Beatrix Campbell: The people v Queen Camilla

Windsor and Westminster thought we wouldn't notice the royal spin
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The Independent Online

The royal wedding is being blessed by a new genre of political syntax. It is, however, so banal, it so lacks the lustre of spin's sheer cheek, that it is scarcely noticeable. That is its mission: to create a culture of not-noticing.

The royal wedding is being blessed by a new genre of political syntax. It is, however, so banal, it so lacks the lustre of spin's sheer cheek, that it is scarcely noticeable. That is its mission: to create a culture of not-noticing.

It was enunciated in an exemplary form in the wake of confessions by both Downing Street and Clarence House that Camilla will be Queen.

Not-noticing is the accomplice of not-knowing. We have been invited to believe that all the Queen's men, all of Downing Street's courtiers, and all the constitutional experts in the land, didn't know that Camilla didn't have a choice: it is the law of the land; the King's spouse must be a Queen.

It has been incorporated into our constitution since the great revolution failed to finish the democratic project and the Restoration reinstated the lore of supremacy, sectarianism and sexism as the spires of our constitutional compromise.

It was embedded in the 1772 Royal Marriages Act and it was reiterated in the 1936 legislation on the royals and their successions. There is no way the courts of Windsor and Westminster didn't know. But they wanted to make it not matter.

They thought they had been given their alibi by Camilla herself. Like a character out of Little Britain, she'd said, "Don't want that ... not bothered..." as if in deference to the poor dead Diana who did want to be Queen. They must have thought that if Camilla wasn't bothered, then we'd not be bothered. But it was inevitable: the truth would out: the confessions by Clarence House and Downing Street, that, yes, of course, Camilla would become Queen, were enunciated in the anti-spin of not-worth-noticing.

Clarence House commented that Camilla would be Queen "only by convention". No, by statute, surely. This constitutional coyness confirms that the royals know exactly what they're up against: us. Popular distaste for royal shenanigans, and for Camilla as a career mistress who vetted Diana for her paramour, is what lies behind this seemingly casual disregard for convention. The monarchy wants a married King, and he wants us to bow before not only him but his wife.

What to Charles is convention, is to our state its constitution. The royals' ignorance of their own society and our feelings about their infelicities have so compromised what they call convention as to wobble the constitutional settlement itself.

The delicious dialectic is that the royals improvise convention no less than they invent tradition: they make up most of this stuff as they go along, from investitures to tournaments, to induce the idea that the theory and practice of monarchy is pre-ordained and eternal.

The House of New Labour matched Charles's doublespeak with its own determination to make us not notice. The constitutional question of Camilla's status, said the Government, was "limited to what the title would be". As if title - whether Princess, or Mrs or Queen - was about anything other than status. But in any case, said a Downing Street spokesperson, "In terms of any future events, let's wait until the future events arise."

The late Alan Clark would have laughed at these linguistic japes, not least because he himself created the template. When he made his virtuoso admission that he'd been "economical with the actualité", he could not have known that those low-life Machiavellis in New Labour would so earnestly enlist his discursive novelty.

We heard this truth economy when Tony Blair was waging war on Iraq: he said he had not decided to go to war until he declared that we were going to war. We heard it again when the Government was asked whether Britain would sign up to Star Wars. No, said Geoff Hoon, let's wait until we're asked. Then he signed up.

These are not semantic nothings. These are strategic manoeuvres. This week, the same idiom framed the answer elicited by a parliamentary question - "is Camilla to be, or not to be, Queen?" - exposed the insecurity of both the Government and the Royal Family. They just didn't want to tell the truth.

Before we got the answer, no this would not be a morganatic marriage - as in Yes - we were incited to not notice by the agreeable spectacle of Windsor and Westminster bumbling about. To bumble, it seems, is better than to deceive, and a happy diversion was provided by exhilarating bungles over the location of the royal wedding. Windsor Castle's lack of a licence to marry people was followed by the Queen's refusal to release the castle for the likes of Madonna, or Michael Jackson, or Wayne and Waynetta, or even worse, Yolande or Winston.

Then the Christians quarrelled about faith and fornication, and reminded this largely secular society of the role of the church in creating this fine mess in the first place. How could we have forgotten that the Church of England owes its very existence Henry VIII, a monarch who made himself mad over faith and fornication.

The point is: sectarianism, sexism and supremacy are the crux of the monarchy's historic compromise with Parliament and the people. Sectarianism is the spirit of our state and our monarchy: the 30-year Troubles were sponsored by Protestant supremacy; the monarch can't be a Catholic and can't marry one. That's the law.

Reform is not an option available to them, because that would release the republican conversation they are determined to silence. Paradoxically, they have ventured to reform royal finances, by revoking the Thatcher doctrine which protected the Windsors' income from scrutiny for a decade at a time. Money has always been a more or less raucous negotiation between the Royal Family and Parliament, and money has proved easier than sex - because sex with these people is also about power.

In the decade since Diana the whistleblower exposed princely misogyny, the royals have had ample opportunity - with our help - to modernise the monarchy. That said, however, we cannot underestimate their difficulty - and republican opportunity.

Reform is impossible precisely because we would notice the sexism and sectarianism and Wasp supremacy that is the system. We'd notice that the Queen presides over a cruel, patriarchal cult. Primogeniture prevails; the succession still runs through the monarch's sons, and then their sons. The most prodigious royal, Anne, hasn't a chance to relieve the royals of the burden of their son and heir because she was born a girl.

Downing Street's efforts to protect the principle of monarchy by minimising its meaning - and its potency - are belied by the Prime Minister's own dependence on the monarchy. He used the Queen to avoid doing the democratic thing about waging war.

In 2003, Tony Blair and his apologists - memorably John Reid the bruiser and Margaret Beckett the pedant - insisted that he did not need the approval of Parliament or the people to go to war in Iraq, he needed only the sanction of his sovereign. He lost that argument. Opposition to the war forced him to seek the permission of Parliament. But by naming the limits of his constitutional duty, he also revealed the limits of our democracy.

Having abolished the hereditary principle of the House of Lords, New Labour engaged, and then ended, Britain's unfinished revolution. This month we were reminded of the simultaneously abject and authoritarian fix by which New Labour has staunched constitutional reform.

Of course, Clarence House and Downing Street hoped we'd not notice sly Camilla's status because they fear we will have the last laugh; we'll start saying: "Queen? Curtsy? You must be 'avin' a larf!" And having got the habit, we'd refuse to bend the knee not only before her, but before the lot of them. This is personal, and it is politics, but bring it on.

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