In this Age of Leveson, the media is keen to show how it can be a force for good and maintain its relevance in a world of ever-shrinking revenues. So I was heartily pleased to hear yesterday how the BBC had broken the news that the Queen had spoken to the Home Secretary in 2004 about Abu Hamza, telling him she was ‘aghast’ that he remained at large.
For years, republicans have been shouting about how the monarchy constantly lobbies to make known its thoughts and opinions on the matters of the day. This is despite being constitutionally-bound to remain neutral and above political affairs. Now, we had the authoritative voice of the BBC agreeing with us about the Queen’s attempts to influence policy.
I use the past tense because, in an utterly craven move, the Corporation has scrambled to assuage royal displeasure, issuing an apology for what they call a ‘breach of confidence,’ changing the focus of the story from a monarch overstepping their constitutional bounds to an apology for daring to draw attention to this. Make no mistake, I would rather the BBC had brought this to the public’s attention at the time, not eight years later – and I’m sure the Palace had a hand in its release – but it’s good to have evidence in the public domain of the Queen’s lobbying of government ministers.
Whether you agree with the Queen or not is irrelevant – constitutionally, there shouldn’t be any place in government for her views. Having grown up in palaces and castles with servants, never having to worry about money, it’s not a stretch to assume that her opinions may not be representative of the country at large. Yet, when she makes her opinions known to ministers, they carry considerably more weight than that of the average voter. We quite rightly have campaigned against media barons being able to influence the government, and there’s no reason why we should accept it when it comes from Buckingham Palace.
Instead of talking about whether the BBC should or shouldn’t apologise, we should be asking what else the Queen is talking to government ministers about and making it clear that, in a modern democracy, we simply won’t accept powerful unelected figures interfering in matters of state.