Looking back on the Leveson Inquiry, it is clear that the review was fatally flawed from the start. Although the terms of reference focused on the press, media relationship, the underlying issue was the way power is distributed and used in the kingdom. Even Leveson addressed the point when he started the inquiry by asking, “Who guards the guardians?” By failing to include the Queen or a royal representative in the inquiry, the guardian of the regime was not involved. The report, no matter how well it is written, will remain incomplete because it does not address issue of political power within the kingdom.
The scandal has revealed the corrupt relationship between the press, police and politicians. The public rely upon the Crown, and the Crown’s ministers to uphold justice and maintain the integrity of the political process. Unlike the United States, the people in the UK are not the guardians of the regime; they must rely upon parliament and the Monarch. The political establishment, on the Monarch’s behalf, guard the regime. In this role, the press and politicians, mainly, with a small role for the police and the courts set and shape the public interest. The crisis has undermined the political mandate and created a crisis within the regime’s legitimacy. As the various guardians, especially the press and the police, pursued institutional or personal interest over and above the public interest, it is important that we hear from the one institution above the corruption: the Queen.
Why is the Queen important?
First, she is the Monarch and she wields great, if indirect, power within the kingdom. One must remember that the police and the military (except for Royal Navy) swear oaths of allegiance to her. They do not swear the oath to parliament. When the police officers were implicated in the phone hacking scandal, by encouraging and abetting the press in their illicit behaviour, they betrayed their oath to the Crown. When they betray their oath without consequences or punishment, we begin to question the status and purpose of those oaths. If they are not enforced or enforceable, what is their point? Moreover, if they are not enforced, what does it say about the object of the allegiance and obedience?
If the guardians no longer find their oath binding, why then should the public obey the Queen? The question posed by Leveson, who guards the guardians, raises the central problem for the regime. Is it to remain a monarchy or is it to become a republic? The Inquiry’s outcome, and associated events, seems to suggest that the Monarchy is now fatally weakened to the point where it can be attacked with impunity.
The Queen has been taught a lesson in power
Second, the Queen, as a royal person, was directly affected by the case because her family were monitored and stalked by the Murdoch media. Even after the Leveson Inquiry showed the moral corruption wrought by the Murdoch papers, in particular the News of the World, the paper continued to stalk her family. The first target was Prince Harry and then Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The press understood what it was doing and why it was doing it. The surface reason was that this was in the public interest. However, the argument is hollow and only provides a fig leaf for the deeper reason. Most people will believe the deeper reason was the freedom of the press. Yet, the freedom of the press argument rings hollow as well because freedom of the press is for a purpose. The press is not free just to be free. Instead, its freedom is within a context. Therefore, when the press uses its freedom to destroy the regime, which grants its freedoms, its purpose is no longer freedom. What we see in the end is the true reason behind the decision: power. What the press, in particular Murdoch, demonstrated was that the press would demonstrate its freedom by making the Royal family a target and claim to do it in the public interest.
The Queen, the public interest, and justice: who rules?
Third, the monarch promises to govern the people justly and uphold the law. In this role, she is maintaining the public good by ensuring that she will use her power to ensure law and justice in mercy to be executive in all her judgements. As a good monarch, rather than a tyrant, she rules for her people. They are loyal and obedient because she rules justly. However, if justice is weakened or unavailable to the public within her kingdom, her role is weakened if not fatally flawed. The Leveson Inquiry showed that Parliament was almost unable to resist the press’ invidious power. At times, it was uncertain whether Parliament could act to protect the public good and investigate the allegations and the crimes. When the public can have no confidence in parliament, the press, or the police, they can only turn to the Crown. When the Crown is silent in these matters, how is the royal covenant fulfilled? In that regard, the Leveson Inquiry remains flawed.
We may believe that the Monarch is exercising her private influence through the courtiers. Or, we may believe she is respecting the political and constitutional settlement with Parliament. However, if Parliament is unable to act, as demonstrated repeatedly through the Leveson Inquiry, then the focus has to turn to the Monarchy. If the people cannot turn to the police, the press, or the politicians, the one remaining constitutional actor is the Monarch. Any report from the Leveson Inquiry will be missing an important actor. We will have the dog that did not bark as the monarchy will be seen by its absence.
Will political reform move us beyond the Monarchy?
The report will have a dramatic and long reaching effect on the political landscape. Even if the report’s recommendations are not accepted, the Inquiry itself has reshaped the political landscape. At the same time, the Hillsborough report has opened up a related front to reform the guardians. The outcome of that report, if accepted, will have a dramatic and fundamental effect on policing and the police. What remains to be seen, though is whether the reform can be sustained. Perhaps, it is emblematic of the Monarchy’s decline that it is no longer considered a crucial player within the political framework to be included.
We may believe that the public interest will be improved and the guardians will protect it. The question, that emerges is whether the public can stay obedient to the Monarchy if the guardians are wolves feasting on the public good? If reforms do not restore the public interest and the guardians’ role within the system, then the system itself will need to be changed. In the end, the Leveson Inquiry may have shown us more than the corrupt nexus between the press, police, and politicians. What it may show us is the need for a constitutional reform. Even as the Leveson Inquiry shows the residual strength of Monarchical political establishment, the signs can be seen of the Monarchy’s political twilight with a new political era struggle to emerge.
- Surely freedom loving Gove cannot defend press restrictions? (guardian.co.uk)
- Hugh Grant: Leveson’s report will spark a ‘war’ (independent.co.uk)
- Philosophers at the Leveson Inquiry (peasoup.typepad.com)