King Charles III sits during a visit to officially open the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
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Who is the more royal, Emmanuel Macron or King Charles? Both genetically and technically, only one even qualifies — and it isn’t the French President.

But in his imperious manner and in his almost absolute power, Macron much more clearly displays the characteristics associated with the word ‘king’.

Indeed, on the streets of Paris, some of the demonstrators against the President’s decision to pass through an increase in the state pension age without a parliamentary vote have been carrying placards threatening the violent overthrow of ‘Le Roi Macron’.

In the French parliament, opposition MPs chanted the words of the national anthem: ‘Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons!’ That bloodthirsty chorus stems from the 1789 Revolution, which used the guillotine to remove royal heads.

King Charles III sits during a visit to officially open the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

King Charles III sits during a visit to officially open the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

France's President Emmanuel Macron leaves the building after an EU summit in Brussels

France's President Emmanuel Macron leaves the building after an EU summit in Brussels

‘Who is the more royal, Emmanuel Macron or King Charles? Both genetically and technically, only one even qualifies — and it isn’t the French President’ 

Yesterday, the former British Ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, said if the state visit of King Charles to Paris had proceeded as planned, with a banquet at Versailles, there would have been ‘echoes’ of the French Revolution.

It was Macron who called it off, on the grounds that it would have been unpleasant for the new British monarch. Buckingham Palace gently let it be known that they would have not have been bothered if the state visit, King Charles’s first, had gone ahead: any humiliation from violent disturbances would have been an embarrassment only for the host.

There is nothing new in the idea that the French system is more imperial than the British one, though we are now the only ones with a reigning monarch. Charles de Montesquieu in 1748 described Britain as ‘a republic disguised in the form of a monarchy’.

Having experienced its own revolution and the execution of the first King Charles in 1649, the British Crown, since its restoration, has shown a self-preserving respect for the authority vested in those elected to exercise political power.

Our monarchy has all the pomp but none of the power. So they continue to live in vast palaces, while our prime ministers exercise their office, residing in a terrace house of no particular distinction: Winston Churchill described the dwellings as ‘shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear [George Downing]’.

The elected French head of state, however, lives and works in the stupendous majesty of the 365-room Élysée — one of three presidential palaces. And his powers, too, exceed those of any British prime minister (or, indeed, the leader of other advanced democracies).

The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations puts it this way: ‘French presidents not only command the executive apparatus, including the armed forces, but tend to drive the national policy-making agenda with little parliamentary oversight . . . like the absolutist monarchy of the ancient regime.’

The entrance door of the city hall of Bordeaux on fire after a demonstration against the government carrying out a pension reform through Parliament without a vote

The entrance door of the city hall of Bordeaux on fire after a demonstration against the government carrying out a pension reform through Parliament without a vote

The entrance door of the city hall of Bordeaux on fire after a demonstration against the government carrying out a pension reform through Parliament without a vote

Or, as that distinguished British historian of France, Robert Tombs, noted last week: ‘This is the Fifth Republic, created for General de Gaulle in the 1950s as what the chief draughtsman of its constitution described as a “Republican monarchy”.’

The Americans should be a little careful in criticising the French presidency for its imperial tendencies. As elected head of state, the U.S. President, too, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

And just as Macron’s pension reforms were pushed through without a parliamentary vote, U.S. presidents have increasingly used ‘executive orders’ to impose changes which were not even put to Congress. For example, Joe Biden signed the U.S. up to the Paris Climate Agreement by an ‘executive order’: he would probably never have got it endorsed by the legislature.

READ MORE: DOMINIC LAWSON: If Tories really were party of the family as they claim, they’d fix our tax system

 

A former presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, once told me: ‘The American President is both prime minister and monarch.’ Had he succeeded in his quest, then George H.W. Bush and two of his sons would have been presidents, an almost monarchical dynasty in the White House. The Kennedys and the Clintons had similar ideas.

The U.S. Revolution was against the British monarchy, but based on a false understanding, in the sense that the conscientious constitutionalist George III was not exercising what the revolutionists termed ‘tyranny’ out of his own desire for power: he was asserting the sovereignty of the British Parliament.

As the historian David Cannadine observed: ‘The founding fathers gave to the American presidency just those powers they erroneously believed George III still possessed — to appoint and dismiss his cabinet, to make war and peace, and to veto bills sent up by the legislature.’

By contrast, and, as we have seen with terminal effect not once but twice within months, the British prime minister’s only source of authority comes through parliament itself: if he or she loses the support of their colleagues in the legislature, they are gone in days.

This is a function of the fact that our general elections are for a party, not a leader. The only election ballot with Boris Johnson’s name on it in the 2019 general election was that in his own constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

So while he rages that it was his mandate which was ignored when forced to resign by his own MPs, that is not technically true: the mandate was won by the Conservative Party.

That, in turn, is why Rishi Sunak has legitimacy as PM under our system: he can command, via the party which elected him, a majority in the House of Commons.

It was in the middle of all the upheavals in the Tory Party that the monarch died, to be succeeded as head of state — instantly, by proclamation — by her heir.

Our system may appear anachronistic, but when you look at France — and what Donald Trump wrought with his refusal to accept the verdict of the last presidential election — it’s not a bad old thing.

Why can’t the police show more respect?

Something struck Baroness Casey as a bit off, when, as part of her investigation into the Metropolitan Police, she met senior members of the force to hear what they had to say about the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by one of their own.

Casey told The Times that they used the victim’s first name only: ‘I was thinking: “You didn’t know her; you don’t know her family. Can you at least call her Sarah Everard? And when you refer to Sarah Everard’s parents, call them Mr and Mrs Everard.” ’

Baroness Casey is spot on in objecting to this tendency of the police to put familiarity ahead of formality.

Baroness Casey (pictured last week) carried out an investigation into the Metropolitan Police

Baroness Casey (pictured last week) carried out an investigation into the Metropolitan Police

Baroness Casey (pictured last week) carried out an investigation into the Metropolitan Police

It is disrespectful, even though its motivation may be no more than a desire to appear sympathetic.

I experienced a version of this a year ago, just ahead of the trial of Ali Harbi Ali for the murder of the MP Sir David Amess. I was called by a police officer working at the Palace of Westminster, informing me that among other public figures whose names the killer had been researching was my father.

The officer then asked me if I thought that ‘Nigel’ would require any support or counselling from the force in dealing with this fact.

I replied, thanking him for his concern, but added that my father would be completely unbothered, and not even that interested.

As indeed it turned out when I called him to check: he snorted derisively when I passed on the offer of ‘counselling’.

But what I was most tempted to say to that over-familiar police officer was: ‘You have never met my father, so it’s “Lord Lawson” to you, not “Nigel”.’

I didn’t, of course, out of a desire not to appear stuffy or pompous. But Baroness Casey is right, isn’t she?

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