How to Win the Argument

The Queen hasn't put a foot wrong!

How many times have you heard someone say the Queen has never put a foot wrong?
 
Supporters of the monarchy are asking us to believe that Elizabeth Windsor is uniquely skilled in performing her role, has faultless judgement and cannot make a mistake.  To hold any job for 65 years without getting something wrong takes someone of particular genius and wisdom.  When someone says this they are trying to kid us that the hereditary process inevitably gives us ideal heads of state, in contrast to accountable public figures who are always going to make mistakes.
 
It's important to challenge this nonsense, not for the sake of attacking the Queen personally, but to show that the monarchy is flawed and the royals are as human as the rest of us.  It’s also important that we apply the same standards of scrutiny and criticism to the head of state as you would to the prime minister, or any other public figure.  In doing so we accept that people are imperfect, mistakes are made and some people are just plain corrupt.  That’s why public figures must be accountable and removeable.
 
It's not healthy to put someone on a pedestal and then attack anyone who dares criticise them.  It's not good for our democratic culture and it makes for bad government.
 
So, we need to be honest about the Queen's record in office.  To do that we need to ask ourselves:  what do we want from a head of state?  The problem many people have is that they see the Queen as the benchmark for how a head of state should behave, and who can deny the Queen is good at being the Queen?
 
There are two ways to look at the Queen's record that suggest it's not all that good.  One is her record as an independent head of state who has a constitutional role to play.  The other is as a public servant who is expected to meet the highest standards of public life: honesty, integrity, financial probity and transparency. 
 
On the first count, the Queen has failed completely.  This isn't entirely her fault, modern attitudes towards democracy and the expectation that the royals keep out of politics have reduced the Queen's formal role to that of a puppet.  Constitutionally she can only do what she's told by the prime minister.  Yet we might expect her to speak up on broader national issues, to make eloquent and memorable speeches, speaking to the country and for the country at times of tragedy and celebration.  But if we look back over 65 years we see a record of silence and play-acting at the role.  Where we could have had a string of inspiring national leaders we have a silent and remote monarch who rarely dares to say anything interesting, in case interesting becomes controversial.
 
Then we can look at the Queen's record as a public servant, on the public payroll and expected to live up to those high standards.  On this count too, the Queen has failed.  The Queen isn't just monarch, but she's head of the institution we call the monarchy.  She is responsible for how that institution works, and it works badly.  The monarchy is incredibly secretive and has resisted all attempts at genuine reform – constantly resorting to spin and heavy-handed media management to manage public perceptions.  The royals routinely abuse their privileged position to pursue their own agendas and public money to finance their lifestyles, and they resist all attempts to clip their wings or challenge their financial arrangements. 
 
If all we want from our head of state is a silent, remote figure who represents one small part of our society, then the Queen has got it right.  If on the other hand we think it's reasonable to expect more than that, to set the bar a bit higher, then the Queen's record in office has been one of failure.  She has protected the monarchy, protected her interests and those of her family, but she has failed to play a meaningful role or live up to the standards we expect of our public officials.  She has put a foot wrong every step of the way.