Britain’s Ruling System 2013: The Queen, The Prime Minister & The “Super-Rich”:

“Is it not bizarre”, asked the London Evening Standard journalist, Richard Godwin, in his article about Margaret Thatcher on April 10th “ that we frame our national debate in terms of events that happened more than three decades ago”. His comments reflected the apparent bafflement among many in the teenage & twenties age-group as to why such massive media coverage had been given to someone who had resigned as Prime Minister on 22nd November 1990 and so had not been in power for 23 years. A young participant in  the BBC TV “Question Time” audience on 11th April provoked a wave of laughter when – before offering his views on Mrs Thatcher’s “legacy” – he remarked that he had obviously not been alive during her “reign”. He should of course have said something like “ while she ran the government”. He has not been the only person to have attributed almost monarchical status to the “Iron Lady”. The “Hendon & Finchley Times”, in its coverage of the “Question Time” programme (quickly re-located from Rochdale to Finchley, the constituency Mrs Thatcher represented as MP from 1959-1992) noted that one member of the panel, Conservative Minister Ken Clarke, had also been a member of the Cabinet during Lady Thatcher’s “reign”.

That word has been used even by the left-wing “Guardian” on several occasions over the past few days – including in its preview of the anti-Thatcher protest in Trafalgar Square (Saturday 13th April) and its “Datablog” on “How  Britain Changed Under Margaret Thatcher”. In the same newspaper, the former Prime Minister was depicted by columnist Jonathan Friedland as “the warrior queen” and by his colleague Deborah Orr as “probably the most powerful woman in Britain since Elizabeth I (1533-1603)”. The assessment of the latest edition of “The Economist” magazine is that after her third election victory (11th June 1987), Mrs Thatcher adopted “an increasingly imperial style”, became inclined to refer to herself as “we” and that her party’s decision to force her out of office in 1990 had been “an act of regicide”.

Meanwhile, the “Sun” newspaper headlined (on 9th April) the ‘blunders’ by the Taiwanese CTI TV Channel and Thailand’s Channel 5 when announcing the death of “Queen Thatcher”. The first mistakenly screened a video of Queen Elizabeth II and the second showed a picture of Meryl Streep (the actress who starred in the 2011 film “The Iron Lady”). According to  The Guardian and the “Daily Telegraph”, many Labour MPs and “Thatcher opponents” have been unhappy about the scale of this week’s “ceremonial funeral”: The “pomp, the honour guard of more than 700 military personnel, the gun salutes from the Tower of London”, its cost (estimated at around £8 million, paid for by the taxpayer & the Thatcher Estate) and its resemblance to the “state funerals” traditionally “reserved for sovereigns and on rare occasions eminent commoners, such as the Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill”.

The Queen’s decision to attend, with the Duke of Edinburgh – as a “gesture of respect” for the longest-serving of her (so far) twelve Prime Ministers – has revived speculation about whether, during the Thatcher premiership, the relationship between the two women was really as tense and difficult as was often reported by the media at the time. The writer Sally Bedell Smith has pointed out on “wordandfilm.com” that they were both “impeccably dressed and well-coiffed, equally attached to their ubiquitous handbags, hardworking and meticulously professional”. The Queen, however, is known for her “dry wit” whereas Thatcher was said to be “humour-challenged” – thus, during their weekly meetings at Buckingham Palace (which now, with David Cameron, usually take place on Wednesdays at 6.30pm) “Elizabeth couldn’t share the lively banter she had enjoyed with some of her previous prime ministers”. Moreover, Thatcher “had a habit of lecturing that didn’t go down well either”. There were also suggestions in the British Press (asserts “Yahoo! Voices”) that the Queen was “worried about Thatcher’s economic policies”, the consequent social divisions, high unemployment, riots and the violence of the miners’ strike as well as her “refusal to apply sanctions against the (then) apartheid regime in South Africa” – yet, after Mrs Thatcher left power, the Queen “bestowed on her the prestigious Orders of Merit and Garter and attended her 70th & 80th birthday parties”.

The “Royal.gov.uk” website emphasizes that, although the Queen is “ a constitutional monarch who remains politically neutral” she nonetheless “has a right and duty to express her views on Government matters”. All communications between her and members of her Government are “strictly confidential”. Having given her opinion, she “abides by their advice”. If the Prime Minister of the day wants to call an election, he (or she) has to ask the Sovereign to grant a dissolution of Parliament. When appointing a Prime Minister, the Sovereign follows constitutional convention: “The main requirement is to find someone who can command the confidence of the House of Commons”. As the Guardian has observed, “the people of Britain are not citizens, but subjects of the monarch”. The Queen’s “royal prerogatives” are mostly exercised through her Government and include the power to enact legislation, award honours, sign treaties and declare war – which Margaret Thatcher used to send the fleet to recapture the Falklands from Argentina in 1982.

On January 13th, the “Daily Mail Online” asked “Who Runs Britain?” There was no mention of either the Queen or the Prime Minister. Instead, they quoted the belief of Steve Hilton, Cameron’s former policy chief (now in California) that “the bureaucracy masters the politicians” and that “70% of Coalition Government time is wasted dealing with ‘random stuff’ generated by civil servants and complying with a plethora of European directives”. The Socialist Review’s Nick Clarke (in his analysis of BBC Business Editor Robert Peston’s book on the topic) has concluded, however, that the people really in charge are the “turbo-capitalists” with their total “disdain for taxation” and their “huge wealth” earned from “non-productive activities”.

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: General, Media, Politics | Posted on April 16th, 2013 by Colin D Gordon

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