September 26

Former republican with egg on his face

According to an interview by Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian 23 September, 2006, the formerly republican writer and broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman has now become a reluctant constitutional monarchist, saying:   "If I was devising a constitution, I would not propose what we have today. I know the hereditary principle is undemocratic and illogical. But my position is there is nothing to be gained by establishing a republic and packing the royals off to a country estate."  (On reading that, I did wonder whether republican training requires that the subjunctive be avoided. Do only strong constitutional monarchists say: “If I were…” Have I discovered how to identify a republican?)

 Mr. Jeffries reminds him that Polly Toynbee, ‘the queen of Guardian hearts’, answered this objection a few years ago, arguing that monarchy’s continued existence was the "reason why this country breeds small-minded bigotry, Eurosceptic xenophobia, union-flag-painted brutes rampaging at foreign football matches." This is as silly as some of reasons for change suggested in the Australian referendum campaign, many catalogued by Sir David Smith in a paper to the Samuel Griffith Society in 1998 – improving trade, reducing unemployment etc. Mr. Paxman says: "Football hooliganism due to the existence of the monarchy? Come on”.

Mr. Jeffries reports that Jeremy  Paxman attempted  to clinch his anti-republican argument by asking a ‘University Challenge-style question’. "Do you know who’s the president of Germany? Or president of Ireland?" If we decided to make Elizabeth II our last royal ruler, we would either have a nobody as head of state or insufferable political megalomaniacs as president. "We should carry on as we have been because the alternatives are hopeless," he contends. Mr. Jeffries says that surely our monarchs have been and are non-entities too? "Some have been, some haven’t. I don’t think the Queen is," he says. "The great thing about her, as with Victoria, is that people have grown from childhood and into maturity and towards death with her. She’s a potent symbol, a unifying symbol."


Apparently ‘Paxo’, as Mr. Jeffries affectionately calls him, is clearly in awe of the ‘privileged, sartorially diverting grannie’. (Yes, Mr. Jeffries, and why not also throw in that tedious old commentariat standby, ‘dysfunctional’?) Mr. Jeffries says that there is a poignant passage’ in Jeremy Paxman’s book On Royalty in which he is dumbstruck by Elizabeth II after the state opening of Parliament. "I wanted the ground to swallow me," he writes, "anything to avoid finding something to say to this particular little old lady." Why? "I don’t know. She was just talking to the Crown Equerry about horses and I thought this could be my mum." Asked how she intimidated him, Jeremy Paxman replies: "Actually," he confides, "I’m always terrified before a big interview…..No, really, I am.” 


Apparently, Mr. Paxman’s book suffers from a practice which is now widespread in the media. This is to publish stories without adequate proof that the story is true. Too often stories are published without even asking the person disparaged even being asked. Mr Paxman claims that his Prince Charles is so fussy that staff  have to cook him seven boiled eggs to allow him to choose one with the perfect consistency. "If the Prince felt that number five was too runny, he could knock the top off number six or seven," Mr. Paxman told The Guardian, which, as you might expect has a financial interest in promoting this story-the passionately republican news paper has acquired the right to publish extracts in serial form.


When it comes to this level of silly gossip, the practice has usually been to ignore it. For a long time, an out of control commentariat has been able to use this sort of thing to portray the Prince in unflattering terms..  This has nothing to do with objective reporting – it is part of an agenda ranging from republicanism to a desire to damage him.  As Reuters said on 23 September 2006, many commentators would portray him, without challenge “as a dull, slightly loopy eccentric with a habit of talking to his plants.” This time Reuters was able to report something which is unusual- a spokesman for Prince Charles had come out to answer the story. The spokesman declared, without any equivocation, that the story was, as everyone expected, untrue. It was a complete fabrication, as is much of what is written about the Royal Family. So what was Mr. Paxman’s embarrassed explanation?  The story must be true. The source he says, was…. one of Prince Charles’ “friends.”


 Come on Mr. Paxman, you have egg on your face. Surely you can do better than that!





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