Why Prince George will never be king

Former BBC Royal Correspondent Christopher Lee says there's little chance the new prince will ever wear the crown.

The purpose of the British Royal Family is procreation; its prime duty is to produce at least one heir to the throne. Each heir has to provide a child that will guarantee the survival of a monarchy that began with Athelstan, the first king of all-England in 926.

The baptism of Prince George is the second of his public appearances on the road to his coronation as George VII. Royal job done.  Or is it?

In spite of his celebrity parents, Prince George’s chances of being king are not as high as most appear to think even though the monarchy is more popular than it has ever been during this sovereign’s reign.

A ComRes opinion poll in July showed that 53 per cent of those questioned believed Britain would be worse off without royalty. Even a committed republican rump thought that even in a hundred years time Britain would still be a monarchy. The evidence is, at first sight, overwhelming.

The Queen remains the most admired member of the Royal Family although 18 to 24 year olds say the Cambridges are the most popular; 38 per cent want them to have the throne when the Queen dies. Ostensibly, the British monarchy is safe.

So, at the risk of disturbing the grating of Traitors' Gate and risking a spell enduring HM’s displeasure, I would argue that royalty should not be betting the jewels on making it as far as they think they will.

Interpretations of polling often overlook the considerable difference between monarchy and the reigning monarch. Voting for a monarchy is supporting an institution. Voting for the sovereign is quite a different X-factor. The sovereign is a celebrity and celebrity is everything.  The Queen is probably among the top ten brand images in the world. Oddly and in spite of general perceptions, the world has only a superficial view of the Queen unlike her children and grandchildren who are gossip fodder – two open adulterers, two sons of a serial adulterer. This the very stuff of British monarchy history. The Queen is different.

When she succeeded her father, George VI, the public knew little about the then 26 year-old Elizabeth. Even her nanny, Marion Crawford who claimed to tell all in 1950, did not give the public much insight to their future monarch. Throughout her reign, the Queen kept her distance from her subjects. Few will remember more than two things their monarch said during six decades. Last year, at the top of her royal game, Elizabeth II was seen as a kindly figure at her Diamond Jubilee and “so good for her age” as they say in the better Windsor care homes.

Thus the monarchy is safe in her hands. Good Scottish stock is reliable. Her heir is in a quite different position. The media and the Prince of Wales himself have told all – or almost all. The polling numbers tell us that the public is clearly divided over Charles. When (if) he becomes king, Charles will not expect the public expressions of loyalty and understanding shown to his mother. The institution will suffer.

But it is changes within the other great institutions that will bring questions about the monarchy, rather than the monarch.

For example, the Church of England is the state-controlled and declining church. It will be disestablished from Parliamentary control. The monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church and still, Defender of the Faith. Without the church as an instrument of the state, the sovereign would lose – as George III observed when refusing Pitt the Younger his Catholic Emancipation Bill – a central commitment of his coronation oath.

Next, House of Lords reform will be far more dramatic than now imagined. The real Lords question will be put: why have a second chamber at all? Furthermore, whatever the reform, government will not see a role for a sovereign to do the My Government Will speech.

There remains the role of the monarch and Commonwealth. Once the Queen is dead every political indicator says that Canada and Australia will vote for republicanism. Others will follow. The Commonwealth will easily survive. The monarch’s symbolic role within that association of a quarter of the world states will be reduced.

There is too the role of the royal family. Public opinion shows little support for the wider family. Some, especially the princesses Beatrice and Eugenie are even figures of fun and devalue the solemnity of monarchy by being sixth and seventh in line to the throne.

But have not the Cambridges rescued the monarchy’s image? There is no evidence that William and Catherine have reconnected the royals with the people. The Cambridges are very much celebrities appealing to a younger generation. But there is only anecdotal evidence that they have improved the image of the monarchy.  Clearly, the Queen has done that and there is nothing to suggest that the Prince of Wales will sustain that relationship. After his coronation, the polling history of the royals will be re-written.

After Charles will come the universally popular William and Catherine.  Young, smiling, connecting as young parents openly preferring a night in with a fish supper. That’s a now image. Given the longevity of the British royals, they will both be well into middle age by the time William is crowned and the pollsters will have quite different questions to ask.

On similar actuarial evidence, George could be well into his 60s before crowning – certainly 60 years from now. Here is the earth in the debate over royalty’s future.

Given the pace of change we have witnessed during the first two decades of the twenty-first century we can only wonder at what might be the global influences on British society from Europe and beyond, economic transitions, social and ethnic migrations plus radical institutional reform during the out years of the next six decades.

Fifteen years ago no one outside Stanford University had heard of Google. Today it is a verb. That’s how fast the accepted institutions and ways are changing. For the past 300 years, institutions that supported or needed monarchy evolved.  Today they change altogether, even disappear.  Few any longer accept their values.

When the institutions are dissolved so the monarchy will lose its final and perhaps greatest role: the monarch, since Athelstan, has more than anything defined the identity of the nation.

During the next sixty years that national identity and what matters to it will undergo the most radical change of all. The monarchy will simply go out on the ebb of that identity change. When it does, the tide will not turn in its favour. The monarchy will have served its purpose and there will be no crown, even an hollow one, for George to be impatient to wear.

Christopher Lee is a former BBC Royal Correspondent and the author of the new book Monarchy, Past Present and... Future? published by Bene Factum

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their newborn son George in August. Photo: Getty Images
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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.