Weekly Column

Royal, Military and Democratic Service

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Tomorrow’s Coronation will be a magnificent affirmation of the Constitutional role of the Crown at the heart of our democracy. A few hundred yards from the Chamber of the House of Commons, His Majesty as Sovereign will promise to maintain the rights and dignities, the very ‘sovereignty’ of Parliament. Until the overthrow of King Charles I, the Sovereign ruled by absolute authority derived from God- the divine Right of Kingship. The people, as represented by Parliament, increasingly fought for their right to govern themselves. And they cut the King’s head off as a rather graphic way of making their point. They then rapidly came to realise that dictatorship of the kind exercised by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Parliamentarians was in fact a great deal worse. The Constitution has grown and developed over the intervening centuries and is now as close as you can get to a finely balanced Parliamentary democracy, with the Monarch as the largely symbolic Head of State.I had rather a Royal week. In a Radio 4 World at One interview On Monday I spoke against the clarion call for His Majesty to apologise for slavery and Britain’s role in it. Counter intuitively I argued that an apology risks reducing our culpability; that it would ‘let us off the hook’; and that reparations in the form of aid going to deprived communities in the Caribbean was a more practical alternative.On Tuesday evening I had a privileged ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of the massive military effort which is going into the Coronation. Many thousands of troops arrived by train at Waterloo Station, resplendent in bearskins and red tunics. I spent the night watching the full dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s ceremonies, and being briefed on the logistical and security plans for the day. We do these things so very well, and I am sure that the vastly complex parade will go without a hitch. A little bleary-eyed I was at a breakfast the following morning to help plan a campaign for the outrageous injustice of gay soldiers who were cashiered and court-martialled for their sexuality as recently as 2001. Even worse, those wrongs have not until this day been righted. I will fight long and hard for them just as much as for the thousands of military I had witnessed overnight.I had the honour of being presented to both King and Queen when they visited Parliament on Wednesday for a reception in Westminster Hall where for a thousand years or so Monarchs have met their Parliamentary subjects. Both Majesties asked me about the Parliamentary boundary changes which will be implemented at the next General Election when I will hope to become the MP for Highgrove. Both King and Queen have longstanding and deep links to this part of the country.The local government elections on Thursday seemed tawdry by comparison. It was a very bad night for we Tories (it always is at these mid-term elections), but it was less of a triumph for Labour than they would have hoped, and by no means guarantees success at the General Election next year. There is something particularly unworthy about the self-congratulatory smugness of the Lib Dems who held onto Cotswolds District Council. “Winning here” is their slogan- well: so what? How about some commitment to real service akin to that amply demonstrated by the Royals.What elections should be about is not “winning here” which is a selfish and self-regarding piece of boastfulness, so much as “serving here.” The Coronation, and the commitment of our armed service men and women are the epitome of public service- service to the people. That is a much more noble and distinguished ambition.

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James Gray
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May 5, 2023