Leading Article: A favourable answer to the Camilla Question

Related Topics
Should we care about Camilla? It is now plain as day that she and the Prince of Wales want to get married and are running a massive public relations operation to try to influence opinion in her favour. This is not, perhaps, as important for the future of the British Constitution as yesterday's decision by the Cabinet to hold the 1999 European elections on a proportional system. If two divorcees want to marry, it is difficult to follow the train of connections which make any difference to the lives of the rest of us, whereas the lapping of the tide of fair voting around the Gothic pillars of the Palace of Westminster could presage a democratic revolution. But the two issues are connected. This is not to argue, as some Conservatives do, that the Constitution is a finely balanced and complex structure that will collapse if any part of it is tampered with. Nor is it right to argue, as republicans do, that our archaic status as "subjects" rather than "citizens" inhibits democracy, and that electing a head of state would automatically free the people from the yoke of ancient superstition.

Part of the significance of the Camilla Campaign is that it reveals the extent to which we now have a democratic monarchy. Prince Charles realises that he can only get what he wants if the British public allow him to. This is an imperfect democratisation, to be sure, with the main tests of public opinion being newspaper polls, but it is no bad thing that he is forced to take his case to the people.

If Charles is to win sympathy and support, however, he will have to go further and, to borrow from the language of the new government, offer us a "people's monarchy". He has already convened a modern-day witan to advise him on the options. The manifesto it came up with included a cut in the list of official royals, allowing daughters to succeed to the throne on the same terms as sons, and cutting the link with the Church of England. These three proposals are welcome, although only the first can be acted on while the present Queen is alive.

The issue the witan dodged was money - taxpayers' money, to be more precise. A scheme was floated by the Prince's spin doctors for him to be given a chunk of land and property from the Crown Estate. The scaled-down Royal Family could then be supported on the income it generated, rather than having to go cap-in-hand to an increasingly resentful House of Commons every 10 years. This would be unsatisfactory, simply reversing the original transfer of the Crown Estate in return for the Civil List. And it would be a step in the wrong direction, because a people's monarchy should be more, not less, accountable to the people through their elected representatives. If the monarch needs a public subsidy, the case for it should be made, regularly, in the House of Commons (and the Crown Estate belongs to the nation, not to the Royal Family as individuals).

The battle for public approval brings Prince Charles squarely into the political bear-pit. It is another measure of the Royal Family's deference to democracy that the Prince of Wales has been doing the rounds of the new government in the hope that some of the New Labour magic will rub off on him. All that old hocus-pocus about the monarch's role being to advise and warn was never very true - Stanley Baldwin had to advise Edward VIII about the state of public opinion in 1936 - but now it has been fully reversed. Because Tony Blair is regarded not only as the king of public opinion, but also as having a constitutional obligation to advise Charles what to do, the Camilla Question presents the Prime Minister with a tricky problem. Perhaps this will be one of the first issues to be put to the 5,000-strong People's Panel, when the Government sets it up.

Tricky, yes - but the outline of the advice which should be given to Charles and Camilla is simpler than it might seem at first glance. Of course they can marry, in which case she would have to be called Queen. But they would have to do so on the same basis as everyone else. It is neither possible nor desirable that the Royal Family should somehow exemplify a "better" morality than most of the rest of us can aspire to. If we accept that Tom, Dick and Harriet can split up and start new families, then we can accept it for Charles, Diana and Camilla. But their part of the deal is that they scale down their pretensions. We need a more modest monarchy, more visibly in touch with popular values, making fewer and better-justified demands on the public purse.

What sends some clerics and traditionalists running around in ever-decreasing circles is the prospect of breaking the link between church and state. Apart from noting a quaint symmetry between the birth of the Church of England in one royal divorce-and-remarriage, and its death in another four centuries later, this is not worth dwelling on. Anyone who has failed to notice that Anglicanism is in no meaningful sense the state religion is supremely unqualified to advise Charles on anything. Disestablishment will solve most of the problems surrounding the remarriage issue.

So the question of what to do with Camilla (many happy returns for yesterday, by the way) does not have much to do with the price of milk, or with jobs, education and health. But if the price of her rehabilitation is bringing the monarchy closer to the people, then it is a price worth paying. And if it is part of a thorough-going modernisation of our democracy, in which power indeed lies in accountable hands, then so much the better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect