Among the seemingly endless coverage of Queen Elizabeth II dying at age 96 in Balmoral, Scotland, a legal fact gets lost: this event generates exactly zero change in law. There are non-law implications – historical, cultural, symbolic, administrative – but not legal change.
The proclamation of King Charles III is a procedural matter according to English rules of primogeniture. The entire point of the pageantry is to uphold and maintain traditions of the monarchy. Each element derives from two key sources: divine right of kings (monarchs) and violence, notably the English civil war, but when people show you who they are, believe them the first time – Maya Angelou.
British monarchs are crowned by an archbishop in a cathedral, and answer to the christian god. British prime ministers are answerable to the UK parliament, which is said to be representative of the people. In reality, age and gender and propertied suffrage parity was eventually reached in 1928: Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928. As in the Commonwealth of Australia, whose illegitimate foundations in violation of the laws of place remain unresolved (Watson 2009), the prime minister advises a vice/regal person representing the British Crown to assent to laws passed by this “representative” parliament. This the monarch/rep does – or not, if it impacts on her vast wealth, for example, or the secrecy surrounding her exercise of monarchical power.
Now he embodies the Crown by virtue of being born, Charles III wields enormous executive power in accordance with convention and the conveniently “unwritten” British constitution. Unwritten, in British English, essentially means not a statute. It means apex court decisions and nebulous assertions about convention and doctrine and principle. It is how monarchical power is preserved.
Everything else trundles along as before. Again, the death of QEII ushers in no constitutional change and nothing of legal significance in the lives of the populace.
How and why are these basic facts so widely misunderstood? Lost in the noise and pomp, obscuring the ruthless ways extreme poverty is created and obscene wealth accrued, including by commission of atrocities in its name on a global scale? A hint is in the multiplicity – and its etymological mate, duplicity – of the Crown (monarchy, monarch, sovereignty, sovereign, executive power) itself.
On losing “civil” wars
Incumbent tory power maintains secrecy and perpetuates misinformation around how much control the Crown maintains in a constitutional monarchy. Tory incumbency is a coalition of convenience, an invisible structure on which colonial institutions are built and rely. It is a loose alliance of the Crown-monarch with its landed and entitled gentry, the Church of England, and assorted self-serving hangers-on: political and media and other corporate operatives, celebrities, lawyers, academics.
You may have heard of Southern strategy, a profoundly anti-democratic electoral movement built on the post-Reconstruction cynicism of GOP operatives – and maybe naïve collusion of the Democratic Party – in US Presidential elections. Post-revolutionary politics are invariably a blood bath of patriarchal violence and class war. They all want a piece of that sweet state-backed control over the people. After all, that is what the war is being fought for in the first place. In the anglophone patriarchies, its dynamics are directed and rationalised by two dominant ideologies: conservativism and liberalism.
Perhaps the greatest swindle of the post-English Civil war era is maintaining coronial paramountcy while convincing everyone else that the Crown is merely symbolic. In Australia, this falsity is regularly reproduced by the political class. She was born into it and devoted to her duty, declare monarchists and supposed republicans alike. It is convention that the Crown be above politics, sayeth they.
The Commonwealth of Australia
Above politics? What, with all those corpses filling the earth and the oceans, all that blood running in the streets and rivers? How about over 300 years later and 10,000 miles away – the documented evidence of unlawfully removing an elected government that had Confidence in the House? The monarchy were not above politics then and they are not above politics now. Whether marching in the streets or teaching in the academy or posting on social media – all of which I personally do – no amount of fact and evidence, of first hand accounts and lived experience, of research and scholarship, can match the schlock and awe unleashed by the ruling class.
It is tradition, you see, to bow and scrape before an unelected head of state installed by nothing more than their mother giving birth. It is Protocol, my dear chap. Convention.
The trick to legitimising “convention” is having sufficient institutional power to ride roughshod over anyone who dares disagree with its conveniently unwritten meaning. Tories love these settings; and Liberals (Whigs) back them in, for crumbs. It was always done this way is the Tory lay down misere. Oh we have to adapt and respond to changing or unforeseen circumstances? Liberals are there, gaslighting the population (or the public, or the community) about democratic agency – which in fact is operationalised around once every three years at best.
Meanwhile, aggressively guarded patriarchal power-sharing arrangements are maintained, unchanged and unreformed and not burnt down.
Corporate media eagerly provide space for aging tories to stamp their self-serving perspective on legacy that does not bear scrutiny. An example is the television interview with Liberal Party politician John Howard on Sunday 11 September, supposedly scheduled to reflect on Elizabeth II. Howard took the opportunity to re-prosecute his version of how he scuttled the republic referendum in 1999. He then harked back to the Fraser government – in which he was Treasurer – and the Dismissal of Gough Whitlam by vice-regal representative John Kerr.
When a white male like Howard indulges self-serving historical revisionism, it is an inside story, a regarded account from one who was there. In contrast, a survivor of sexual abuse protesting the public sanitising of favourite QEII son Andrew – someone with lived experience and insights to share that are relevant to the biggest news story of the day – they are arrested.
Meanwhile, the racist abuse directed at DjabWurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara Senator Lidia Thorpe for expressing her sadness at the colonial system killing her cousin around the same time was distilled Australia. Not the country – which always was and always will be Aboriginal lands – but the people. The colonial population, who came out in force, and I mean force. Coloniality is – very literally – violent.
A death with no legal effect by design
That the death of QEII initiates no change in sovereign relations on country is a specific function and purpose of the enormous executive power of the Crown. Symbiotic political rhetoric and media coverage of royal births, deaths and marriages is so distorted because it benefits the political class.
Blanket coverage pays dividends to politicians in the form of statesmanlike appearance; and delivers ratings bonanzas to corporate media (I include the Australian Broadcasting Corporation here, for the obvious reason). This transaction is ontologically elitist, a closed shop, which is why the dominant minority push back so nastily against colonised Peoples who are truth-telling on social media.
In this bizarre mediascape, even unthreatening observer-critique is dismissed with embarrassingly simplistic circularity. It is a big story, we are scolded by defenders of the faith, as though the public rather than media operatives choose how much airtime is allocated to this story or that. Delusional rationalisation is then top-loaded with yet more misinformation about the instrumental power of the Crown, which is anthropomorphised into an old woman.
All over the world, Grandmothers die in poverty every day. But this one – literally adorned with blood gems of Africa – is analogically elevated with words of the obedient, who drape her corpse with a vague set of characteristics that mean everything and nothing.
Four full days elapsed before I heard a counter-view aired on the ABC: young people, vox-popped by an ABC reporter, said they were more concerned about seeing First Nations governance than hearing [more] about the british monarchy. This perspective could easily be explored for days and weeks and years too, however, it was allocated a few seconds. From day five, occasional insights – in contrast to carpet propaganda – appeared. This is to be expected: it provides copy in the lull between death and funeral.
More, as they say, to come.