“The gas can be turned up and the gas can be turned down,” the minister said, but stressed there was no question of removing the prince. “The royals go on, that is what they do,” he said.
This was said not about the Saudi royal family in light of the pro-democracy movements sweeping the Middle East, rather they are the words of a UK cabinet minister speaking about the British royal family in today’s newspapers. The power the Royal family wield and the public money they claim is entirely a matter for their own discretion. Prince Andrew apparently cannot be sacked from his ‘voluntary role’ at the UK Trade & Investment government agency despite becoming a national embarrassment with his cosy meetings with despots and criminals.
Former Foreign Minister Chris Bryant tried to raise the issue of Prince Andrew’s position and lack of accountability on the floor of the House of Commons. “Isn’t it time we dispensed with the services of the Duke of York?” he asked.
Amazingly he was scolded by the Speaker John Bercow for daring to ask this much-needed question:
“References to members of the Royal Family should be very rare, very sparing and very respectful. We have to be very careful in our handling of these matters.”
Do we? Why? Are we living in Thailand where it is illegal to criticise the Royal Family? Or Brunei where the Constitution states “His Majesty the Sultan can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity” and further admonishes that “No person shall publish or reproduce in Brunei or elsewhere any part of proceedings that may have the effect of lowering or adversely affecting directly or indirectly the position, dignity, standing, honour, eminence or sovereignty of His Majesty the Sultan”. It seems Prince Andrew shares a similar standing to the Sultan in John Bercow’s mind.
It is remarkable we know as much as we do about Prince Andrew’s activities as the Royal family are protected from public accountability by law. Last May in the wash-up of government an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act was pushed through granting the royal family an absolute exemption from the public’s right to know. Even before this, the Royals were not covered by the law directly. Instead the public had a limited right to make FOIs to public bodies about royal funding and lobbying of public officials. Now even that minimal level of accountability has been eliminated.
This is a travesty. As long as the royal family can cream off public money and influence public policy all without any form of public accountability then we are subjects not citizens and in no position to lecture anyone about democracy.