Can the Royal Family Cling on Much Longer?

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Yves here. It seems safe to say that most Americans can’t relate to the role that the royal family plays in the UK and much of the Commonwealth. The fact that Elizabeth II has held on so long may have done more harm than good. Charles would have had to try to make the monarchy more relevant (not as Crown Prince but for real) and he could have had enough time to make headway. Charles being king in turn would have had an impact on Prince William carried himself, by elevating his role.

It’s easy to dismiss the royal family as an anachronism, but the monarch can theoretically take action. This piece does include the disgraceful Gough Whitlam ouster but omits that Malcolm Turnbull, before he held public office, was a moving force behind the failed 1999 referendum to have Australia ditch the royals. I recall at some critical Brexit junctures there were arguments that the Queen could Do Something, although I must confess I don’t recall exactly what.

Perhaps readers in countries that still have monarchies can chime in.

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s special correspondent. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotlandand advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. Originally published at openDemocracy

The jubilee comes at a great time for Boris Johnson.

What better way to get past partygate than with a massive party? No one makes a tougher human shield for a bunkered prime minister than that much-loved nonagenarian, great-granny to the nation.

Elizabeth Windsor is only the fourth monarch in recorded human history to reach a platinum jubilee. In two years, she will overtake Thailand’s Rama IX and France’s Louis XIV to become the longest reigning sovereign ever. She’s done this not just by staying alive, but also by managing one of the world’s most successful media-celebrity machines through the most radical transformation of communications technology since the printing press was invented.

Despite this, it all feels a little desperate; like the Windsors are clinging on. Her immense personal popularity means little will change while she’s alive. But there’s a sense in the air: while she won’t be the last of her line, she will be the last of her kind.

Blood, Spunk and Divine Appointment

There is another reason the Queen has lasted so long. Unlike some of her European contemporaries, she hasn’t abdicated. As she sees it, she can’t: she didn’t choose the job, but was appointed by a deity to whom she made promises at her coronation.

While the divine rights of British monarchs went out with Cromwell, they are still crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and claim legitimacy through an ancient line they believe was chosen by God.

Specifically, Elizabeth was crowned by Geoffrey Fisher, who had been Archbishop of London during the Blitz, in an overwhelmingly faithful, Christian country.

When Justin Welby or his successor anoints Charles, it’s hard to see them commanding the same symbology. Today, only a quarter of British peoplebelieve in God, never mind the Anglican version, never mind that said deity personally selects heads of state.

Wisely, the palace’s spin doctors tone down the God stuff. Instead, they promote a modern idea that the Queen is ‘head of nation’.

In this reinvented formulation, monarchy is the notion that the DNA of a nation is transmitted through ovulation and ejaculation. William is second in line, the theory goes, because Charles’s semen is some kind of sloopy magic juice which confers authority on its progeny.

I know. Gross.

Also, racist. The idea that qualification to reign grows from a genetic trace, that Britishness comes not from living here, but out of your parents’ genitals and into your blood, doesn’t exactly encourage multiculturalism.

And nor does the fact that the monarch leads the Church of England. Racisms against religious minorities, like Islamophobia, tear through Europe. In Britain, we have a constitutional problem with confronting them: when bigots spit ‘this is a Christian country,’ they aren’t entirely wrong. Elizabeth II is Defender of the Faith.

One theorist frequently cited to justify these ideas is the Victorian Walter Bagehot, who loved the mysticism of it all, arguing that Britain’s political system is better understood not through the balance of powers familiar from America, but from a split between the ‘dignified’ and the ‘efficient’.

The purpose of the ‘dignified’ or ‘theatrical’ parts of the constitution – primarily the monarchy – is to ‘excite and preserve the reverence of the population’ so that the ‘efficient’ parts can more easily govern us.

Bagehot believed this was important, because “the lower and middle orders” were “narrow minded,” “intellectually incurious,” “coarse,” “dull,” “poor and stupid” – “the vacant many” and “the clownish mass”.

Important in bringing scientific racism to the heart of British thinking, he also raged against the mixing of races, arguing that certain ‘lineages’ are morally superior. The great justifier of modern British monarchy was a noxious snob and racist whose ideas should be handled only with latex gloves.

More recently, Oxford professor Vernon Bogdanor has argued that the Queen’s “political neutrality” allows her to “interpret the country to itself”.

But the idea that the mirror in which we see ourselves is inherited is profoundly political. Placing it at the centre of a national story is a way of warping a whole country to the right.

British politics is built around the class system. For centuries, the Tories have been the political wing of the hereditary ruling class, while the monarchy is its propaganda wing, endlessly telling us that some people are born to rule, others are not, and that’s the natural order of things.

The connections aren’t just theoretical. Ben Elliot, the Conservative Partychair, is Prince Charles’s nephew. Charles’ charity relies on Tory donors. William went to the same school as Boris Johnson. England votes Tory more than any other country votes for one party because the Toriesrepresent the ruling class and Anglo-British nationalism is a story whose moral is that posh people should rule.

Diminishing Britishness

Another feature of Anglo-British nationalism is denial of its own existence. As the writer Tom Nairn has long argued, much of the English ruling class can’t stand the idea that it’s ‘merely’ English, preferring to attach itself to a mysterious imperialist notion of international Britishness. And this feeling, too, is tied to the Windsors.

By my count, the Queen reigns over 43 states or territories, including 15 independent countries, 14 British overseas territories, three Crown dependencies, two New Zealand associated states, two New Zealand dependent territories and seven Australian external territories.

She still has more subjects outside the UK than in it, arguably reigns over parts of every continent on Earth – if St Helena, Ascension and Tristan De Cunha are African – and lays claim to 99% of Oceania, 58% of Antarctica and 42% of North America.

But if the purpose of the monarchy is to excite feelings of Britishness, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Elizabeth II’s reign is how they have dwindled.

Until 1946, all of the monarch’s subjects everywhere in the empire were simply British nationals, whether they came from Canberra, Kingstown, Kampala or Kensington. Britishness was global, rooted in racial hierarchy, with its core firmly in the imperial capital and home counties, and a periphery across the planet.

In 1946, first Canada and then other colonies started granting their own citizenships and, in 1948, Westminster in turn made British citizenship an umbrella for all of these.

But within a decade of Elizabeth’s coronation, this version of Britishness was folding up. The government responded to a racist backlash against people of colour coming to the UK by passing laws in 1962, 1968 and 1971 that narrowed down which British citizens could live here. The palace itself banned “coloured or foreign” people from clerical roles.

In 1981, the ’48 act was abolished, and British citizenship became (mostly) about a direct relationship with this archipelago.

Because of these shifting laws, Commonwealth citizens who are 75 or older were, legally, British before they were Australian or Canadian or Singaporian or Nigerian.

For baby boomers and Gen-Xers, it’s more complicated – different colonies followed their own paths to independence, often with their own heads of state. And millennials and younger people have always simply been citizens of their home country, with connection to Britain increasingly remote.

The End of the British Caribbean?

The Royal African Company shipped more enslaved African people to America than any other institution. A personal venture of Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, later James II and VII, the firm often used hot metal to burn the initials DoY, for ‘Duke of York’, into their victims’ skin. By 1683, England – primarily the royals’ family firm – was responsible for 74% of transatlantic people trafficking.

One of the most common destinations was Britain’s Caribbean colonies, their indigenous peoples having been murdered in waves of genocide.

Today, of the 15 countries where the Queen is Queen, nine are in or around the Caribbean. Until November 2021, there was a tenth.

Barbados is sometimes called ‘Little England’ due to its similarity and supposed loyalty to its coloniser. But in 1996, it held a constitutional convention.

“We did all of these public hearings over two years… there was overwhelming support for becoming a republic,” says Melanie Newton, who was the youth representative on the commission and is now a University of Toronto history professor specialising in the Caribbean.

The convention recommended Barbados ditch the monarchy, but it was only last year that it became the first of the Queen’s realms to go independent since Fiji in 1987.

Why now? I asked Newton.

The Black Lives Matter movement was vital, she says, as was “a decade of [the anti-colonial movement] Rhodes Must Fall” and the longer-running movement for slavery reparations.

Partly, geopolitics has shifted, she says. Caribbean countries are less reliant on British investment. And partly, it’s about Britain.

She cites David Cameron’s visit to Jamaica in 2015. He was asked for reparations and instead offered to pay for a prison, an obvious racist trope – “that was a big deal”.

She highlights the Windrush scandal. “Most Caribbean people my age and older have relations who live in the UK,” she says. These were the people who suffered.

“And then there’s Brexit, and how racist and unsavoury and xenophobic that movement was. What is this tie? This place clearly does not want any relationship with us.”

Now that Barbados has made the move, and it has been successful and popular, other Caribbean realms are following – as William and Kate discovered on a Jubilee tour in March.

In the Bahamas, senior political figures said the country was “ready” to become a republic. In Jamaica, protesters demanded an apology and reparations for slavery, and the prime minister told the couple that his country was “moving on” from monarchy.

In Belize, protesters highlighted the “colonial legacy of theft,” and tensions between a conservation charity William supports and indigenous people. After the royals left, the government launched a “People’s Constitutional Commission”, part of the continuing “decolonisation process,” which is expected to recommend republicanism.

William and Kate were followed by the Queen’s youngest son Edward and his wife Sophie. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda told them that his country intended to become a republic once the Queen died. The deputy prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis used their tour to say: “The time has come… to review its monarchical system.” And In St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, Edward and Sophie were met by reparations protesters and the most popular radio host in the former slammed their visit.

The Death of Global Britain

“I predict that in ten years there will be one realm left, and it will be what’s left of the UK,” says Tom Freda, the national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, speaking to me from Toronto.

In Canada, only 26% of people want to keep the monarchy past the Queen’s reign. The country’s only major pro-monarchy political party, the Conservatives, have been out of power since 2015.

Freda points to Black Lives Matter and increasing colonial introspection, and the fact that many Canadian migrant communities find the whole thing “baffling” – they have to pledge allegiance to “Queen Elizabeth II and all her heirs and successors” to gain citizenship.

With Barbados going first, he says “the avalanche has started… we have everything aligning” to replace the monarchy once the Queen dies.

Melanie Newton is less confident.

“There is an attachment that is deeply tied up with the privileges of whiteness,” she says.

“It would open up a whole host of conversations here about race, rights and citizenship. Most Canadians believe the myth that there was no slavery here, that there is a way to reconcile the history with indigenous people without opening up this question.

“There is an unwillingness to reopen those issues.”

As a result, says Newton, while there isn’t much support for the monarchy, most prefer to avoid the subject.

The Last Queen of Australia?

There were more than a million indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders when James Cook landed on the continent in April 1770 on a voyage commissioned by George III, the Queen’s grandmother’s great-grandfather. When Australia federated in 1901, there were around 100,000. While many died of diseases the British brought, tens of thousands were murdered. The genocide continued, with the state kidnapping indigenous children until the 1970s.

Government policy changed with the election of Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1972, who ended racist ‘White Australia’ policies, founded a set of Indigenous institutions, and gave some groups deeds to their land.

The Queen’s representative, governor general John Kerr, used a budget crisis to sack Whitlam as prime minister in 1975, replacing him with the unelected right-wing opposition leader, and then shut parliament to stop it reappointing him.

Letters between Kerr and the Palace from the time were secret until 2020, when the historian Jenny Hocking finally got them released. They showed “the involvement of the palace in every step Kerr took, and every decision he made, regarding the dismissal of Gough Whitlam”, Hocking said. After they were published, support for abolition surged above 60%.

The explicitly republican Labor party won this month’s elections. New prime minister Anthony Albanese has campaigned for abolition and appointed an assistant minister for the republic. And the Greens, who now hold the balance of power in the upper house, are vocal republicans.

If Australia goes, so will its seven external territories, including the Christmas Islands, Norfolk Islands and more than half of Antarctica.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Adern, is openly republican. Although polling doesn’t show much desire for change, enthusiastic support for the monarchy there is sparse, says Lewis Holden – mostly gathered in the Second World War generation.

“You do get young fogy types,” he says, but “support for the monarchy has been ground down to a very, very narrow form of conservatism. They are people who are very, very interested in British and specifically English history; they talk about Brexit in positive terms. In New Zealand now, that’s very strange.”

When New Zealand becomes a republic, its dependencies and associated states – Tokelau, the Antarctic Ross Dependency, Niue and the Cook Islands – will too, says Holden.

Not United and Not a Kingdom

Support for the monarchy appears strong in the UK. In Great Britain, only the Greens and Plaid Cymru oppose it; Labour hasn’t even debated opposing it since its 1923 conference. And headline polling figures show 61% support for the monarchy.

But much of that is shallow, with enthusiasm very concentrated, both demographically and geographically.

After what the Queen called her ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992, openDemocracy’s founder Anthony Barnett organised a major conference on the monarchy, with a range of cultural figures. Before then, he said, it would have been impossible. “It was like a religious taboo. Any attempt to talk about the role of the monarchy was regarded as a personal attack on the Queen, and she was a fetish object. You couldn’t talk about her, she was above everything – you couldn’t touch the royal mantle. It was regarded as scandalous”.

When the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen ahead of her silver jubilee in 1977, the BBC banned all its DJs from playing it.

But with Andrew and Charles’ divorces in the 1990s, the Windsor fire, and, more than anything, Diana, “the sanctity of the monarchy was broken”.

Young adults (18 to 24) in the UK are now, for the first time, more likely to oppose monarchy than support it. Royalism is heavily concentrated in people born before 1970.

And while some corners of the country will smear themselves in clashing red, white and blue this weekend, most don’t plan to celebrate.

A poll in Scotland this month showed only 45% still back the monarchy.

Northern Ireland has its first ever republican first minister-designate. Loyalism means specifically loyalty to the Crown, and its ongoing crisis is a crisis for the Windsors as much as for Westminster: vocal monarchism is associated with one increasingly unpopular, past-it fringe.

A poll in 2019 found that West Wales, the Valleys and parts of Cardiff were some of the least royalist parts of the UK. Liverpool fans booing William earlier this month were a reminder that some of that spirit extends north into Merseyside. Spend time in Cornwall or Scilly and you’ll quickly discover the Duchy isn’t a popular landlord.

The last few years have seen the royal family put cash on the line to protect Prince Andrew from potentially horrific allegations emerging into the light, while shunning Harry after he married a mixed-race woman with a mind of her own. At the same time, notions of Britishness have taken a battering as a zombie English nationalism emerges from the imperial deathbed.

The tabloid machine on which the monarchy has depended for a generation has been weakened by emerging social media, which it has yet to master, and the state which it exists to protect from the ire of its people has slashed and degraded itself again and again and again, from the invasion of Iraq to a decade of austerity to Boris Johnson.

If the Jubilee comes at a good time for the prime minister, then partygate came at a terrible moment for the Queen.

It’s one thing for the monarchy to excite the reverence of the British people so the government can plunder the biggest empire in human history. It’s another to be used to cover up vomit stains on the Downing Street carpet.

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      1. Questa Nota

        Prince Charles soon can use the Royal Wee.
        With correct pronouns, it will be alrighty in Blighty.

  1. Eclair

    In 1952, the year Elizabeth became Queen, I was in the 7th grade. Parochial school, taught by a band of mostly Irish Catholic nuns, kitted out in voluminous black habit, complete with starched Medieval headdress and flowing black veil. And rattling rosary beads dangling from the waist.

    I remember sitting, back upright, hands folded on desk, listening as Sister Miriam Eucharia told us of the death of the English King. Then, in tones appropriate to a Sibylline Oracle, she solemnly intoned: When another Elizabeth ascends the Throne, England will come to its downfall. Prophecy 101!

    1. Mikel

      More amazing is that these corporations and international insurance companies aren’t mentioned in all the reparations talk. That’s where the big bucks went. And they kept records.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    Not to worry, even after Tokelau becomes a republic and unseats the queen.

    The U S of A, in particular the Anglophile elites wearing their bespoke suits and eating their ice lollies, will still maintain a slavish and uncritical “special” relationship with England, no matter how many times scoundrels like Boris Johnson pull the wool over their collective eyes.

    Especially in the last few years, I am finding the U.S. self-colonialism to be increasingly disturbing. It’s one thing for Americans to enjoy French culture, the inheritance of the French Revolution, and pommes frites, all of which are taken with a grain of salt.

    It’s another thing to have Boris Johnson and his ilk running U.S. foreign policy in their not-so-secret war on Europe, let alone laundering money for U.S. corporations. Those events in 1776 were such a terrible inconvenience.

    1. John

      The French actually had the better model…you know, 1789 and all that.
      Although the Brits know how to do chop chop too. Asks Charlie Stuart about that.
      Seems to be getting time again.

      1. Paul Art

        Was surprised to read in Piketty that income inequality after the revolution went steadily up till it was the same in 1914 before WWI as it had been before the revolution

    2. super extra

      re: US self-colonialism, consider a joke I’ve made for years but am starting to think is true: aristocracy is a brain disease! Usually muttered as a way of discharging the discomfort caused by something simply wrong, like an american caring about a royal, but over the past decade said more often in response to class pretensions, like someone I know who claimed to need a nanny and a very specific preschool for his children (because the parents had to spend all their time at high income job in order to afford the nanny and the tuition).

      But consider: lots of insects and pathogens practice forms of parasitism where they modify the host’s behavior to be more beneficial to the parasite. Financialization – the ultimate society parasite – encourages changes in people within the society by exerting pressures of demand (lack or excess, due to ability to pay), which is then reflected towards their own survival. The nice thing is once you see this you can’t unsee it, and aristocratic pretensions are always an indication of unseen puppet strings, even if they’re just an unclear desire for ‘more’.

      1. eg

        Your second paragraph sounds like a nice introduction to Hudson’s “Killing the Host” …

  3. Susan the other

    This is amusing and interesting. I really never knew what to make of “the Royals” because the whole idea is archaic. But the actual people are not all that bad. Thinking about Charles here. He seems like a good guy with responsible views, etc. It feels a little strange to vilify them because they are rich and ceremonious. Most rich people are not ceremonious, and vice versa – “the Royals” are in an unusual straightjacket.

    1. ambrit

      Never forget that History can and often does, go backwards. The ‘Royals’ sprung from a class of militarists who freebooted their way to the top of the socio-economic pyramid. They have a tradition of being military “leaders.” That will come in handy when ‘Ye Jackpotte’ hits in earnest.
      “Everything old is new again.”

    2. Joe Well

      Maybe the lack of respect toward people who inherited wealth is because they didn’t earn it? (Whether they are part of a constitutional monarchy or not.)

    3. Skippy

      “Thinking about Charles here. He seems like a good guy with responsible views, etc. It feels a little strange to vilify them because they are rich and ceremonious.”

      Same guy that said “everyone can not be born me” …

      Anyway all Royal Families that have roots in Rome can basically be defined by the first entry into their genealogical sheep skin. Not that most were pagan war lords that opted for mysticism that granted them a divine upgrade in authority in the hear and now and post morte ….

  4. Cobequids

    I am a Canadian, and a great fan of the monarchy. Not the Royal Family, necessarily, but of the institution. The Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II, is our Head of State. She exercises her power through her representative, the Governor General, who is appointed under advice from the Prime Minister of Canada of the day.

    The role of the Governor General is largely symbolic, but she/he generally embodies all that is good about Canada and Canadians, and she represents us to each other, and to the world. It is said that the announcement of a new GG should provoke both surprise and delight, and it generally does. And the new GG almost inevitably rises to all occasions during her tenure.

    The attraction of the monarchy for me is not the power that the Queen has, but rather the power that the Prime Minister does not have. Parliament is in fact the Queen’s Parliament, and the Prime Minister serves at the Queen’s pleasure. (The leader of the party with the second-most number of seats is styled: “The Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” and that is in fact the reality of the situation.) Also in reality, the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that has the most seats in Parliament, but the further reality is that the Prime Minister and his government must command the confidence of Parliament, meaning that they must be able to pass bills, including a budget. They must be able to govern the nation.

    When a party has a majority, this is not usually an issue. Presumably the Prime Minister can whip his MP’s and pass a confidence vote – spending bills and a few others are confidence motions. But in a minority government situation (as we have now), the Prime Minister and his government must be able to conduct the business of Parliament (usually with the support of some opposition parties) or the Governor General will call an election or ask another party to form government.

    A recent example: about 15 years ago Prime Minister Harper led a minority government which was in danger of being defeated by a coalition of opposition parties. Prime Minister Harper asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament, meaning to suspend it so that he could continue to run the government of the nation without Parliament sitting. The Governor General of the day, Her Excellency Michelle Jean, eventually acceded to his request, but she made the Prime Minister wait for two hours while she consulted her advisors, and then she prorogued Parliament with the conditions that Mr Harper would meet Parliament soon, and would present a budget (which is a confidence motion). Her Excellency was representing Canadians when she insisted that the Prime Minister show that he had the support of Parliament.

    And how would we choose a Governor General without the Monarch? An elected GG might feel that she/he had her own constituency and did not have to proclaim bills passed by Parliament but with which she did not agree. Now there would be a mess. Would the election of the GG become a popularity contest? Or a further political contest?

    For now, Her Majesty the Queen of Canada works for me, and that suits me.

    1. pjay

      This is quite an extraordinary apologia for a cynical USian like me. I will leave it to Canadian readers to weigh in, but it does remind me of those old junior high Civics classes we used to have that explained to us how our three branches of government were *supposed* to work for the good of all citizens. It took me many years to learn how things *actually* work, and for whom, and the extent to which those old civics lessons were so much mystifying ideology.

      I don’t think we in the US rely much on this formal indoctrination today. We have twitter, facebook, and tic tok to keep the youngsters distracted.

    2. Mel

      As far as I know, the Governor-general is selected from a list (short or long) of candidates that the Government presents to the Monarch. The Monarch chooses one, and that’s it. How the Monarch chooses isn’t set out; it’s the Monarch’s own business. Craig Murray’s essay How the Establishment Functions describes how those kinds of decisions get made, it might be worth reviewing. (And the follow-up.)

      1. pjay

        Yes. When I hear the term “governor general,” the first thing that comes to mind is the Gough Whitlam case. In whose interests was that carried out? I’m a hopeless cynic, I’m afraid.

        1. sulfurcrested

          “I’m a hopeless cynic, I’m afraid.”
          You’re a hopeless realist.
          The whole destruction of Whitman was a disgrace to the Queen & an insult to Australia. Never forgive, never forget.

    3. CanCyn

      Count me a Canadian who has zero time for the monarchy. I see them as Britain’s version of Hollywood. Admired and envied for their wealth. But at least actors have done something to earn their ‘stars’. The royals have what they have because of the luck of their birth. What a lot of rot. Some say they do a lot of good charitable work. No doubt they bolster tourism (that could happen even without official royal family status). I don’t believe the charitable causes or the tourism make up for the harms of colonialism or their lack of defence of the UK social safety net. I am amazed when I meet fans of the royals, I don’t get it. When Harry and Meghan were exiting I had a conversation with friends in which I expressed my belief that Elizabeth should be the last monarch and that Charles should never ascend the throne. I was shocked by their shock at what they saw as my disrespect for the royal family.
      Our current GG is an indigenous woman. Admirable for so many reasons, her GG appointment aside. I can’t help but believe that the appointment is pure virtue signalling for our gov and the royals. I want to believe that she is smart enough to see that but planning to try to do some good regardless. I live in hope that she achieves some meaningful progress in righting the wrongs that Canada to this day continues to commit against its Indigenous peoples but I am not holding my breath. I can only imagine that some indigenous people would see her as some kind of a collaborator.

    4. John Zelnicker

      Cobequids – As an American whose last world history class was over 50 years ago and knows very little about Canadian government, I have a question.

      Why, exactly, do you need a Governor General?

    5. eg

      As a 5th generation Canadian (though my first progenitor to come to the St John River Valley did so before there was a Canada, and the second was born here before it became Canada) of Irish extraction let me assure you that I do not share your reverence for the Monarchy, for reasons that ought to be obvious. And we are legion. Not to mention the Indigenous, the French, the various and sundry displaced Europeans, Africans, and Asians who now make up the vast majority of the Canadian population.

      Move over — your time has passed …

  5. Arizona Slim

    Quoting from the article: Spend time in Cornwall or Scilly and you’ll quickly discover the Duchy isn’t a popular landlord.

    To which I say: This isn’t a recent thing. While I was visiting my Cornish relatives, I made the mistake of saying that I was enjoying my visit to England.


    I was swiftly corrected. I was visiting Cornwall, not England.

    OTOH, my relatives were staunch Royalists, which was understandable during the late 1970s. I doubt that their children and grandchildren are.

  6. David Jones

    Not sure why the author did not mention the Monarchy’s access to proposed legislation which affects their property/assets etc.The Guardian ran a number of articles quite recently about this practice which has run for decades and which the royals have used many times.

    In addition,as taxpayers we do not have the right to see their wills! As per Prince Phillip’s recent death,for all we know he may well have left organisations like Azov a bequest!

    Thomas Paine England’s greatest revolutionary had it down well over a couple of hundred years ago.
    “The palaces of kings are founded on the ruins of the bowers of paradise” and still no change. Go colonies!

    1. paul

      That’s what boils my piss about the saxe coburg parasites.
      Their only constitutional activities are to carve out exceptions to their material advantage.

  7. David

    As a lifelong republican, I thought that it would be interesting, today, to read a thoughtful article on the future of the monarchy. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

    Luckily, knowing that the subject attracts the kind of person who shouts in your ear and grabs you by the lapels, I had my Monarchy Rant Bingo Card available. Let’s see. Imperialist, yes; racialist, yes; Windrush, yes, speaks only to people who agree with him, yes: slavery, yes; genocide, yes; Black Lives Matter (really?) yes; whiteness, yes; Islamophobia, yes; xenophobic, yes; English nationalism, yes. Oh look, I’ve filled one card already.

    Behind the obvious adolescent desire to say things that might have been thought controversial in, oh, the nineteen sixties, there’s actually an important point about the monarchy that needs making. It’s the Head of State issue. Like a lot of people who worked in the public sector, I quickly became a republican, because I saw the way in which the Crown upheld and reinforced the social system that I disliked so much. The issue is how else that function is going to be performed. It’s one thing to get laughter and applause performing in front of some fraction of a tiny political party (about 5000-strong as I recall), it’s another to say, if not a monarchy, then what? I have yet to meet someone working in another government who doesn’t have their own reservations about how it’s done in their country. You can have anything from hereditary but purely formal heads of state, through Presidents elected by Parliament, through Presidents directly elected with greater or lesser powers. But someone has to be the public face of the nation, provide continuity, hand out honours, travel abroad, receive the allegiance of the armed forces and, most importantly, ensure that governments get formed. President Boris Johnson, anyone? In France, the Jubilee has had admiring saturation coverage, and French people have been telling me all day how lucky the British are to have a Queen, I mean, look at Macron and the political system. (Interestingly, it’s ordinary people who say that, not the political and intellectual classes, who generally think that Macron is great). The fact is that there’s no “best” system: it depends on individuals and political culture. South Africa had Nelson Mandela as President. It also had Jacob Zuma.

    But the other point, I think, peeking out from among all the invective here, is the profound distaste of the educated classes in Britain for the mere existence of the past, and for society, tradition, culture and history itself. The ever-rolling neoliberal tide washes away the past, and to suggest that any aspect of even the recent past may have been better in any way than the present is greeted with cries of “fascist.” I doubt if the author is old enough to remember the Silver Jubilee of 1977, but it’s been much noticed how records of it convey a world of relative innocence compared to ours, the last gasp of the postwar consensus, when there was still a society of some kind, when public life was much more honest, and the nation had yet to be sold off to speculators. It was a fine autumn afternoon, just before the bitter winter of Thatcherism arrived. So support for the monarchy, whatever the personal qualities of this Queen might be, is in large measure a gesture of defiance by ordinary people, a memory of a time when public services worked, when you were paid to go to university, when education and healthcare were free and of high quality, when the demand for full employment seemed reasonable, and poverty and deprivation were seen as unacceptable. That was before the undertaker’s with MBAs came to take the bits of the country away.

    1. Craig H.

      The article also failed to answer the only question I was interested in: is Andrew invited?

      Fortunately we have google. He has tested positive for corona and regrettably will not attend.

      When you have a small circle it is easy to manage little complications such as this!

    2. Omicron

      My late (and much-lamented) Scottish mother-in-law used to refer to George VI as “the wee German lairdie,” and his successor as “the greedy Queen.”

    3. Skk

      Nice take. I’ve been an English republican since 1968 or so, as I was taught about the Tudors etc.. But in 2022, when this old woman is 96, her son in 78, for the moment I reckon, let it be for the next few years. There are more important assholes that the workingclass will buy into than this lot.

    4. Old Sovietologist

      A thoughtful article on the future of the monarchy, I think you have just written it David. That was a excellent write up and you hit the nail firmly on the head. You’re one of the few people who understands that support for the monarchy is indeed an act of defiance by ordinary folks.

      I was a child during the Silver Jubilee celebrations and yes it was a period of innocence compared to today. Little did we know what was to happen in the next few years, as the social democratic consensus was washed away.

      I can’t believe I’m saying it but I now prefer a Monarch to President. The thought of a President Johnson or Blair sends chills down my spine.

      Do I believe the Royal Family survive the death of the present Queen? Yes, it will. Granted it will be a much slimmed down version but its better than anything else on offer.

  8. Hayek's Heelbiter

    The Monarchy is as much (maybe not quite) as much of figurehead as the president of United States.
    Whoever is pulling the strings of the president is not going to give up their puppet master status any more than the power-behind-the-throne, i.e., the aristocracy that actually has ruled (and continues to rule) the UK for the past 800 years. As long as the Duke of Westminster owns 80% of the land in London, and 0.6% of the UK population owns 40% of the land, the Monarchy does not have to worry about any dissolution.
    And in much the same way that the US president is a safety valve for voters to delude themselves into thinking that they actually have some say in the laws that govern them, the Monarchy serves as a useful safety valve for the enthusiasm of the general population that might be (mis) directed elsewhere.
    Like those in the media bubble of Washington, whose habitues rarely venture outside the Beltway (which explains why Trump blindsided them), the London equivalent rarely venture beyond the M25 (which explains why Brexit blindsided them). You (One) only have to visit an English Midsomer-type village this weekend to see the fervor, enthusiasm and high regard in which the general population views the Royals.
    Ps. Take a look at the Royal Family Court Calendar with all the events they attend, both prestigious and local – openings, fundraisers, etc. to see the difference between them and the people who rule America. Outside of election time, the latter would never deign to attend such low-key events .
    I was a former diehard anti-Monarchist, but now see the Royals in a new land more sympathetic light.

    1. Michaelmas

      Hayek’s Heelbiter: You (One) only have to visit an English Midsomer-type village this weekend to see the fervor, enthusiasm and high regard in which the general population views the Royals.

      I left the US last December and am now in just such a country town in Cumbria in the Lake District, till August when I’ll move to London. What you say is surprisingly true of the older folks here, some of whom are straight-out royalists.

      Most of the rest just go along with it. Those I’ve talked to raise the head-of-state issue and point to the monarchy as a preferable alternative to an imperial presidency occupied by a Trump or Nixon-like figure (though God knows Thatcher did enough damage, till the Tories removed her when she went too far).

      Alternatively, if they’re republicans like me, we just shrug our shoulders and wonder what it’ll be like when Betty Windsor and her very practiced act of inscrutable graciousness are removed from the scene. See Jokerstein’s comment further down this page.

      I think that may be a part of it. At this point, one might want the monarchy ended, but not harbor any ill will towards the woman who’s monarch, who appears to be a person of good intent after 70 years of doing the gig.

      Because gig it is ….

      HH: Take a look at the Royal Fwho’s amily Court Calendar … to see the difference between them and the people who rule America. Outside of election time, the latter would never deign to attend such low-key events .

      Even Meghan Markle, D-list erstwhile American TV actress, felt such duties — and duties they are — were beneath her.

      1. Hayek's Heelbiter

        Even Meghan Markle, D-list erstwhile American TV actress, felt such duties — and duties they are — were beneath her.

        You nailed in one sentence the difference between the ruling class in America and the Royal family.
        They Royal family was raised with a sense of Noblesse oblige whereas MM and the American ruling class is imbued with the the sense of Nobless oublier, and the more quickly oublié the better.

  9. Stephen

    Constitutional monarchy is the worst approach to having a Head of State except for all the others.

    The advantage of it is that one can criticise the policy of government whilst remaining loyal to the state. I cannot speak for Commonwealth countries but within Britain there have been republican movements at many times in our history. The monarchy endures because alternatives are not better. From a historical perspective, the fact that France is on her Fifth Republic, having also had two Empires since 1791 tends to be a point of comparison for the durability of such a system.

    There are also various allusions in the article to the God given Divine Right of Kings. Nobody has used that here as a justification for monarchs since at least the 1688 Revolution. If not, earlier.

    By the way, I am not a fan of the monarchy! I just do not think a better system will arise for Britain.

  10. Synoia

    Who would be preferred as Head of State?

    A president like the US ?
    The prime Minister, for example Boris or Blair or Thatcher?

    Personally I believe the Monarchy, for all its faults is better than the alternative, a Bent Politician?

    How goes the Honest, Bribed, Politicians in the White House?

    Where did the Obamas get the money to buy two very expensive houses in the US? By dint of quid pro cro?

    I believe the relevant question is: What is the least worst option for the UK?

    1. Bruno

      Why not democracy? (I mean real democracy, with all public offices filled for short terms by lotition).

      1. ambrit

        As our recent past has shown, it is the ‘secret’ “permanent” public offices that tend to have the most influence. The satirical television show “Yes Minister” shows an ‘extreme’ version of the process.
        (I will defer to Colonel Smithers, David et. al. on this. Is “Yes Minister” at all accurate? Inquiring minds want to know.)

      2. Bazarov

        I’ve been arguing for sortition for ages–that our legislature should be a unicameral National Jury with majoritarian rule.

        Referenda to ratify controversial decisions should also be standard.

        I’ve always added that there should be no executive except in cases of emergency and that the army should always be by draft–no “volunteer” force allowed.

        In times of peace, the National Jury would be represented abroad by ambassadors and delegations.

      3. fajensen

        Because we can see how that goes, or: Every system has it’s parasites, the parasites evolve. If the system remains static, the parasites become too effective, their needs overwhelm everything and the systems will break from parasites consuming all resources.

        Elections today are driven by Murdoch, FaceBook, Twitter and Google. More elections, means more influence to Murdoch, FaceBook, Twitter and Google, as well as all of the other parasites, like LePen, Trump and Putin, paying for algorithm access.

        I think it is time to try something different, and that we should try a lottery again; random choice is the only way to get a true representation of the population as it actually is.

        The Greeks did back in the day, although they were fairly strict about who the “population” were. They and their system are dead too, of course, but, drawing lots probably worked well enough for a long while.

  11. Amigauser

    No mention of the cost?
    We are having to buy them a new royal yacht at great cost, when people are homeless and having to use food banks.
    We also have no right to question their actions in parliament or call them in front of a committee, e.g Andrew time as a trade representative when fergie said he took money for actions.
    Also,neither the queen or Charles have to pay death duties or certain other taxes only income tax, that they decide to call income.

  12. Jokerstein

    There is a minor musical group in the UK called K*** and the Gang who have released many (15 or 16) versions/mixes of their single “Prince Andrew is a Sweaty Nonce”, nonce being slang for an active paedophile.

    If you search for it, you will find that it reach number 2 on iTunes, and has incredible exposure on TikTok.

    There are details of this meme here.

    This would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

    1. skk

      Hmm talking of music, there’s always the Sex Pistols , “God Save the Queen” from the late 70s. Seemingly banned but I heard it loud and clear often, then and since. It was alright. BTW, Danny Boyle s take on the Sex Pistols is on Hulu,and perhaps private bays places. I haven’t checked it out yet.

  13. Dave in Austin

    Without in any way being a partisan of the British monarch, it makes very good sense to separate the roles of “Representative of the nation” from that of “Elected political leader of the nation”.

    One symbolizes affection for the nation. The representative of the nation is above politics, a human flag. On the other hand, the elected political leader almost by the nature of the role represents part of the nation, is devious and mendacious it the way politics demands… and is soon going to be shown the door- the symbolic guillotine. In the US this means exile to San Clemente or Miami for the Republicans and Kalorama Circle or Manhattan (with summers in Marthas Vineyard) for the Democrats.

    In the US we see the disadvantages of combining the rolls. Anachronisms have their uses.

  14. JEHR

    What I took away from watching about 20 minutes of the marching for the Queen today was that it is a shame that those bearskin hats are still being worn!

  15. Steve B

    When I worked in the UK civil service, it became clear to me that the monarchy is a purely symbolic institution. In Bagehot’s terms, it is all ‘magic’ and no ‘efficiency’. The monarch represents the head of state, that’s it. If Elizabeth II had ever refused to give her assent to the policies laid out in the Queen’s Speech at the state opening of any Parliament, then Parliament would have sacked her and found someone else to do the job. Simple as that. Parliament cut off the King’s head in 1649 for pretty much that reason.

    The British monarchy is a spectacle which disguises the fact that Parliamentary government in the UK is an ‘elective dictatorship’ – to use Lord Hailsham’s phrase. To put it more crudely, the British state is run by an oligarchy and has been since 1688 or 1660 (depending on your understanding of history). The social composition of the oligarchy changes over time, but one thing which remains constant is that it’s all ‘efficiency’ and no ‘magic’.

    This has its upsides. Who wants to see James Dyson or Roman Abramovich on the Buckingham Palace balcony? But it also has its downsides – like, it’s really hard to figure out who’s in charge and hold them accountable to notional democratic norms.

  16. JustTheFacts

    I find this article quite biased. The UK is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Yet it does have an important history, having influenced every part of the planet. This idea that the UK should eradicate that wealth to make newcomers feel more “at home” seems ungracious and ungrateful. Speaking of “Charles’s semen is some kind of sloopy magic juice which confers authority on its progeny” is derogatory and ignores the fact that every human culture values ancestry. Similarly speaking of a million aboriginal deaths, 95% of which seem to have been caused by diseases according to the article’s own figures, as a fault of the British, at a time when people knew little about what caused diseases or what parts of the world they existed in seems more than a little unfair to me.

    As to whether it is good to have a Queen, versus a rotating head of state, I’m undecided, but leaning towards the monarchy. At least the Queen was trained for the role and has maintained a level of dignity I see in very few of the rotating heads of state these days. The Queen has provided a sense of continuity. About most of her family, the less said, the better. Indeed, some of them might benefit from a sojourn at the Tower of London. However Kate and William do seem to being doing their best to keep things dignified, and they might be able to keep the “Institution” running for another generation.

  17. Keith in Modesto

    I had no idea there were so many Royal Family stans in the NC commentariat, but here they are striving mightily to defend the Windsors from us uncouth Yankees, despite their earnest prefaces that “I’m no fan” or “I’m a life-long republican!” I wonder if MI6 has a division just to troll the Anglosphere corner of the internet looking for posts like this?

    1. Kevin Walsh

      I’m amused by all the Anglo exceptionalism on display – the idea that Britain or Australia or Canada are incapable of doing the easiest thing imaginable – electing someone dignified, relatively free of scandal (something which should be assured by all the oppo in the election campaign) and relatively non-controversial to a figurehead position.

  18. fjallstrom

    I think the Queen did do something about Brexit.

    By appointing Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as Prime minister when he didn’t enjoy a majority in parliament, she ensured that he could finish the negotiations and run on the oven ready deal. So she weighed in on hardest possible Brexit. Of course, being the Queen, her actions (or the actions of those who controls her agenda), is largely invisible.

  19. John Merryman

    Keep in mind that democracy and republicanism originated in pantheistic cultures. To the Ancients, monotheism meant monoculture. One people, one rule, one god. The formative experience for Judaism was the forty years in the desert, giving us the Ten Commandments. The Romans adopted and co-opted Christianity as a state religion to validate the Empire and shed any reminders of the Republic. Basically monarchy is hierarchical oligarchy.
    Logically a spiritual absolute would be the essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of wisdom and judgement, from which we fell. Ideals are not absolutes and assuming them to be tends to make a fairly fractious culture.

  20. Altandmain

    Canadian here.

    I don’t see any value add in the British monarchy for Canadians. It’s just a symbol that costs taxpayers a lot of money. We are not a British colony anymore.

    Many of the Carribean nations have already left rbe monarchy behind.

    I see little reason why Canada should not either. A majority of the Canadian people seem to favor it.

  21. Roland

    Britain could do socialism under the monarchy.

    Britain could scuttle most of the Empire under the monarchy.

    Britain could have the Lords subordinated to the Commons under the monarchy (indeed because of the King.)

    Britain could universalize the voting franchise under the monarchy.

    So as an anti-imperialist, social-democratic, proletarian Canadian, why would I have any problem with our constitutional monarchy?

    What significant problem is caused by the monarch? Is the Queen to blame that Canadian voters keep electing goddamned neoliberal bourgeois finance capitalists to run the country? Remember, the same Queen was totally OK when Canadian parliaments nationalized all sorts of stuff.

    In Canada, a constitutional amendment affecting the position of the Monarch would require all ten provinces to ratify. The status of the monarch of the Canada is not related to their status in the UK. Some of the First Nations in Canada regard themselves as being in a treaty relationship with the Crown, rather than with Canada. Altogether, it’s probably more difficult and more complicated for Canada to become a republic than it would be for Britain, barring a revolution.

    But could you think of anything dumber than having a revolution and new constitution, in Canada, to get rid of a monarchy that has done nothing but tolerate, liberalize, and democratize since the freaking 1840’s?

    The constitutional monarchy in the Commonwealth is not a barrier to social democracy. From a proletarian perspective in Canada, republicanism is a nothing but a waste of time– just a bourgeois vanity project.

    1. mistah charley, ph.d.

      My ancestors came to Canada in the 1700’s, and my father emigrated in the 20th century – I have dual U.S./Canadian citizenship. I am persuaded by the argument that it is not the monarchy that stands between Canada and any potential progress toward social and environmental justice. The difficulty of changing the constitution means that a serious effort to implement a republic could lead to secession, and maybe not just by Quebec. My grandfather was a Nova Scotian farmer, and farmers have a saying – “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” When we compare and contrast the U.S. and Canada, their similarities and differences, it is by no means clear to me that the American Revolution produced a better society.

  22. John Zelnicker

    As an American, I’m not really qualified to comment on the governance of a country I know only a little about.

    Even so, I have some thoughts on the matter of the monarchy.

    I have difficulty with the concept of hereditary royalty. It just seems to go against all concepts of equality, collectivism, and community, besides being exclusionary and racist.

    I do enjoy watching some of the pomp and circumstance and ceremonial activities, as a sort of vacant-minded escapism.

    It won’t be fun anymore once the Queen is gone. The rest of the bunch are worthless.

  23. Mikel

    “I recall at some critical Brexit junctures there were arguments that the Queen could Do Something, although I must confess I don’t recall exactly what….”

    The Queen has those she has to bow down to. Doesn’t The Queen need permission to enter the City of London?

  24. MarkT

    My mother and grandmother were both royalists (for reasons of indoctrination, I assume). I am not a royalist. But I do have sympathy and a little bit of admiration for a woman who had no choice in the circumstances of her birth or her role in life, and who had to live according to them. Sound familiar?

    1. The Vole

      >sympathy … admiration for a woman who had
      >no choice in the circumstances of her birth …
      What’s worse than being a Poor Little Rich Girl?
      A PLRG with a Heavy Diamond Crown!

  25. Mikel

    The death of global Britain…come back to that after all those banking offshore havens and assorted financial connections have disappeared and a few of the five eyes have been poked out.

  26. No1

    I’m an Aussie.

    This satire article sums up what a significant part of the population thinks.

    Personally, I have such a loathing for modern Australian politicians that I really don’t want to give them a President office to put their cronies into and soak up more benefits and perks from the country. The royals are bad, especially with Andrew still in family. But whoever becomes our head of state will no doubt be complicit in the deliberate reduction of living standards for millions of people in favour of oligarchs. There’s no good outcome.

    If a Republic did happen then the only silver lining would be the possibility that whatever legal shenanigans took place to force Whitlam out of power could possibly be removed from the Constitution. But I wouldn’t count on our politicians to include that; they will want some kind of safety valve for if any genuine reformer ever came to power.

  27. anon y'mouse

    wow, i guess i’m just too naive for this idea that the “royal” family is good because they represent the stability of being above bribery.

    they are the ultimate property/investment holders and always side with their fellow classmates, and always need to make sure those investments pay off. just because they can step down from the lofty heights occasionally and throw a few gracious crumbs at peasants doesn’t change this at all. in fact, it reinforces it. nobless oblige is a nasty, patronizing concept that formed the mould around which the modern Demparty/PMC nexus seems to place their “ideals” and pattern themselves, which this website exposes over and over again as a big fat lie, con job and self delusion.

    that we appear to be moving in step with their ideas about what constitutes “rational” governance is really insane. i haven’t seen any evidence that parliamentary governments with some kind of figurehead have it any more “together” on numerous fronts than we do. just more misdirection and frustration about “doing something” vs “how it is and has to be”.

  28. cristobal

    This post is a little late, but has a perspective from another country. The British royals seem to be autodestructing, and it can´t be too soon. Here in Spain we have perhaps the worst experience with a monarchy imaginable. Fernando VII (el Deseado) takes the cake for the absolute worst. He tried to overthrow his father, schemed with Napoleon, was deposed and restored twice, abolished the constitution, oversaw the terror of1824 in which thousands of liberals, Masons, and anyone else he did not like were assassinated and drove the country further into ruin. What is truly mind blowing is that during his long and tumultous reign there was a large segment of the populi, most importantly the church, that were his supporters. He was succeded by a series of mostly mental fefectives (some exceptions), a nymphomaniac, and a collector of pornography. The current monarch, Filipe VI became king when his father, Juan Carlos I had to reseigh in disgrace. Felipe seems a decent sort of person and is trying to hang on – not too hard it seems – to the idea of a monarchy The major political parties and about half the population support the monarchy come what may. Juan Carlos was designated ´head of state´ by Francisco Franco at the end of his 40 year fascist dictatorship. There is reason to believe that the CIA had a hand in his ascencion as a meand to keep the once strong Communist praty down and insure that the transitiion to ´Demococracy´ would not really change anything. As the saying goes, los mismos perros con colares diferentes. Juan Carlos amassed millions through ´commissions´and in illegal arms smuggling with his cronies, the kings of Abu Dabi, Saudi Arabia, Mooroco and other oil rich African and Middle East countries. He hid his ill gotten gains off-shore, and openly maintained a string of lovers throughout his life. In onne of his schemes, it seems that he had involved his son-in-law, and when the law came calling he let the poor sap do time. The secret service and police worked overtime to try to keep his conduct from the public, Currently e is being sued in a British court by one of his amantes who apparently was a colaborator in a scheme to defraud the tax authorities. He was recently exonerated for many of his financial crimes by a Spanish court because they took place during the time he was still king, and enjoyed absolute immunity. He was a king in the mold of Fernando VII. The French really did have the right idea – OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!! The persistence of the Spanish monarchy and the so-called áristocracy´has had a terrible effect on Spanish culture. There is a consideraable class of people that feel that they are invulnerable, and cannot be convicted of corruption or inside dealing, and they are right. The monarchy has beed deposed twice, the first time it lasted only a few years and the second time the Republic that followed was overthrown by the Civil War with the help of Hitler and Musolini that lasted for forth years. Maybe the third time will be charm..

  29. Terry Flynn

    Aussie citizenship exam is interesting. I did it in 2014. Though I sailed through with flying colours – as did (predominantly white) people from Anglo-Saxon countries and western Europe – the questions were not much to do with the head of state at all.

    Basically, to pass the exam you needed to know the various Australian flags (including the indigenous one) plus an in depth understanding of the “Westminster model of government” which the Aussie Parliament copies heavily with the one exception being reform of the voting systems.

    This IMNSHO shows they are more wedded to the Westminster model than their head of state. They’ll ditch the monarchy as soon as Liz is gone.

  30. Jorge

    I read a apocryphal quote from one of the royal kids/grandkids: “nobody wants to be monarch”. The queen has to do all of the BS work and the kids just swan around having fun.

    If the monarchy shuts down after E2 dies, it will be due to lack of applicants.

    Also, a counter-story: King Carlos of Spain came in during early 80s and oversaw the turfing out of the old Franco-istas, doing a huge amount of good for Spain. He abdicated later in favor of his son. He pointedly compared this to how E2 left Prince Charles to waver in the wind for decades.

  31. Glen

    Be careful what you wish for. The new set of “monarchs” which will succeed the royals such as Bezos, Musk, et al are worse, much, much worse.

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