Queen’s political intervention provokes row

When in government, many Prime Ministers have appreciated the Queen’s advice © Getty Images

The BBC have had to apologise to the Queen, after a live radio show revealed her opinions on a controversial issue. The saga is a rare glimpse into the political influence of the monarch.

When a BBC reporter let the comment slip in a live radio interview, it sounded like a minor detail. The Queen, he remarked, had been ‘pretty upset’ to find that Abu Hamza, the Muslim cleric with links to terrorists, could not be arrested. So upset, in fact, that she had raised her concerns with the Home Secretary at the time.

The anecdote, however, was far from trivial. The BBC had given listeners an unusual glimpse into a rarely revealed and barely discussed topic: the Queen’s politics.

Her Majesty was not amused. Hours after the interview, the publicly-funded broadcaster issued a grovelling apology for reporting the words of a private, off-the-record conversation.

But the damage had been done. The fact that the Queen had spoken to a politician about Hamza – who is embroiled in a lengthy extradition battle with the UK government – showed not only that she has opinions, but that she is prepared to act on them. What is more, it appears the Queen would rather keep any influence she may have behind closed doors.

Republicans are outraged. When it comes to politics, the monarch is required to remain neutral: as Head of State, her job is to act ‘solely on advice of ministers’, and to avoid interfering in the decisions of democratically elected government.

In reality, however, the relationship between the Queen and the government is nuanced. The Queen is allowed to ‘advise, encourage and warn’ politicians. Every week, she meets with the Prime Minister of the day for a private meeting: no records are kept, and leaders from John Major to David Cameron have praised her wise advice.

But the rules that require Elizabeth II to be neutral do not apply to her son, the Prince of Wales. Today Charles spends much of his time meeting with politicians, writing letters to powerful friends and promoting his favourite causes – which include organic food, alternative medicine and traditional architecture. His proactive approach to public policy has earnt him a dubious nickname: ‘the meddling prince’.

King of the castle

For this reason, some think, Charles is more powerful than his mother. His active, noisy approach, after all, has brought many important issues to public attention. By exploiting his position and refusing to keep quiet, he has had a real impact on the things that are close to his heart.

But Charles’ aggressive stance has left him with enemies as well as friends. The Queen, on the other hand, is respected by almost everyone. Because she seems to take neutrality seriously and offer her views quietly, admirers point out, her opinions have real weight: a few well-chosen words from the monarch are more powerful than the banners and noise of her son.

You Decide

  1. Which is a better way of influencing people: by being measured and reserved, or loudly complaining until you get your way?
  2. Should any members of the royal family have a say in politics?

Activities

  1. In class, run a poll asking who would be the better monarch – Prince Charles or Elizabeth II. Why do you think this might be the case?
  2. Write a poem that praises the virtues of a good monarch.

Some People Say...

“The monarchy should be scrapped.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So what do these royals do for me?
Prince Charles has used his influence to help young people find work and direction. The Prince’s Trust supports vulnerable young people by offering vocational training, personal development courses, and funding for starting up businesses and community projects. It was set up by Charles in 1976.
What other things has he influenced?
In one of his more controversial adventures, Charles stopped a cluster of luxury tower blocks being built in London. He disliked the modern style of the planned apartments, and a letter to the site’s owner – his friend the Prime Minister of Qatar – was enough to stop the project. He also caused a minor diplomatic scandal by welcoming Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama – shortly before a state visit between Britain and China.

Word Watch

BBC Reporter
Frank Gardner, a BBC foreign correspondent, let slip the revelation about the Queen. He is one of Britain’s most respected war correspondents, and was awarded an OBE in 2005. A year earlier, he was paralysed after being attacked by al Qaeda sympathisers.
Lengthy extradition battle
Abu Hamza was the imam of Finsbury Park Mosque, which after September 11 became notorious as a centre of violent Islamism. He was imprisoned in 2004 for stirring up racial hatred and encouraging violence and terrorism. A legal case to have him extradited to the USA has been ongoing for several years; this week, lawyers won their case to have him sent him to the US, but an appeal will further delay the extradition.
Republicans
Someone who does not agree that a country should have a hereditary head of state is called a republican. Most are opposed to unelected people or families holding any kind of power. In the UK, republicans, or anti-monarchists, are now furious with the BBC for ‘toadying’ to the establishment with their apology.

Subjects

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