We hear news that King Charles will be admitted to hospital next week for a routine surgical procedure on an enlarged prostate. And at the same time there is word that Catherine, Princess of Wales and future queen, has already undergone surgery for an abdominal problem. We wonder about the timing of these treatments. Can it be that both just happened to come to the top of the NHS waiting lists at the same time?
Unlikely. The Princess is recovering in the London Clinic. It is an exclusive private clinic with exceptionally good facilities and staff. No NHS waiting list to navigate there. It is one of the perks of unelected privilege. The King will have surgery in an as yet unidentified location just a week after the check-up which identified the problem. Meanwhile thousands of men with the same condition will continue to suffer weeks or probably months of discomfort and maybe pain waiting for the letter announcing an appointment drops through the letter box.
Do we object to the King and Princess receiving exceptional preferential treatment? Not at all. We wish them both well in their recovery. We are simply underlining the inequities deeply embedded in our social system.
The news of these British royals comes in the same week as the announcement of the abdication of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark after 52 years on the throne in favour of her son Crown Prince - now King – Frederik X. She cited the fact that after surgery on her back last year she concluded that she could no longer cope with the rigours of service which her office imposed.
Meanwhile this week leaders of the would-be elected variety have been jousting for power in the Iowa primaries, the first taste of hostilities in this American presidential year. And in a court room elsewhere, the former and campaigning president produced an unedifying spectacle trying to vindicate himself over miscellaneous charges with more to come.
It all makes you wonder about different ways of holding power and what sort of people are best holding power.
If you look elsewhere in the media there are endless stories of deathly struggles for power in all parts of the world. Alongside Putin’s aggression in Ukraine the most notable this week has been in Yemen and still, of course, in Gaza. As always, there are many examples in Africa, besides North Korea, China, Pakistan and Iran…the list is endless. And depressing.
These days, kings and queens owe their power and privilege to their blood line. Dictators owe it to the shed blood of their followers.
You cannot but ask why such faulty systems of distributing power hold sway.
Two quotations from Winston Churchill in the House of Commons are pertinent.
In 1947: Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…
Toward the end of WWII Churchill said: At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man,(sic) walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point. (31 October 1944).
If we are honest, we must admit that royals and politicians for good or ill are not as different from ourselves as we might like to think. As we approach important elections in this country and in many other places, perhaps we should keep our common humanity in mind rather than resorting to the cheap shot about politicians being ‘all the same’. If we turn away our heads from power and politics, is it sometimes perhaps because we wish to avoid looking into the mirror?