The Prospect Editorial: Why everything about the crown must be rethought

We must open an overdue debate on the constitution—and whether we want a monarchy at all
August 17, 2017

Find Prospect's September 2017 issue in full here

If you go by the historical record, the odds of things ending unhappily for a King Charles are exactly 50 per cent. And if the palace insiders that Emily Andrews talks to are any guide, you wouldn’t want to stake any more on a successful reign for Charles III than on the toss of a coin. The sense of foreboding is, at one level, strange. After all, if hereditary monarchies are good for anything, it ought to be the transition between parent and son; having been in the works for 65 years, the next transition ought to be especially smooth. So why the unease?

Part of it is, inescapably, personal. Charles is a committed hand-shaker, but an awkward performer. That isn’t his fault, but it makes for an unfortunate contrast to the easy charisma of his late former wife, who is still making difficult headlines for him 20 years after her death. The more fundamental problem is his penchant for political meddling. Few doubt the sincerity of his commitment to all his causes, good as well as ill. But whether he is rallying to the defence of the planet, or leading the charge against badgers, the nagging question is whether he truly understands that a figurehead can only unite a country by holding back from the fray. As things stand, he is a divisive figure. Indeed, Prospect’s ICM poll finds more people want the crown to skip a generation and pass to William, than want to see Charles inherit.

Whether it is through duty or a lack of passionate opinion, his mother has never had any problem with keeping quiet. She has reigned for longer than Victoria, and we take her tact for granted. But think of King Charles, and you soon realise this isn’t a virtue which every monarch can be relied on to share.

The second Elizabethan age has already been half as long again as the first. We will emerge a different country. Starting with the coronation, which Andrew Brown discusses, everything about the crown will have to be rethought. By revisiting the powers still exercised in its name we can open an overdue debate on the constitution, where everything should be open to question, including whether or not we want a monarchy at all. The Queen is not dead, but the thinking must begin.