Magazine article The Spectator

Labour's Attack on the Crown

Magazine article The Spectator

Labour's Attack on the Crown

Article excerpt

Since 1997, in a cynical effort to prove that it values power for more than its own sake, the Blair government has sought to tear up the constitutional map and impose its own, 'modernised', ways of doing things. This has not been uniformly successful. Devolution, for example, has led to financial profligacy in Scotland and apathy in Wales, without providing better government in either. Reform of the House of Lords has been so botched that even some on the centre of politics are harking back to the benign days of the hereditary peerage. Although Labour has more than its share of republicans in high places, it has not sought to hold such a public debate on the role of the monarchy as took place on either of those first two questions. Instead, it is stealthily but resolutely going about the dilution of the powers and place of the Crown in order to boost control by the executive.

By far the most flagrant example of this is contained in the Bill to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) - which has come to be known as the 'British FBI' that is before Parliament. A clause has been slipped into this Bill that states, quite explicitly, that this agency will owe no allegiance to the Crown. This is quite unprecedented in any law enforcement operation in this country. Admittedly, and as an earlier phase in this programme of republicanism-by-stealth, the oath taken by new police officers had references to the Queen removed two years ago, despite protests by Tory MPs. However, the Crown is still an integral part of the symbolism of British police forces (though not, thanks to Chris Patten, in Northern Ireland). Her Majesty's Inspectorate still enforces standards within them. What is planned for Soca is of quite a different order from would-be bobbies not pledging themselves to the Queen, however lamentable that is.

Theories differ on why this step is being taken. Some say it is to put Soca on the same politicised footing as comparable bodies elsewhere in the EU. This would make it easier for the respective agencies to integrate at some stage, when the common European fight against crime - or, more to the point, the common European fight against the civil liberties most of us take for granted - comes to be unified under Brussels. Others, though, point quite simply to the effect of replacing allegiance to the Crown by an allegiance to a prime minister or a home secretary. And that, in turn, brings us to the question of why we have until now been governed as we have been, with the Crown as the focal point of the allegiance of public servants. …

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