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Could restoring a bunch of kings solve Europe’s democratic deficit?


In 1948, four years before his forced abdication, King Farouk of Egypt remarked there would soon only be five kings: of hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds and England.

By this measure, kings have done better than might have been expected over the past century or so, but they’ve also done little to combat their gradual decline as a political model. Even today, with governments all around the Mediterranean struggling with crises of legitimacy, no one has been brave enough to fight fire with fire, to embark on a massive program of democratic deficit spending, to replace the whole hated political elite with one unelected regnocrat. No one has been brave enough to propose bringing back the monarchy.

Which in its small way is rather puzzling. Europe’s neighbourhood has few strong suits these days – but it does have an excellent squad of dynamic, well-educated and undervalued kings just dying to get off the bench and into the game. From Athens to Sirte, there is barely a political crisis for which there isn’t a top quality king waiting in the wings.

Here are a few of them.

Konstantinos B, King of Greece

Konstantinos B (in Greek, they have regnal lettering, the hipsters) fled Greece in 1967 after trying and failing to orchestrate a counter-coup against the military junta, and lived in Hampstead a few streets away from Glenda Jackson before returning to Greece in 2013.

On top of nine years of royal experience, his credentials include a gold medal in sailing from the 1960 Olympics, and, most importantly, no taint of association with the EU, the ECB, the IMF, PASOK, SYRIZA, or really anyone apart from his cousin, Prince Phillip.

Less positively, he has sued the Greek state for €500m, which probably isn’t the approach to fiscal matters that the Greek electorate is looking for. And he’s not actually Greek, but Danish. And his cousin is Prince Phillip.

Restoration Rating: One crown

Fouad II, King of Egypt and Sudan

Fouad became King as part of desperate ploy by his father to appease revolutionaries in 1952, reigning for just under a year despite being too young to walk, talk, or convincingly hold a sceptre. He fled to Switzerland, and then to Paris, where he married Dominique-France Picard in 1976, who gave him three legitimate heirs.

Since their divorce, Fouad has moved back to Switzerland living an unglamorous life as a consultant out of an apartment in the suburbs of Geneva. Awkward and shy by nature, he is considered a recluse by his fellow exiled kings, and reportedly rarely attends their get-togethers (oh to be a fly on the wall when they’ve had a few and sing karaoke from The Lion King).

Capitalising on growing nostalgia for the monarchy in Egypt, Fouad has become a successful after-dinner speaker in Cairo, but is quick to deny any kingly ambitions of his own. His latest goal to become a cultural ambassador, and possibly curate a museum of the Egyptian monarchy.

Restoration Rating: One crown

Mohammed El Senussi, King of Libya

Mohammed is a second generation exile King, inheriting the throne from his father after his great uncle was overthrown by Muammar Gaddafi. He has lived in London most of his life, although he briefly worked at the Libyan Ministry of Agriculture before becoming King in 1992, which isn’t a million miles from Prince William’s degree in Land Economy.

Since the overthrow of Gaddafi, he has been quietly lobbying behind the scenes for a return to constitutional monarchy in Libya, and has had his citizenship restored by the interim government. If anyone on this list has a chance of becoming King (and let’s face it, they don’t) he is the man.

Restoration rating: four crowns.

Louis Alphonse (legitimist), Henri d’Orleans (orleanists), Jean-Christophe Napoleon (Bonapartists), Kings and Emperor of France

In one of the great bald-men-fighting-over-a-comb-disputes of our time, three men currently claim the title of King of France.

Louis Alphonse traces his ancestry right back to Hugh Capet, the first King of France, and is supported by the legitimist faction. He has juggled his work as the ambassador of Louis XVI to the Society of the Cincinnati (no, us neither) in the US with a career at BNP Paribas. In a show of impressive modesty, he continues to have his heirs baptised in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Restoration rating: one crown

His main rival for the throne is Henri d’Orelans, who sued him over his illegitimate use of the royal arms in 1989, and has repeatedly attacked him as being Spanish, an illegitimate pretender to the throne, and a charlatan.

Henri is a keen amateur painter, and has launched his own brand of perfume, the aptly named Royalissime, which retails for the less than princely sum of £55.Partially conceding his divinely ordained right to rule, he ran unsuccessfully for the European Parliament in 2004 on the Alliance Royale ticket, receiving 0.031% of the vote. His main policy was a referendum to elect a new King – no prizes for guessing who his preferred candidate was.

Restoration rating: zero crowns

Jean Christophe Bonaparte, who inherited the imperial throne from his grandfather aged 11, has worked in both London and New York as an investment banker with Morgan Stanley, and is currently attending Harvard Business School.

He is a freeman of the City of London, and requests his friends do not use his full title, “His Imperial Highness, Prince Napoleon”. He has not yet been sued or libelled by Henri d’Orleans, but then he is only twenty-nine.

Most importantly, he is reportedly single, and much better looking than either of the leading contenders for the French presidency. His time may yet come.

Restoration rating: two crowns

This article is part of the New Statesman's Monarchy Week. Find more here.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.