The UK now has an experienced king and a novice PM
David Allen Green / Al’Jazeera :
There is now an interesting situation at the heart of the constitution of the United Kingdom. This is because of the combination of a new but politically experienced king and a new and inexperienced – and weak – prime minister.
Charles III may be new to the throne but he has spent most of his life not only preparing for the role but also engaging fully in public and political affairs. Part of this engagement has been largely hidden, though the extent of his lobbying of ministers was revealed in the freedom of information case about his so-called “black spider memos” to ministers.
But much of this engagement has been in plain sight. On many issues, often with an international aspect, the king has long promoted causes and campaigns for policy changes.
It was therefore not surprising that Charles gave a thoughtful and well-crafted speech when the COP26 United Nations climate change conference met in Glasgow. It was an address far more concrete than a mere ceremonial welcome with bland declarations.
“The scale and scope of the threat we face,” said the then prince of Wales, “call for a global, systems-level solution” and he spelt out how this could be achieved if the political leaders gathered there were to take different decisions to those which they would otherwise take.
And it was not only a speech: he has put in place a “sustainable markets initiative” with a detailed “Terra Carta” programme. On international environmental issues, therefore, the new king is a player and not a spectator. This matters to him.
The natural thing would have been for Charles to have continued with this activism at the COP27 summit in Cairo. But the British government said no. The then-new and now-former Prime Minister Elizabeth Truss vetoed the king’s attendance. By the time she was replaced, the current prime minister and the king agreed, so they said, that it was too late logistically for the latter to attend.
But that was not the end of the matter, and this is where we can see the combination of an experienced king and a novice prime minister. Charles was able to have his cake and eat it, as the English proverb goes.
The king organised his own mini-summit, or “reception” as it was politely called, at Buckingham Palace. John Kerry, the United States presidential climate envoy and others were in attendance. Sunak swiftly reversed his original decision not to attend COP27 and he even came to the reception to make a speech, paying tribute to Charles’s work.
A less experienced or less committed monarch would have just accepted the decision of the government that they were not to go to the international conference and done nothing else. In the United Kingdom, the Crown acts on the “advice” of ministers. Here, however, Charles accepted the advice but still made his important point publicly and pressed the prime minister into doing something different to what he wanted to do.
A more experienced and more strongly placed prime minister, in turn, would not have been so easily bounced. But the current prime minister – like all British prime ministers since the Brexit referendum of 2016 – is politically weak and is constantly seeking to keep support together.
Over time, perhaps, the position of the prime minister will strengthen again, including in relation to the monarch. And perhaps the king will become less interested in various causes and adopt a more ceremonial role in public. But until then, we seem to have, in the centre of the executive of the United Kingdom, a power relationship that is unfavourable to the prime minister.
If this is correct then, on various issues of interest to the new king, the government may again find itself wrong-footed and out-manoeuvred. This will not be on matters of party political debate, but they will be policy issues – on climate and the environment and other issues.
After the 70-year reign of a queen who made little public show of her political views, some may have thought that the days of a monarch with pronounced views on matters of policy were over. But the scope for such a monarch was always there and it has now been revived.
Charles has spent more than 60 years getting ready to exert such influence. Had he come to the crown with a well-established prime minister in place, his impact would have been more limited. But the political state of the United Kingdom could not have been more advantageous for the new king. The question is now how long this situation will last.
Merrick Garland is a wimp. When history and the rule of law demanded that he act, the US attorney general flinched. Worse, Garland has betrayed the solemn oath of office he took when he was appointed America’s chief law enforcement officer early last year.
Garland lifted his right hand and swore to “support and defend” the US constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. He agreed, as well, to “take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion”.
Garland did not keep his word. Instead, he has evaded his “obligation” to defend the constitution even in the face of blatant law-breaking by a former president turned “enemy” of the founding document he had also sworn to uphold.
Rather than fulfil his duty, Garland made an unforgivable – some say “cowardly” – choice. He told someone else to do the job for him since, apparently, Garland has more pressing matters to attend to, aside from potentially prosecuting the 45th president, Donald Trump.
In naming Jack Smith – the ex-head of the Justice Department’s public integrity section and a veteran war crimes prosecutor – special counsel to lead the Trump investigations, Garland has reneged on a commitment pledged on his first day as attorney general to thousands of Justice Department employees and, by extension, millions of enlightened Americans.
There cannot be, he said, “one rule for friends and another for foes, one rule for the powerful, and another for the powerless, one rule for the rich, and another for the poor… [T]ogether, we will show the American people by word and deed that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.”
Turns out, unsurprisingly, that by his deeds Garland has proven, yet again, that there is one rule for the rich and powerful and another for the poor and powerless. And he has confirmed that “equal justice” is a silly anachronism hauled out, on cue, in flowery speeches by an attorney general more interested in the appearance of propriety than applying the rule of law without fear or favour.
You and I know that if a poor and powerless American citizen had been party to fomenting and encouraging a coup d’état or had been discovered hoarding a cache of classified documents at home, the Justice Department’s formidable hammer would have fallen fast and hard.
Garland conceded this stubborn double standard when he argued in his statement announcing Smith’s appointment that “in certain extraordinary cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution”.