Unionists.

The problem – or one of them, at least – is in thinking the United Kingdom is in fact a federal Kingdom. It is not, and never has been. A dominant England will end up dominating these islands. One of the great benefits of having a single parliament is that it extends equal political rights across the whole of the Union. We are in the process of building a Union of unequal rights. This is dangerous. The genius of Britain as a political entity is that England no longer exists as a political entity. As far as politics is concerned, no one is English and no one is Scottish – until now, that is, and more’s the pity.

It is worth reflecting on how this happened. The Scottish parliament was not created because devolution to the former nations of the Union is recognised as the best way to govern it; it was created because the Scottish nationalists realised the very existence of the parliament would drive a wedge between Scotland and England. And this is precisely what it has done. I hope this referendum vote is the last of Scottish separation; but I doubt it. Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves if we were right to devolve powers to separate parliaments and assemblies at all. I wonder if now is the time, despite almost everything saying it is not, to reinvigorate Unionism and moot the idea of a single parliament again?

Thoughts on democracy in the Middle East and North Africa

MENA is suffering right now. We can see that plain enough through the media. Everywhere it’s war, coup, rage, murder, lying, oppression, mendacity, frustrated democracy, destruction, refugees and all the rest of it. But what’s really depressing, if that little lot wasn’t enough, is thinking things were perhaps better in the bad old days when everyone knew they lived in oppressive countries and just kept their heads down.

It’s undeniable that there was a sort of stability under the dictatorships of Iraq, Libya, Egypt and pretty much every other country in the region; apart from Israel, that is, notwithstanding the evident problems of settlement, Hamas and the obfuscated Iranian wish for Israel’s destruction. But the old status quo is coming apart, quite violently.

It was hoped the people of the region – hitherto oppressed by the old regimes who were themselves, we are sometimes informed, mostly put in place and kept there by Western duplicity – would establish democracies similar to the ones in, say, Belgium or Switzerland, and everything would be as it should and would have been years ago had the autocrats not got in the way of progress.

But things aren’t working out quite like that. MENA countries and their people seem intent on proving the doomsayers right – that they just can’t do democracy there. With each passing day and with each new photo wall of violence it seems establishing a liberal democracy is not as easy as some thought it would be.

MENA is the acronym for the region of the world comprising the Middle East and North Africa, which is used by an assortment of politicians, diplomats and academics, and anyone else for that matter who wants to aggregate the peoples and countries of the region into a single, easier-to-understand entity. Stretching from Mauritania and Morocco in the west, to Iran, Yemen and Oman in the east, to Somalia in the south and to the Mediteranean coast in the north, sometimes referred to as the Maghreb, it comprises quite a chunk of the world.

Sometimes it includes Turkey, but this is problematic as Turkey also has a foot in Europe; and debate continues as to which direction the country is heading: to Europe and increasing liberalism, or to the Middle East and what appears to be a violent cocktail of theocratic populism, military dictatorship and democratic division.

In Egypt, for instance, the army has deposed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Islamists (or democrats, if that’s the term you prefer), and are now busily slaughtering them on the streets. The military coup, for that is surely what it was, supposedly occurred with the general population’s consent and to secure the Arab Spring taken off course by the Islamists. But instead the new government seems to be re-establishing something much closer to the dictatorship of Mubarak. Who really knows if this is a precursor to a second round of proper, fair and free elections or sham elections as a cover for continued dictatorship?

And in Syria, the Assad government continues to fight opposition forces in a bloody and destructive civil war. At the outset, the Free Syrian Army was supposed to be the key to establishing the liberal democracy of Western imagination. Not that democracy in any form is impossible, it’s just difficult, especially when putative democrats and jihadis are wearing the same metaphorical uniform. When the opposition is busily murdering its own, it is difficult to see how they can succeed: unity of effort being quite important to military campaigns.

It doesn’t stop there. We associate democracy in the West with liberalism and tolerance. Indeed, we think them synonymous. But if MENA countries are ready for democracy then why are minorities being persecuted? Christian churches, some of the oldest in the world, are being attacked in Egypt. Moreover, when the culprits are reported to be active Morsi supporters, that is to say, the type of people given power when democratic votes take place, one wonders if democracy is the panacea.

What is certain, however, is that each day poses a new question and demands a more nuanced understanding of the cultural and political dynamics found in each of those countries we aggregate under the term MENA. We think, for instance, that the Arab Spring began in December 2010 with the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street trader. It is from this moment, according to numerous media timelines, that the people of MENA stood up to autocratic government and, seeing that the post-Imperial autocrats were not in fact infallible, began the region’s irresistible progress to liberal democracy.

Important though this event was, it is arguable that another event, seven years earlier, did more to expose the weakness of the region’s dictators: namely the defeat of Saddam Hussein at American hands. It was hoped at the time that if one dictator fell then others would follow, each one toppling like dominoes until the formerly-oppressed people of the region substituted the autocrats and theocrats for democrats.

This could still be playing out, and, if the region ends up more free and liberal than before 2003, then perhaps the world will have more to thank George W. Bush for than is presently fashionable to express. Yet the domino theory suffers from the same simplicity as the one that says liberal democracy, Western style, is the destiny of the region.

I hope it is, because I think democracy is still the best way to make decisions impinging on the lives of others, but there is something more important than arbitrary theories of government: namely peace and stability. Democrats argue that peace and stability are more likely to thrive under democratic rather than autocratic government, but recent MENA events suggest it is not quite as simple as this, especially in the short term.

It was the democratically-elected Morsi who subverted the spirit of the revolution, if indeed any revolution can have ‘spirit’. It is the Islamist population aligned to the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood that is targeting Christian churches (assuming it isn’t the military regime as the MB says it is). It is also the populist-inspired military government that is now shooting scores of protesters. And it is the people of Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and further afield who seem more likely to use democracy to institute illiberalism instead of the liberalism we in the West seem to assume comes naturally with democracy.

Democracy is not impossible in this part of the world. In fact, the evidence suggests that it is quite probable. But it is worth noting that there is no universal form of democracy. There are, I’m pretty sure, no two democracies that are exactly alike. And it is quite probable that in some countries, especially in those that suffer considerable cultural division, democracy will be either more limited than would be acceptable in the West, or more likely to produce regimes we find as abhorrent as the ones under dictatorship – perhaps more so.

What earthly or heavenly reason is there to get rid of the Royal Family?

Whenever something of national importance occurs involving the Royal Family, calls for their abolition are never far away. And, on cue, the Observer in an editorial of 27th July began by suggesting the Royal Family ‘represents an outdated tradition.’ That’s one way of expressing it, I suppose; but monarchy is a little more than a mere tradition. Kingship has existed in Britain, in one form or another, for well over a millennium; it has provided a focal point for the country that generations a thousand years apart would recognise; and it is written into the supposedly unwritten British constitution. Monarchy is an institution that defines our political and cultural identity.

There is, however, an honourable, worthy and logical argument against monarchy. It posits that getting rid of kings and queens, despite their present ‘constitutional’ nature, is to advance democracy, liberty and the rights of citizens over subjects. It assumes that one is dependent on the other: that monarchs are incompatible with democracy, or at the very least inharmonious. This is the argument, anyway; but it really isn’t very convincing.

ComRes recently carried out a poll for the Sunday Telegraph, asking the question: ‘Do you believe Britain is better off as a monarchy or would be better off as a republic?’ 66% voted monarchy, 17% republic and 17% don’t know. Yet the Observer insists that the Royal Family is outdated. Is it not ironic that, in the name of democracy, the Observer rejects polling suggesting a democratic majority in favour of monarchy? Today, theirs is the minority opinion, and in democracies minority opinions are not carried. So, by all means disagree. We can do that sort of thing in a constitutional monarchy. But perhaps we should admit that it is the republicans who are outdated?

Yet anti-monarchists are persistent. Even when they – and by ‘they’ I mean the one(s) who wrote the Observer piece – admit there is little appetite in the country for an abandonment of monarchy, they too often feel the need to belittle those who want to keep it. Appreciation is portrayed as ‘sugary sycophancy,’ and reluctance to get rid of the Royals makes it ‘all the more urgent that an attempt at some corrective is made.’ God forbid we trust and respect the public’s sentiment!

They snipe away: It is women (The Queen Mother; The Queen; Diana, Princess of Wales; and now The Duchess of Cambridge) who are saving the monarchy, implying that it remains at heart a male, paternalistic, sexist and probably misogynistic institution, because somehow the bloody men have thwarted the progressive ideal by arranging three male heirs in a row. Supporters are duped by skilful presentation and PR, which is presumably nefarious, except when it supports progressive causes.

The sniping is often confused. On the one hand we are told that the Middletons – pleasant, middle class and non-royal – can do the job every bit as well as the Royals. Blue blood no longer required. President Kate, perhaps? ‘They actually appear to like each other,’ is the smug turn of phrase. But we are then told – lest the duped populous decide they want nice Kate as well as Queen Consort Kate – that she is ‘strangely out of step with the lives of the vast majority of women.’ What is it? Is she suitable as a non-royal ruler/president or not?

Royals, we are told, are ‘theoretically more elevated.’ This, it appears, is one of the key arguments against monarchy: that it is no longer appropriate to regard some people as intrinsically better than others; that it smacks too much of genetic supremacy; and that it patronises the public and diminishes our humanity.

Well, most of that is true, if you think that’s how most people view royalty today. But you try telling most loyal supporters of the Monarchy that someone with royal blood is intrinsically better and more worthy than they are. They’ll tell you, probably while laughing at you, to stop being such an idiot. They might point you to exhibit A, Prince Harry, and ask if you really think people warm to him because they believe their own blood, bones and brains are inferior to his. It’s no longer about notions of innate superiority: members of the Royal Family are simply members of the Royal Family. That’s it. Indeed, it is the anti-monarchists who seem fixated with notions of superiority.

It is unfortunate, if understandable, that the counter-argument begins by telling us that the Royals do not draw the tourists as much as we are led to believe. According to the campaigning group Republic, only Windsor Castle makes it into the top twenty attractions, coming in seventeenth. Understandable because monarchists often cite tourism as a reason to stay as we are, but unfortunate since tourism is not significantly important to the argument.

It is democratic rights that are important. This is true whether you are a monarchist of a republican. But to equate the ‘bloody battle to assert democratic rights’ in the Middle East and Africa with our acceptance of a constitutional monarchy is not to equate like with like. What modern republicans don’t seem to grasp is that, by definition, a constitutional monarchy is democratic. True, there is no election to the position, but the whole point of a constitutional monarchy is that the formerly-held political power, which is what needs to be subject to democratic control, has been divested from the institution.

Democracy does not have a role to play in everything. Politics? Yes. Which is why we elect our government. But to listen to some republicans is to learn that the Queen still governs. Vestiges of royal power remain, certainly: inviting the Prime Minister to form a government, weekly audiences, the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s speech. But vestiges is exactly what they are – traces of something disappearing or no longer in existence. The Queen’s role is largely ceremonial, and where she exercises her rights and roles, as outlined by Walter Bagehot – to be consulted, to encourage and to warn the Prime Minister, in private – it is clear who holds the political power, and it is not The Queen.

The democracy argument is the trump card of the anti-monarchists. If we are to live in a true democracy, we must first live in a republic. We must have an elected head of state rather than one appointed by the vagaries of birth. But this question was settled over three-hundred years ago when parliament wrested, once and for all, political power from the Monarch. 1688 should be a year to celebrate. Not because we became a republic in name, with an elected head of state, but because we found a way to reconcile monarchy with republicanism.

Despite protestations, the defining characteristic of republicanism is not the absence of kings and queens; it is the absence of arbitrary and authoritarian government. We tried violent revolution and civil war a generation earlier, but found the price too high. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 sought to end the debate between democracy and monarchy by, in true evolutionary style, retaining both systems but in modified form. It is this moment, and the memory of the Civil War, that set the conditions for a stable transition to full democracy. They knew it then and we should know it now, that democracy is not and never has been dependent on the absolute removal of monarchy from a political system.

It is, however, legitimate to ask if democracy is damaged in some way by the influence the Monarch undoubtedly retains today. Clearly it would be inaccurate to argue that the Monarch has no political role. She does, as I have just said. But so what? It isn’t real. Let’s also suppose we had a democratically elected head of state. Would that person’s democratic authority rival the Prime Minister’s democratic authority? Who, for example, governs Russia? The President, Vladimir Putin? Or the Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev? Do we want this tension, or doubt? At least with a constitutional monarchy we know that democratic authority lies with our elected representatives and not The Queen. There is no confusion.

‘We have no written constitution,’ says the Observer, as if this conveys a self-evident truth. It is true that we do not have one in the way the USA has one; but if the argument for a republic is democracy, then what has the existence or not of a written constitution got to do with anything? A democracy exists because of the way politics operates, not because of what might or might not be written on a bit of paper.

Yet written constitutions can sometimes work against democracy. The US Constitution, for instance, possesses a certain authority over and above the democratic process. That is, indeed, one of the reasons for having one – to restrain over-exuberant politicians. Just look at the reluctance of Congress to vote down the Second Amendment. Would Americans have charted a different course by now in relation to gun possession if the Constitution wasn’t there to restrain the actions of politicians?

And apparently, under a monarchy we have no right to call ourselves citizens. This is just false. The British Nationality Act of 1948 expressly referred to citizenship of the United Kingdom. To argue over the semantic difference between ‘subject’ and ‘citizen’ is irrelevant. We are citizens. Our status as subjects is more nostalgic than real, and the law has long recognised this point.

It is also hyperbolic to claim that the Royal Household is ‘at the apex of a pyramid of power from which ordinary people are excluded.’ Try telling that to Kate the commoner, or Gordon Brown the son of a church minister, or John Major the son of a music-hall performer, or Margaret Thatcher the daughter of a grocer. And while we’re at it, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief minister, was reputedly the son of a butcher (this may have been untrue and an attempt to smear his name, but he was certainly not an aristocrat). OK, Wolsey lost favour and died on his way to face charges of treason, but he and people of humble origins were not excluded from power because they were low born.

Issues certainly exist today around social and professional mobility, but not because of the Monarchy. We do better to point the finger at poor state schooling, welfare dependency, family breakdown and drug addiction rather than the Monarchy and the fictional barrier it is supposed to represent.

The Observer, perhaps not unsurprisingly, invokes the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the German. Not that his nationality is a bar to his opinion; it’s strange, that’s all. If we must cite a philosopher, why not Roger Scruton? Anyway, elightened cultures, we are told of Kant, ‘do not rely on inherited traditions, authorities and social structures.’ Really? Does that include the inherited tradition of Parliament, I wonder? We are also told that ‘To be enlightened is to question and challenge aristocracies of wealth, church and politics.’ True, enlightenment is certainly about questioning things. But to question something is not to pre-determine the answer. That is not enlightenment; that is prejudice.

Monarchy is not the brick which stops that healthy process of questioning. In certain circumstances it might be, but not because of something inherent in the institution of monarchy. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award can hardly be described as something to keep people down. On the contrary, the award seeks to elevate and unleash human potential. As does the Prince’s Trust.

Privilege is harder to refute. Members of the Royal Family occupy palaces and enjoy great wealth. They are, indeed, privileged. But then so are the Beckham children, as are the Furnish-Johns, and many more families up and down the country. Privilege through wealth is a fact of prosperous and civilised societies, and we would be hard pressed to find any society, even those one might hold up as the perfect republic (which do not actually exist beyond the utopian ideal). It might be more pertinent to question the de jure privilege the Monarchy enjoys by dint of being royal; but presidents, prime ministers and any number of official officers are the beneficiaries of privilege. Privilege is not a criticism. Abuse of privilege, maybe, but not privilege itself.

And with privilege comes the expectation of deference, we are told. There may be some truth in this, but it would take a pretty convincing rhetorician to argue that modern society is weighed down with deference. Criticism and suspicion seem much more prevalent. Many of the great institutions of the country – Parliament, Church, Press, now even the NHS, and many more – have been regarded by the critical eye of the satirist and journalist; and all while the Monarchy has grown in popularity. Deference seems more dead than alive.

But even if deference endures, it doesn’t take much looking around to see that it can exist even where monarchy is absent. Do we suppose similar feelings do not grip some Americans when they meet the President? What about those meeting generals, popes and pop stars? If deference means obsequiousness, toadying and the currying of favour then, I’m afraid to say, these undesirable human traits are not confined to those meeting or thinking about royalty.

It is also probably worth reminding ourselves that Britain, arguably the only ‘proper’ monarchy left on the planet, is also the country and culture that spawned satire of such ferocity that the outside observer might have thought Britain was in fact the republic. From James Gillray to Spitting Image, the Monarchy has been lampooned quite mercilessly, as has much of ‘elevated’ society. If they are to be found sitting on a high chair, then the wet sponge has been hurled at them.

The presence of satire does not, however, mean the absence of deference. But deference is, in a sense, merely heightened politeness. The anti-monarchists tend to see the word as meaning something altogether more severe: serfdom, oppression or worse. But this understanding is itself outdated. We often complain of the growing coarseness in society, so perhaps a bit more politeness, a bit more deference, in the best sense of the word, would improve our lives and our politics?

We can end up going round in circles over the Monarchy. There are any number of easy criticisms that can be made, and numerous illogicalities to our present arrangements; but then human existence is more than mere rationality. We like to use our heads, to think and to reason, but we are also instinctive creatures, with a propensity for the spiritual; that is to say, for things we cannot always explain. Maybe the purpose of human existence is to increase rational knowledge and reduce spiritual superstition. Maybe this means adopting the rationality of republicanism and rejecting the irrationality of monarchism, albeit constitutional?

But then, perhaps we should simply content ourselves with living in the present. And for now, that present is royal. Anyway, it is not incumbent on monarchists to argue in favour of this centuries-old ‘tradition.’ It is the anti-monarchists who wish to change things. It is for them to explain why doing away with the institution that has served, shaped and defined our country, through peace and through war, adapting to the demands of the British people, is such a good idea. And from where I am sitting, they still have a long way to go.

Even if now was the time to question the Monarchy, the arguments would still make little sense

When is it the right time to discuss the Monarchy and its appropriateness in the modern world? Not when a Prince has just been born, probably; because to support the Monarchy, especially in the democratic era, is to attach oneself to old-fashioned ideas like tradition, selflessness and civility – and to question an institution at the time of such a personal and joyous occasion is just plain rude. That and the fact that monarchists are generally and rather unsurprisingly in favour of monarchy.

Yet at times such as this, when the birth of a Prince propels the Monarchy to the centre of our collective attention – admittedly fuelled by media outlets that don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word moderation – questions are always raised. Take this piece (https://medium.com/i-m-h-o/bd1ea31f515d), which is rather well written but, I’m afraid, composed of arguments I find unconvincing:

“To be a fan of the Royal Family,” says the author, “is to believe fundamentally that some people are intrinsically superior to you by birth alone.” I’m pretty sure it isn’t. The author may see it this way, and it fits quite neatly into the anti-monarchist narrative, but I’d hazard a guess that not many supporters of the Monarchy really believe members of the Royal Family are ‘intrinsically superior’ to them? I could, of course, be mistaken, but I doubt it – on this, at least. In fact, the argument becomes ever more bizarre the more one thinks about it.

This is not to say that there are no arguments against the Monarchy or monarchy in general. There are, and some of them are quite good, and I would assume the author agrees with many of them. But when these arguments turn to ad hominem criticism – such as: ‘Her’s (The Queen) is a benign arrogance but it has grown toxic in her selfish children’ – the deeply dispiriting opinion that society would be better without the Monarchy seems emptier with every breath.

The author goes on to suggest the military careers of both William and Harry might be some sort of sham, hinting that their service is a mere marketing exercise to shore up the position of the Firm. He suggests that they, along with Andrew during the Falklands War, are ‘presented as military marvels,’ making it clear he thinks they are nothing of the sort.

Well, true! They are not military marvels. But have they ever suggested they are, or has anyone else worth listening to suggested they are? I might be blinded by my own ten years in the Army, but I have never been aware that they were presented as better servicemen, more marvellous, than anyone else. I was just pleased that such high-profile members of the establishment could be bothered to serve in any capacity; and I think you will find that most of the people they serve alongside think something pretty similar. Just look at their democratically elected equivalents, whom the author presumably hopes will assume their role as heads of state.

And what evidence is there apart from assertion that their ‘progression through the ranks (has been) expedited’? I’d be interested to see it, but I suspect it doesn’t really exist. And the suggestion that they ‘had an easier time than ordinary officer candidates’ is odd. Again, evidence? The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst does not give favour to royalty, from whichever country they hail; and, if anything, it’s probably a bit tougher doing what’s required of them professionally as well as Royally.

But I don’t wish to be overly critical of this one piece. The writer writes well, and I like some of his other stuff; and, besides, I get the impression he wrote this particular article to provoke argument against the backdrop of what can often seem like unthinking adoration or unseemly sycophancy. Good luck to him. One of the roles of a writer, especially of current affairs, is to provoke thought and discussion. Which he has done pretty well, with me at least.

No, the reason I began writing this post was simply that I do not understand why some people take such great exception to the Monarchy. They are leeches, they say. Really? Duck houses anyone? They infantilise the public, they say. Really? Do politicians not do that? They oppress ordinary people, they say, because they deny them the opportunity to assume the highest office in the land. Good, I say. This is one of the great attractions of the Monarchy. It reminds people that there are limits to their own ambition. It’s not just ordinary, working people who are denied this particular opportunity. Everybody is. Fate, nature or God – however you choose to look at it – decides that one. It seems to me that human conceit and ambition is the cause of many problems. To remind people that they cannot have anything they might want is a good restraint.

There is also another argument that the Monarchy undermines democracy and prevents the full adoption of republican government. This is not true. The point of republicanism is to govern without autocracy. It just so happens that kings and queens used to be the autocrats, so it is only natural that people assumed democratic, representative and accountable government was dependent on the absence of a king – hence democratically elected presidents. But we seem to forget something called the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent development of what we now call Constitutional Monarchy.

Political power no longer resides with the Monarch. Government is now democratic, it is representative, it is subject to the rule of law, and power is balanced between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary (albeit imperfectly, although this has nothing to do with the people living in Buckingham Palace). These are the hallmarks of republicanism, and we have them while retaining a constitutional monarch. Best of both worlds. You might even call our system Royal Republicanism (I copyright that).

Cast your eyes to the Middle East. Some states have monarchs and some states have presidents, but nearly all of them are autocratic, or at the least they are mostly authoritarian. Tentative – and sometimes extremely violent – steps are being attempted to remedy this, but cursory analysis of the region should make it clear that the absence of democracy and the rule of law – the things we assume they need – are absent for other reasons, for more intractable reasons that have little to do with the sort of constitutional monarchy we have in Britain. We think they need to be more republican. We think they should be more like us. Well, we are already republican. The success of republicanism is not dependent on the absence of a constitutional monarch; it is dependent on the absence of arbitrary power. That is the prize, and we have it now – up to a point, but that’s a different discussion.

Another great attraction of Monarchy is that it links us to our past. Modern British civilisation developed, in part, because of the Monarchy. Kingship was as significant, perhaps more so, as cultural homogeneity in the creation of the state in England and Scotland. Kings created and extended the rule of law (on occasions, quite brutally, I admit), and they unified the kingdoms and nations of the British Isles (again, on occasions, brutally). But they were an essential part of that process, and the Monarchy today is a reminder that the civilisation we enjoy today is the result of an often difficult and harsh historical progress. To get rid of the Monarchy now would be to cut off something that defines who we are today.

No, now is not the time to raise the same old arguments against the Monarchy. But even if it was, which is isn’t, the arguments would still make little sense.