Why we re­ally need the Queen

If Bri­tain be­comes ruled by an elected pres­i­dent, the po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence so vi­tal to our well­be­ing will be lost

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - GE­OF­FREY AL­DER­MAN

SHORTLY AF­TER HE be­came Prime Min­is­ter, Gor­don Brown an­nounced that there was to be a “na­tional con­ver­sa­tion” on con­sti­tu­tional re­form. This was the time (how very long ago it seems now) of the “Brown bounce”, when Mr Brown ac­tu­ally en­joyed a mod­icum of na­tional pop­u­lar­ity. He was de­ter­mined (his spin-doc­tors as­sured us) to sweep away the heav­ily cob­webbed con­sti­tu­tional niceties that the coun­try had in­her­ited from long ago.

The House of Lords (he told the BBC’s An­drew Marr) must be made “ac­count­able”. There were hints that the vot­ing age might be re­duced to 16, per­haps in or­der to harness the ado­les­cent vote all the more tightly to the Labour wagon. The pow­ers to de­clare war and to rat­ify in­ter­na­tional treaties would be re­moved from the Crown (ie Down­ing Street) and given to par­lia­ment. The Crown (ie Down­ing Street) might also be stripped of its au­thor­ity to ap­point the bish­ops of the Church of Eng­land.

Tucked deep within this en­ve­lope of no doubt wor­thy but es­sen­tially pe­riph­eral mea­sures was an un­der­tak­ing to re­peal parts of the Act of Set­tle­ment.

This leg­is­la­tion dates from 1701. It pro­hibits any per­son of the Ro­man Catholic faith from as­cend­ing the throne, and it fur­ther de­crees that ev­ery per­son who does as­cend the throne shall be or be­come a com­mu­ni­cant mem­ber of the Church of Eng­land. Three weeks ago, Down­ing Street let it be known that plans were ac­tu­ally be­ing drawn up to give ef­fect to this pledge, and that the gov­ern­ment’s con­sti­tu­tional ad­vis­ers were busy pre­par­ing leg­is­la­tion to put an end to the 300-year-old ex­clu­sion of pa­pists from the royal line of suc­ces­sion. The cur­rent re­quire­ment that this suc­ces­sion must al­ways pass to a male heir if one ex­ists is also, ap­par­ently, to be swept away, thus mak­ing it pos­si­ble for a first-born daugh­ter of Prince William to suc­ceed him ir­re­spec­tive of the fact that he might also have a child of the male sex.

On the face of it, who ex­cept the most ar­dent of Protes­tants could ar­gue against the re­moval of the cur­rent ban on a Catholic be­com­ing or be­ing the monarch? And which of us, in this fem­i­nist age, would dare to speak out against do­ing away with mas­cu­line rights of pref­er­en­tial in­her­i­tance? In any case (I can hear you ex­pos­tu­lat­ing) what on earth has any of this got to do with the Jews?

On the face of it, noth­ing what­so­ever. But as I look be­yond the face of th­ese pro­pos­als, I be­come, as a Jew, ever more un­easy.

The Whig states­men who framed the Act of Set­tle­ment did not ob­ject to the pres­ence of Ro­man Catholics, and if they scoffed at Catholic be­liefs (which they did), in prac­tice they tol­er­ated those who fol­lowed the Catholic re­li­gion. But that re­li­gion was and had for cen­turies been as­so­ci­ated with tyran­ni­cal and ab­so­lute gov­ern­ment through­out Europe. More­over, Catholics owed their ul­ti­mate al- legiance on this earth to the Bishop of Rome, and to his laws, not those en­acted at West­min­ster.

You may say that the con­cept of dual na­tion­al­ity is now well un­der­stood. So it is. But the pa­pacy has never been the friend of the Jews. We Bri­tish Jews had our lib­er­ties se­cured in this coun­try by a Protes­tant es­tab­lish­ment, not a Catholic one.

On the back of the lat­est pro­pos­als, the cel­e­brated con­sti­tu­tional lawyer Ge­of­frey Robert­son QC is now to be found at the head of those who are ar­gu­ing for a re­form even more rad­i­cal. Damn­ing the ex­clu­sion of Catholics from the throne and the rule of male pri­mo­gen­i­ture as “bla­tant con­tra­ven­tions” of the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion and Hu­man Rights Acts — as if th­ese mea­sures pos­sessed some di­vine right of prece­dence (so to speak) — Mr Robert­son has nailed his colours to the mast: “The next stage”, he has de­clared, is “for the gov­ern­ment to chal­lenge the no­tion of a head of state who achieved the po­si­tion through in­her­i­tance” — in other words, the abo­li­tion of the hered­i­tary monar­chy and its re­place­ment by an elected pres­i­dency.

A gen­der-neu­tral monar­chy is one thing. But a politi­cised head­ship of state is quite an­other. The strength of the hered­i­tary monar­chy is pre­cisely that its suc­ces­sion is not open to po­lit­i­cal shenani­gans. In this way, it gives im­mea­sur­able po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity where none might oth­er­wise ex­ist. And if his­tory shows any­thing, it is that po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity is never good for us di­as­pora Jews.

Bri­tish Jewry has pros­pered un­der the um­brella of a hered­i­tary monar­chy that owes al­le­giance nei­ther to a do­mes­tic pol­i­tics nor to any for­eign po­ten­tate. Long may that con­tinue.

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