The King and Keir: Will Charles soon have a Prime Minister he likes?

Nearly twenty years ago, a wry young human rights lawyer, Keir Starmer, said, a documentary maker said that it had seemed “strange” to him to be given the title of Queen’s Counsel, “as I often proposed the abolition of the monarchy.”

Mr Starmer, now leader of Britain’s Labour Party, has long dismissed his anti-monarchy remarks as youthful indiscretions. In 2014, he knelt before Charles, then the Prince of Wales, who tapped him on the shoulder with a sword and awarded him a knighthood.

If Sir Keir Starmer is defeated at 10 Downing Street in next week’s general election, as the polls suggest, he could be more politically aligned with Charles than the last two Tory prime ministers, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, whose terms coincided with the king’s reign.

On issues such as climate change, housing, immigration and Britain’s relations with the European Union, experts say Mr Starmer is likely to find common ground with a monarch who has long-standing, often fervent positions on these issues but is constitutionally barred from taking any role in politics.

“A Labour government under Keir Starmer will be more sensitive to people’s plight as a social issue,” said Ed Owens, a historian who studies the royal family. “These kinds of issues have been on the king’s radar for a long time. There is a meeting of the minds in terms of the social issues at stake.”

If elected Prime Minister, Mr Starmer would keep it a weekly meeting with Charles, the contents of which would be strictly between them. But people familiar with Buckingham Palace and Downing Street said they could foresee a fruitful relationship between the 75-year-old monarch and the 61-year-old barrister, who was knighted for his services to criminal law as Director of Public Prosecutions.

Starmer’s progressive policies aside, pundits said Charles would appreciate the stability a Labour government could restore after the divisions, political turmoil and revolving door of leaders that followed Brexit. After all, with less than two years on the throne, Charles could soon become his third prime minister.

“The monarchy strives to be a unifying force that holds the country together, so it favors consensus rather than division,” says Vernon Bogdanor, a professor at Kings College London and an authority on constitutional monarchy. “This is how the king sees his role.”

But Professor Bogdanor added: ‘While his mother represented the war generation, the king is more representative of the 1960s generation.’

As sovereign, Charles does not vote. But in his decades as heir, he has been outspoken on issues close to his heart, such as biological agriculture and architecture. Occasionally his views on more politically charged issues leaked out.

In 2022, Charles reported to have criticized The Conservative government’s plan to send some asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda has been described as “appalling”. His comments, made at a closed meeting, were reported in The Times of London and The Daily Mail weeks before he represented Queen Elizabeth II at a meeting of Commonwealth countries in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Clarence House, where Charles had his office at the time, declined to comment on the reports but did not deny them.

That prompted Boris Johnson, then prime minister and the man behind the Rwanda plan, to complain to Charles, according to Guto Harri, Mr Johnson’s communications chief at the time. In the post, he described Mr. Johnson “setting the prince straight and confronting him with what he – as an unelected king – had said about the actions of a democratically elected government.”

Charles said nothing more about Rwanda after that. In April, after Parliament under Mr Sunak passed a revised version of the legislation, the King gave it his royal assent, as is his duty, by enacting it into law. But Mr Starmer has vowed a Labor government would scrap the plan, calling it costly and unworkable.

Climate policy is another area where the king could find a Labour government more in line with his views. Mrs Truss asked Charles not to attend a UN climate conference in Egypt in 2022, denying him a platform to speak out on perhaps his most cherished issue. Mr Sunak later backtracked on some of the UK’s emissions reduction targets, citing their heavy cost amid a cost-of-living crisis.

In contrast, Labor announced a green investment plan worth 28 billion pounds (about $35 billion) a year, although it has since suspended spending targets until Britain’s public finances improve.

“It sounds like a new Labour government and Charles would lead by example on these issues,” said historian Owens. “But Labour has a lot of fine words about the importance of a green agenda. Can they match those fine words with action?”

Starmer’s commitment to the law could also spare the king a similar dilemma to his mother in 2019, when Johnson asked her to suspend or prorogue parliament as lawmakers tried to stall his plan to take Britain out of the European Union.

The Queen agreed, but the Supreme Court later ruled the decision was unlawful. Critics attacked Johnson for putting Elizabeth in an untenable position, unable to defy an elected government. Mrs Truss raised similar questions about governance when she proposed sweeping, unfunded tax cuts in 2022, triggering a financial market backlash that doomed her premiership.

“These premiers were able to flout the rules,” Owens said. “In general, the monarchy does not like too much attention being paid to” constitutional issues, he added.

As paradoxical as it may seem, historians say that Elizabeth had warmer relations with Labour prime ministers than with Conservative prime ministers. She was seen as very comfortable with Harold Wilson, a down-to-earth Yorkshireman, while her dealings with Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative Party icon, were sometimes testy.

It is fair to say that the early Labor Party had an anti-monarchy streak. The first parliamentary leader, Keir Hardie – Mr Starmer has the same first name – once wrote: “Despotism and monarchy are compatible; democracy and monarchy are an unthinkable combination.”

Conservative political operatives dusted off the video of a young Mr Starmer and ran it in ads suggesting that Labour hated the monarchy. But even before Mr Starmer took over, Labour had become a reliably constitutional party. And analysts say any remaining anti-monarchist sentiment was likely swept away by his purge of the party’s far-left after he became leader in 2020.

At the Labor Party conference in 2022, the national anthem was played for the first time after the Queen’s death. Mr Starmer, the man who once spoke of abolishing the monarchy, raised his voice and sang: ‘God Save the King.’

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button