The Guardian usually arrives on the hen-cleaning early shift tucked neatly into Jack’s pocket. It receives less attention at the brew-break than was once the case. Then known by all as the Grauniad, because of its penchant for spelling errors, it used to provide the basis for a wager based on who could spot the most. Today it was unfolded as we read its front page about the Prince of Wales, and I noticed that somewhere called Chin is expanding its nuclear armoury, clearly old habits die hard!
Anyway it appears that unknown to most, Charles is part of a “secretive constitutional loophole” which gives him the right to veto legislation. Since 2005, ministers from six departments have had to seek his consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics. Neither the government nor Clarence House will reveal what, if any, alterations to legislation Charles has requested, or exactly why he was asked to grant consent to such a wide range of laws.
In the last two parliamentary sessions the Prince has been asked to consent to draft bills on wreck removals and co-operative societies, a freedom of information request to the House of Commons has revealed. Between 2007-9 he was consulted on bills relating to coroners, economic development and construction, marine and coastal access, housing and regeneration, energy and planning.
All very odd. But a threat to democracy? Hardly. At least Charles can be relied upon to give an honest independent view which is more than can be said for the unelected Lords which is packed with toadies of successive Prime Ministers, and even includes more than one who has spent time at “Her Majesty’s pleasure’. And it is no more undemocratic than the ‘Witney set’ which, until the Murdoch explosion, was clearly pulling David Cameron’s strings. And you can look at the Werrity affair…I won’t go on, suffice to say that there is probably no one out there who believes that democracy actually exists at all.
Of course any mention of the Royals brings out, from under the stones, the supporters of ‘Republic’, the proponents of an elected head of state. Its director, Graham Smith, was quick to say that the secret power afforded to Charles is “an affront to democrtic values”. Hmm, he clearly has more trust in the existance of such a thing than the rest of us. As for an elected leader, one wonders who he has in mind. Blair perhaps since he collects highly paid jobs with the same enthusiasm that others collect stamps. Boris perhaps? Eddie the Eagle? Graham Smith?
By coincidence all this hit the headlines on the day that a report from the public administration select committee was published. It accuses the coalition government of maintaining pointless ministerial jobs to maintain influence over crucial parliamentary votes. It claims that David Cameron’s government is “patronage-driven” and is spending vast amounts of public money to buy loyalty. It reports that the coalition is failing to cut senior jobs despite its pledge to slash Whitehall costs.
Brenard Jenkins, the Conservatiuce chair of the committee, says that the government’s response that the ministerial number of jobs are “under review” is political code for “their refusal to engage with this committee”. He went on to claim that the number of ministers in the Commons is at its “absolute limit”. And there are more aides than is necessary. This proliferation of appointments is “more about exercising patronage over MPs, and thus being able to influence debates and votes, than it is about efficiency and accountability” added Mr Jenkin.
There are now 121 MPs on the “payroll vote” as ministers and their aides who are obliged to vote with the government or resign. The committee says that the payroll should be slashed by more than sixty. It also calls for the end to the appointment of unpaid ministers to circumvent legal limits on the size of government. Far from reducing government costs the Prime Minister is increasing them. And last week’s rebellion on the EU referendum is likely to herald yet more appointments as a means of silencing the Eurosceptics. There will soon be more Chiefs than Indians in the cloistered court of Kings David and Nick!
The theory behind our democratic system is that the country is ruled by independently-minded individuals elected by the people, each approaching legislation with his or her sole influence being the views of constituents. No string-pullers, no ‘donors’, no rich hangers-on. It is of course a fairy story as one corrupt government follows another.
If we enjoyed true democracy the outrage about Charles would be justified. As thing are I for one welcome the thought that there is at least one in authority who is not in the pay, or grip, of shadowy figures that never seem to come to the Gruaniad’s attention!
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY; ” For all their faults, Thatcher and Blair were respected not for their bossiness but because of their principles and vision (whether you agreed with them or not). Cameron is not in their league. He’s got one vision; that the nation requires the services of David William Donald Cameron as Prime Minister. For years I thought Cameron was likeable but with two major defects – no credible programme to bolster the country’s fortunes and being a rich toff with no idea how most people live. It’s true that those were, and are, big defects. But increasingly, another one is coming into view. Bluntly, Camerion has a nasty streak. When the going gets tough, he has no answers – just insults and bullying”. Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow in her Sunday Star column dated 30th October 2011.