Does Our Country Really Need a Crown?; THE PEOPLE AREN'T RECLAIMING BRITAIN JUST YET BUT DAVID BLUNKETT HAS BROUGHT IT CLOSER

The Mirror (London, England), March 4, 2004 | Go to article overview

Does Our Country Really Need a Crown?; THE PEOPLE AREN'T RECLAIMING BRITAIN JUST YET BUT DAVID BLUNKETT HAS BROUGHT IT CLOSER


Byline: JONATHAN FREEDLAND

IT'S just one little word but it could make a big difference. David Blunkett has announced that the Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, could soon be known as the Public Prosecution Service.

The government says that the move is designed to help people understand what the institution actually does - prosecuting suspected criminals on behalf of the public.

But its significance goes much deeper than that.

The critics are already arguing that it's a trivial thing for ministers to be doing - fiddling about with names, tweaking the headed notepaper - rather than focusing on governing the country.

But they are missing the point.

For this is actually a bold - and welcome - statement about who this country belongs to.

It reminds us who government agencies such as the CPS truly work for, who pays their bills and whose interests they should serve - the public. You and me.

Calling the lawyers who take bad guys to court "public prosecutors" makes perfect sense. After all, they are meant to work for the public and we - through our taxes - pay their wages.

Calling them the Crown Prosecution Service made it sound as though they were the servants of somebody, or something, else - the Crown.

And what, exactly, is the Crown? That's the trouble... Hardly anyone knows.

The term ceased long ago to refer to the Queen, which is why it's nonsense for Conservatives to suggest that dropping the word Crown is a personal insult to her.

Instead, the Crown is a vague, slippery word which refers to the machinery of the state, the powers exercised not by Elizabeth in her palace but by Tony Blair and his ministers in Whitehall. It is they who act in the name of the Crown, they who use the full battery of powers once associated with the monarchy.

BRANDING institutions such as the CPS with the name of the Crown made it sound like they were the property of the government.

The new name hands the prosecution service over to its rightful owners - us.

Now that they've started, the government might feel compelled to carry on the good work...

Just scan the landscape of our national life - it is littered with examples of institutions and agencies that should take their orders from us but are presented instead as the property of someone else, far out of reach. So we are ruled by Her Majesty's Government, which is grilled daily by Her Majesty's Opposition. Neither of them officially work for us. Members of parliament swear an oath of allegiance not to the people who elected them but to "Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors". Our Navy sails on Her Majesty's Ships.

Our plays are performed at the Royal National Theatre, our letters sent by the Royal Mail.

The serenity of an undisturbed British afternoon is the Queen's Peace. Good grammar illustrates a command of the Queen's English. Even the words United Kingdom suggest a country that belongs not to its people but its rulers.

And what of our national anthem - a song not about us but our symbolic mistress: God Save the Queen.

Everywhere you look, elements of our national life that should be public property are cast instead as the playthings of some higher being, whether it be the Crown or Her Majesty. …

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