I am not greatly interested in royalty, usually. The last twenty-four hours has interested me much more than usual.
Firstly, the Ghislaine Maxwell verdict clearly has implications for the claims against Prince Andrew, which he does of course deny.
Second, it was drawn to my attention yesterday that Twitter seemed to be particularly excited about unsubstantiated claims about the state of Prince William's marriage.
I do, rather obviously, have to point out that there is as yet no confirmed evidence of either of these stories being true, and I am not offering opinion on that issue. To again state the rather obvious, I would rather that both were not, for the sake of all involved. Instead, what troubles me is that in what passes for a constitutional settlement within the UK the decisions of some people as to how they will conduct their personal lives might have implication for the conduct of government. Prince William, in particular, is second in line to the throne and his father will be well into his seventies if he does ever become king. In that case the succession rests pretty heavily on his shoulders. Like it or not, public confidence in his conduct matters whether you are a monarchist or not.
I know that the royal family has suffered periods of unpopularity before. The 1990s were not exactly good for it, and it recovered. That said, it was damaged, and that is still reflected in the popularity of Prince Charles. Prince Andrew might be a sideshow, albeit a deep embarrassment, but the same cannot be said for Prince William. His marriage is the supposed fairy-tale on which the myth of royalty is built. Tear that asunder and is there anything left for many people to believe in?
Leaving aside that this is a wholly unreasonable demand to place upon anyone, the simple possibility that such a loss of faith in one of the supposed unwritten lynchpins of the UK constitutional settlement might happen is a cause for debate. At the very least those engaged in UK politics should be considering what alternatives there are to the current arrangement in the event that confidence in it is lost, as would seem all too easy once the Queen inevitably passes.
This is a matter of particular significance for those in independence movements in Scotland and Wales, for whom consideration of the role of the future head of state is significant. But, no one anywhere interested in the politics of the UK can now ignore the risk that a loss of confidence in the royal family might create, most especially when the reigning monarch is 95 years of age and literally irreplaceable in terms of the loyalty that she inspires.
Do we need a different head of state?
Would that require a written constitution?
How would they be chosen?
How would power be distributed I there was a functioning rather than a titular head of state?
If the monarchy fell, could the Lords survive?
It is easy to see how these questions can snowball, and few have really tried to rehearse answers to them.
My question in that case is a simple one, and is to ask whether we should be considering this issue? That is not because of any current issue, but because in the modern era it is simply absurd that we base any part of our government on hereditary entitlement, not least because of the pressure that brings to bear on those who assume such roles whether they like it or not. That has to be an abuse of their own human rights.
But how do we get out of this neo-feudal mess? And what do we put in its place?