Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Silos of hierarchy are holding Britain back

The House of Lords, where real monarchy lies, must be abolished

Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall, September 2022. Photo: Yui Mok/AFP/Getty

When you have been allowed to become a citizen of this great country, at least in my case, you are sent a letter. This letter says that “you are invited” to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Not to Great Britain. But in my case, over three decades ago now, to the Queen and her heirs and successors.

I took the letter along to my local high street and found the first solicitor that I could, one who took oaths. It was his lunch hour, and he was eating a chicken tikka sandwich. 

When I came in he talked to me about the oath as he continued chomping on his sandwich. I asked him, with my New York City/Chicago sense of humour, whether it was problematic to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen’s family if they then turned out to be a bunch of axe murderers, for instance.

Not even swallowing his food, he said to me to just sign it. And so I did, an oath not to the people of Great Britain, but to a family. A royal family. Mortals like you and me. Maybe a little less so.

Around where I live in London, you can still feel the medieval streets beneath the pavement, not the streets exactly, but you can feel their pathways, tiny rises of the earth, small hills and ancient highways; highways that the pavement covers over.

I sometimes do commentary for CNN when something happens here to do with the royals, so I was asked to help cover the funeral of the Queen.

One night I had to make my own way to the hotel where the broadcasting was being done because the car to take me there had been booked from New York and somebody had messed up the time.

The West End, where I live, was in blackout. The streets were completely dark, full of security guards and police, and you couldn’t really see anyone, you just had to make your way.

And that is how I came to realise that my part of London is still medieval. Maybe even still Elizabethan; it’s certainly Regency. Streets became paths as I made my way in the pitch black.

As I walked towards Westminster Bridge I felt a kind of presence, something that I could not describe. Slowly. And police cordons came into view, and more light.

Then I realised that the presence I felt was people waiting on the bridge to go into Westminster Abbey. There was no talking, there was no music.

There was nothing but hundreds of people all standing in the dark, waiting patiently for their turn to walk past the Queen’s coffin.

I talked to one of the security guards, who was born elsewhere like me, and I asked him where the line began, and he pointed east. People were standing in the rain and they were completely silent.

I had never seen anything like this before, and it was quite simply unforgettable.

A few years before that, I had been part of the commentary team for the wedding of Harry and Meghan. We were broadcasting from a kind of glass tower above the winding path out of Windsor Castle, and Harry and Meghan were riding in a lovely carriage.   

The entire route was filled with people with photos and flowers and these people did not travel from Kansas City, or Dar-es-Salaam, even though a few citizens of those places may have been there. The crowd was British. Through and through.

A few years before that, my first royal assignment was the wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William. The entire Mall was packed with people. I even saw the late, great, American broadcaster Barbara Walters make her way to a portaloo, picking her way through the throng in disbelief.

She was a small woman like me, and we made eye contact, both I think incredulous at the throng. All these people standing there, patiently, waving flags, waiting for a glimpse of the newlyweds in their carriage.

There were so many people that I got disorientated, and found myself standing right in front of another woman, which I hadn’t realised I was doing until she tapped me on the shoulder and said that I was in her way. And I turned and looked at her, and she said to me in a low voice – the most vicious voice ever directed at me – that I had better move because she had been there all night.

Just as I did, Catherine and William came around the corner in a vintage car, and they both looked at me. They caught my eye, or they looked and I could see the kind of shock on their faces, too. The “who are all these people?” look.

All of this came back to me because the current Post Office catastrophe has made me more angry than I have been since the Windrush scandal.

And I wanted to understand what I was really angry about, and I think it is the fact that this great country still rests in silos of hierarchy. These silos are there, embedded, powerful, and they hold the country back.

This reality created and fed Brexit, the only self-downgrade by any nation in history. It makes us fret and bother about a family whose privilege is medieval, yet under the modern control of the citizens of the country who may or may not know it.

The country is ageing. It is changing. What do we hand our children and grandchildren and all of the young who come of age and by very definition have to move forward?

Do we hand them over 900 people in ermine called “Lord” and “Lady” most by virtue of a prime minister who has the royal prerogative to put them there?

A Labour government should create a commission whose goal is to abolish the House of Lords, where real monarchy lies.

Then the royal family, too, will become more human.

Because the people will see that it is we who are the real fount of the nation.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the Not again edition

Photo: TNE/Getty

Trump and the nightmare of tyranny lurking within the American dream

Despite facing 91 felony charges, Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee. He is a dictator-in-waiting

Image: TNE

Alastair Campbell’s Diary: There’s room for hope in British politics

In every election since 2010, fear has beaten hope but change is on the horizon