Royalty and the Commoners

Click to follow
Today, 651 wise monkeys return to Westminster. In our constituencies there has been only one subject talked about over the weekend. Yet, as we slide into our green leather benches this afternoon, we have to pretend that we can say nothing, see nothing and hear nothing about the only issue in town.

Inside Parliament, MPs are forbidden by convention, not law, from debating the monarchy. Outside the Commons, we regain our privileges. Nicholas Soames got shot down for excessive loyalty to his Prince, while in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, Douglas Hurd was toe-curlingly obsequious to his Princess. But what of the MPs of all persuasions who refuse to take sides in this marital row but would like some debate on the political and constitutional implications of the extent to which the institution that heads our state, in whose name our soldiers die, and to whom each MP swears allegiance, is becoming a world spectacle?

Sympathy for those members of the Royal Family who carry out their duties with discretion and tact is no excuse for not having a mature debate about what we mean by, and want from, the monarchy as we enter the 21st century. In every other democratic monarchy, the monarch swears an oath of allegiance to the constitution. The King of Spain or the Queen of Denmark are symbols of the democratic glue that holds their states together because they place themselves and their families within and under the laws of their lands.

How absurd that MPs should determine, by Act of Parliament, the marital status of a member of the Royal Family. How medieval that the monarch is also expected to head the official state church. How undemocratic that elected legislators cannot discuss the issue that dominates national debate.

Instead, the royal agenda is controlled by tabloid newspapers and television executives. More beans will be spilt. As the fourth generation of living royals goes through lusty adolescence and enters the value-free, me-first world of contemporary upper-class England, more flesh will be provided for the tabloids and TV to feast upon.

Change is urgently needed. The 19th-century mysticism of monarchy, celebrated by Bagehot, worked for a nation rising to the top rank of world power. It is no longer appropriate in a Britain gripped by drift and decline.

Like almost every other part of ourancien regime, from the centralised, London-based power structure to our segregated education system, the 19th- century settlement is no longer valid. The monarchy must change. And the beginning of that process should be a debate whose agenda is not determined by tabloid journalists, hucksters selling scandal or agents for the warring royal camps, but by Members of Parliament in their own House of Commons, into which, after all, no monarchy may set foot.

The writer is Labour MP for Rotherham.