The institution of monarchy is perhaps under its greatest pressure since the abdication crisis. If the monarchy is in jeopardy, so is the cornerstone of our unwritten Constitution - the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament.
It is from this threadbare concept that governments derive their effectively absolute power. The Executive, headed by the sovereign's Prime Minister, rules the Commons. The Commons rules Parliament. The Prime Minister exercises the Royal Prerogative on the sovereign's behalf. It is the fact of sovereign power that allows our 'elective dictatorship'.
The three major Bills of the last session increase Executive power still futher. The Deregulation & Contracting Out Bill allows ministers to amend primary legislation without reference back to Parliament. The Police & Magistrates' Courts Bill compromises the independence of the police and the courts. The Criminal Justice & Public Order Bill gives more power to a more centralised police, while removing rights from the individual. It is a constitutional mugging, it relies on the existence of sovereign powers for its authority, and it is happening almost unnoticed.
Debate about sovereign powers is one that the Government wishes to avoid at all costs. It will try to avoid it at the European Union intergovernmental conference in 1996, by 'standing up for Britain's interests'. It will attempt to ride out the increasing storm, within the Conservative Party as much as elsewhere, over the 'quangoisation' of what used to be the public services. It is staking its future on our constitutional arrangements remaining as they are. The survival of the monarchy in its present form is therefore crucial.
The behaviour of the Royal Family is not the heart of the matter. What matters is where power lies. It is the residual powers of the monarchy that allow British governments to do as they please, effectively without checks or balances. It is the place of the head of state within the Constitution that matters, not the marital differences of the current heir.
There is no reason why, if we wish, we could not retain the monarchy and modernise our Constitution. The difference between our monarchy and those of Scandinavia and mainland Europe is not whether they ride on bicycles or in state coaches, but that truly constitutional monarchs are simply representatives of the nation, equal to every other citizen, rather than half-mystical symbols of a concentration of power that has no place in a modern democracy.
Yours faithfully, LINDSAY COOKE Charter 88 London, EC1 18 OctoberReuse content