More secrecy for the royals

Update: this story is 4 years old; see comment @ 21. It’s still relevant though.

Here’s a bit of news that is surprising and also very disgusting. The UK royals are going to get a special helping of secrecy in a new amendment to their Freedom of Information act.

The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a controversial legal reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William.

Letters, emails and documents relating to the monarch, her heir and the second in line to the throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest.

Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone a light on the royal finances – including an attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince of Wales’s prolific correspondence with ministers.

Including what?? An attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace? I did not know about that.

And that business of Charles’s prolific correspondence with ministers? As I understand it he’s not even supposed to be doing that – he’s constitutionally not permitted to interfere with the government. No wonder he wants to keep it a secret, but why is the government, however Tory (and LibDem), helping him?

Lobbying and correspondence from junior staff working for the Royal Household and Prince Charles will now be held back from disclosure. Buckingham Palace confirmed that it had consulted with the Coalition Government over the change in the law. The Government buried the plan for “added protection” for the Royal Family in the small print of plans called “opening up public bodies to public scrutiny”.

More privileges for the already-privilege-laden; what a good idea.

Ian Davidson, a former member of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The Independent: “I’m astonished that the Government should find time to seek to cover up royal finances. When I was on the PAC what we wanted was more disclosure not less.

“Every time we examined royal finances we found extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals.

“Everywhere we looked, there were savings to be made for the Government. This sends the wrong message about public disclosure and accountability.”

Not to mention democracy, equality before the law, equal rights – quite a few things.

Paul Flynn, another member of the committee, described the special protection for the Royals as “indefensible”. He said: “I don’t think it serves the interests of the public or the Royal Family very well.”

Mr Frankel said he believed that Prince Charles was the driving force behind the new law.

“The heir to the throne has written letters to government departments in an attempt to influence policy,” he said.

“He clearly does not want these to get into the public domain.”

Yeah, see, because that’s what he’s not supposed to be doing – attempting to influence policy. The Royals are not supposed to do that.

At the end we get more on that gruesome item about taking money from the poor to heat Buck House.

In the public interest? The stories they didn’t want us to know

*In 2004 the Queen asked ministers for a poverty handout to help heat her palaces but was rebuffed because they feared it would be a public relations disaster. Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to “adverse publicity” for the Queen and the government.

Ya think?


  1. chigau (違う) says

    Get a few* Poors™ to move into the B-Palace.
    Then the funding would be OK.
    How many Poors™ would it take to fill the B-Palace?

  2. says

    The Queen asked ministers for a poverty handout to help heat her palaces

    She’s only the wealthiest woman in England, other than JK Rowling. Maybe she should sell a palace or two.

  3. Michael Duchek says

    Given Prince Charles’ history of belief in fringe pseudoscience, this might just be to keep the public from learning what a loon he truly is.

  4. says

    No doubt this is in response to the deepening investigation of Jimmy Savile and his pedophilia ring.

    The accusations against Andrew for buying a woman for sexual slavery are just the latest. Rumours have abounded for years of involvement in pedophilia by many in the British royal family, including Charles and Philip. All three are/were first hand friends of known pedophiles, Andrew (Jeffrey Epstein), Philip (Peter Bick) and Charles (Peter Ball, CoE bishop). The IRA may have unknowingly protected the children of England when they murdered Mountbatten by blowing up his boat. He and former British PM Edward Heath were alleged to be involved, among other politicians. If it goes back three generations, it makes you wonder if the two youngest (William and Harry) are involved.

    The queen’s attempt to misuse funds for the poor a few years ago isn’t the only recent and proven disgusting act. During the “diamond jubilee” in 2012, many on welfare in England were forced into virtual slavery, made to sleep under bridges in the cold without pay, all under threat of losing their benefits if they didn’t work.

  5. says

    I’d like to know how much we colonials are paying for this bunch. I’m basically a monarchist-by-default (i.e. if you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it, but the system per se seems to be working OK for us), but this sort of shit could turn me republican PDQ, if it was on this tax-payer’s dime.

  6. says

    I think we only spend money on the royals when they actually set foot on Canadian soil. Otherwise the money spent on specifically crown things goes to Canadian activities like operating the offices of the Governor General and Lt. Governors of the provinces. That’s certainly what the Wikipedia article on the Monarchy of Canada indicates.

    We’re likely stuck with them for the foreseeable future. Getting rid of them would require reopening the Constitution, and of course that would mean having to re-examine a whole bunch of other stuff, which no one wants to do.

  7. says

    @6: That’s about what I figured, and of course having even a ceremonial Prez would probably cost the same as the G-G and Lt.G’s, so that’s a wash. Still, this makes the British Royals seem a repulsive lot, and tilts me towards wanting to be shut of them.

  8. krambc says

    @#6,7,8 :
    The popular election of a governing president is largely worse than a ceremonial Head of State.

    The Japanese figured it out in the 1600s with the division between Emperor and Shogun; the British got it in the 1800s with a constitutional monarchy.

    The next step should, imho, be the separation of ‘heir’ from ‘successor’.

    For the British crown, that would require an agreement between the Westminster (1931) parties to divide the Crown into its component parts with an Act of Succession to grant the Crown’s authority to the GG.

    Then the GG needs to be selected in a non-partisan manner.

    The papal election process is the most successful model in the ‘western’ world and a reasonably robust model :
    * run-off elections ( in contrast with the fptp of the Anglo-American model )
    * non-hereditary (mostly),
    * largely – at least in the last few centuries – free of divisive partisanship [cf : Bush v Gore 2000 / Harper conservatives election shenanigans 2006 / 2008 / 2011 ]
    * a conclave of Parliament (without the Vatican’s secrecy) ; not the PM / government

    Patriation of the Crown of Canada ( and Australia / NZ / Caribbean countries) would relieve us of the mess of republicanism.

  9. EigenSprocketUK says

    I’m a UK taxpayer, and though there are more pressing concerns, I’d quite happily see the back of the royal family and their associated hangers-on. There’s a toxic mix of entitlement which comes out when their already impressive private wealth (land, property, some palaces) falls short and they attempt to dip into the public purse. If the palace is publicly owned and maintained, then I think that investing in insulation and energy efficiency is a good thing. We lag most European countries here. (Anti-pun not intended).
    The real issue here is Prince Charles (the Quacktitioner Royal, as David Colquhon calls him), and his interference and outright lobbying in government. And science. And farming.
    Anything which gives his behind-the-scenes dealings added protection is, by definition, not the right direction to go.

  10. says

    They should auction off the title of “king of the US” and let Larry Ellison, Bill Gates , and Michael Bloomberg fight over it. Turn the “crown” into a great big potlach.

  11. RJW says

    @5 Eamon Knight,

    Australia is a de facto republic despite the monarchical constitution, I presume that Canada is more or less similar. The attitude here, for most people, is also ‘monarchist-by-default’.
    However, I’d predict an upsurge of republicanism if the local taxpayers actually had to support those billionaire royal parasites.
    Charles should remember what happened to Charles 1, the British sometimes get very, very, annoyed with ‘difficult’ monarchs.

  12. Dunc says

    The popular election of a governing president is largely worse than a ceremonial Head of State.

    Those aren’t the only two choices. Plenty of countries have non-executive presidencies, and there are a few other options such as Switzerland’s Federal Council.

  13. chrislawson says

    krambc, Eamon, and timguegen.

    Abandoning the monarchy doesn’t mean adopting a US-style republic.

    The natural evolution for Australia, NZ, and Canada would be to adopt a Westminster-style republic. That is, at general elections the people vote for their local House of Reps member and their federal Senate member. The Prime Minister is not voted directly by the people, but is the elected leader from among the House of Reps. The President — who would take over the role of the Governor-General — would be appointed by PM/cabinet (as is the current system for the G-G). This has the benefit of continuing the same basic government structure that has served the Anglophone Commonwealth so well for the last century while cutting away the corrupting rot of a monarchy within a democracy.

    And even if we don’t adopt a Westminster-style republic, there are plenty of other successful models out there. If we look at the top nations on the Human Development Index (I know it’s flawed, but it does give a reasonable picture of how successful a nation state is in terms of the outcomes that matter to me — a safe, healthy, happy populace with strong civil rights and personal autonomy), we can see that many are either directly Westminster-style constitutional monarchies (Oz, NZ, Canada) or similar (Denmark, Sweden, Japan). But then there’s also a bunch of highly-placed republics with no monarchy at all, such as the US with its federalist model, Germany with a Bundestag-elected president whose job is mostly ceremonial but still has important powers in everyday politics, and Switzerland’s representative parliament limited by direct democracy; Ireland has a directly-elected president with a mostly figurehead role but with the huge power to refer legislation to the Supreme Court if concerned about its constitutionality; Iceland has a figurehead president whose most significant discretionary power is to refer legislation to popular referendum; Singapore has inherited a Westminster-ish system from Britain but without a monarchy; France has an absurdly complex “semi-presidential” republic that I don’t pretend to understand except that it has no monarchy or religion (its very first constitutional sentence calls itself “secular”); Austria has a directly-elected President with huge powers, including the ability to remove the government from office by decree(!), and no monarch in sight; South Korea has directly-elected president with different but arguably even greater powers than Austria’s and still no monarch; Finland has not been ruled by a native monarch since the 13th century — and attempts to insinuate a monarchy into the workings of the republic in 1917-18 failed when WWI destroyed the power behind the move (Germany) and Finland has been completely king-free ever since; Italy formally dissolved its monarchy when the anti-fascists seized the country from Mussolini and they were so ferociously antiroyalist that the constitution explicitly barred any male member of the monarchy from so much as setting foot in Italy, which is why Umberto II died in exile; Hungary has a system very similar to Germany’s…because it derived its constitution from Germany’s; the Czech Republic is another functional republic with no monarchy.

    In short, if you want to move an Anglophone Commonwealth nation to a monarch-free republic, you don’t have to adopt with the US model. Thank goodness.

  14. sonofrojblake says

    Post-1952 the UK has had a tolerant attitude towards the monarchy mainly because the current monarch has worked really, really hard to stay out of politics. You can guess what she thinks, but that’s all it is – a guess. There are rumours and assumptions one might make, but she’s done a really good job, for over sixty years, of keeping her head down. And for that, she has been rewarded with a public attitude of general indifferent approval. We each pay out less than a pound a year keeping them all in post, and for most of us that’s fine. What’s the alternative? President Blair? Ugh.

    But… Liz is not immortal. And Charles’s “people” have explicitly let it be known that he will not be as “hands off” as monarch. We are headed towards interesting times. Liz will shortly be the longest-serving monarch ever, and she shows no willingness to step aside. Her mother lived past 100, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t. Despite repeated suggestions in the press that they should skip a generation and make William king when she goes, Charles definitely will not have that – he’s been waiting his whole life for the big chair and he’s damn well going to have at it. But when he does, he is guaranteed to be much, much worse at the job than his mother. So bad, in fact, so ludicrously, ridiculously bad that I think it possible he’d be the last king. I think the UK is ready for that. Wonder what we’d call ourselves then…?

  15. RJW says

    @14 John Morales,

    I’m not sure what point you’re making, if you think that 1975 crisis reveals some monarchical influence in Australia you’re wrong. I’m sure the Queen couldn’t have given rat’s arse about events in Australia.

    Yes, I remember it very well indeed, if Australia had been a parliamentary republic at the time it would have not made any difference, the government would have been dismissed by the President. Chrislawson@15 has a comprehensive explanation of the parliamentary republic/ Westminister system and the power of Presidents to remove Prime Ministers or call extraordinary elections. Very few democracies use the U.S. presidential arrangement.
    The constitutional crisis was engineered by conservative politicians who saw a chance to undermine the Labor government because they had control of the Senate, the system provided a resolution to the impasse–elections. The most likely foreign influence was the CIA, not the Queen of England.

  16. EigenSprocketUK says

    #16 @sonofrojblake has rightly put it in a nutshell, though I’ll bet the all-in cost is significantly more than a quid each. This isn’t about constitutional head-of-state affairs for Canada, Australia, etc. it’s about how and whether the queen will prevent the heir-to-be awful king from mucking it up for the whole family. It’s entirely possible that Charles could tip the balance in the Commonwealth countries and set UK on a course to become a republic.

  17. says

    Thanks @15 et al, and I am aware that the US is far from the only model. A “ceremonial but with power and legitimacy to whack the PM upside the head if he/she does something stupid” presidency is about what I’d like to see. Like I wish Jean had done a few years ago when Harper prorogued Parliament — I wish she could have said: “Look, if you don’t want to govern the country, we’ll let this other lot try; they seem eager enough. Either shit or get off the pot!” But as an appointed figurehead, she didn’t really have the political legitimacy to do that.

    One wild idea I had: for the last 60-odd years, the GG has been a Canadian recommended by the PM and duly rubber-stamped by the Queen. How about we start selecting that recommendation by popular vote? (And not at the same time as Parliamentary elections). That would give the office some democratic cred that would allow the GG to wield actual power to balance the increasing power of the PMO. Basically, a limited presidency in all but name.

  18. Decker says

    @20 One wild idea I had: for the last 60-odd years, the GG has been a Canadian recommended by the PM and duly rubber-stamped by the Queen. How about we start selecting that recommendation by popular vote?

    The GG has been appointed ever since the very beginning seeings the position is one of being The Queen’s rep in Canada, Australia etc.

    I think the position should remain ceremonial. Holding elections for the position would be costly, and like the
    Queen, the G.G has no real legislative power, so what would be the point?

  19. krambc says

    Seems to me that most current systems use four basic sources of authority for exercising political-legal power:
    * ‘act of god’ ( papal election / genetic lottery of royal families – even if constitutionally restrained )
    * random selections ( of jurors )
    * expertise ( judges, especially for Supreme courts / privy councils )
    * popular elections ( esp for legislative reps and republican Head of State )
    The process of replacing ‘act of god’ for the exercise of secular power need not default to popular elections; the corruption of elections and the social divisiveness of partisanship is exactly what needs to be avoided for the functioning of a Head of State, especially a ceremonial one.
    @15 chrislawson: the Westminster republic model fails because your GG/President is a functionary of the PM – precisely the problem we suffer currently ( especially with centralized control in the PMO by conservatives like Harper / Howard-Abbot )
    I’m proposing a non-hereditary crown with an alternate source of authority : not popularly elected ; not appointed by PM ; but rather selected by Parliament from non-partisan nominees.
    I suspect we are very close in thinking – perhaps more distinctions without much difference.

  20. Jenora Feuer says

    Despite repeated suggestions in the press that they should skip a generation and make William king when she goes, Charles definitely will not have that – he’s been waiting his whole life for the big chair and he’s damn well going to have at it.

    From some of what I’ve heard, it’s not just that. Yes, Charles wants the chair after being trained all his life for it. But I get the impression that he also wants it in part to let William have the ‘normal’ life that he never had for as long as possible.

    I’ve heard that one of the internal dust-ups between Charles and Elizabeth a few years ago had to do with a motorcycle. Charles bought William a very nice motorcycle, an expensive but not custom motorcycle which came with protective clothing and a helmet with a tinted faceplate, the idea being that William could ride around London by himself without it being obvious who he was. Elizabeth considered this a horrible risk, while Charles considered it granting his son some freedom and the ability to better find out about the people and the city. One of the few cases where I have some sympathy for Charles: I got the impression he had grown up in a gilded cage his entire life and is actively taking steps to try and save his own sons from the worst of that. (Elizabeth has always been somewhat duty-obsessed: she grew up through WWII, and was doing broadcasts for the war effort at the age of fourteen.)

    Of course, in some ways this all may make it worse, as Charles will stay on the throne for his sons’ sake as much as his own, letting him feel obnoxiously self-righteous about it, too.

  21. chrislawson says

    krambc: I think we’re very close in our thoughts here. Where I disagree with you is in your belief that a possible future President of Australia, NZ or Canada can be “selected by Parliament from non-partisan nominees.” This is not really possible in the long term. The nominees will be partisan if the political culture allows it. This is, after all, what has happened with the US Supreme Court, where there are extensive measures to prevent the appointment of partisan hacks…and yet over the course of the last 200 years, the Machiavellians in the US have figured out how to promote their favoured hacks through the very system that is supposed to stop it and we now have a court loaded with enough toxic hypocrites to do severe damage to the judicial arm of government, and from there to the legislature and, as we saw in 2000, the Supreme Court even took upon itself the right to appoint the President under certain conditions.

    Having said all that, I’m only arguing that a Westminster republic is the natural progression for Oz, NZ, and Canada. Of all the republics I mentioned, I actually think some version of the Swiss model looks best.

  22. sonofrojblake says

    @24, Jenora Feuer: I think you overestimate Charles’ feeling for his sons. William had a private, secret “getting to know you” meeting with Camilla, his stepmother-to-be. Charles’s “people” leaked details of that meeting to the press, deliberately, in order to make Charles and Camilla look better, presumably. The betrayal of his son’s privacy was a lesser concern than his own (and his mistress/fiancee’s) PR.

  23. bryanfeir says

    @26, sonofrojblake:
    Quite possibly. The story I saw was a bit of a puff piece on William, and certainly not unbiased. And in general, yeah, Charles strikes me as the sort of person who has been long insulated from any negative consequences for his crap.

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