“Constructing a Humanist Politics”


                                                      Issue No 27 Friday 13 March 2009





This week


·        What Happens When An Elected President Meets Our Unelected Monarch? And Why Does Obama Want To Meet The Queen?


·        While He Seeks Out The Queen, Obama Snubs Brown On His Washington Visit




What is happening now of interest to Civic Republicanism





·        What Happens When An Elected President Meets Our Unelected Monarch? And Why Does Obama Want To Meet The Queen?


It has transpired that when Obama comes to London for the G20 meeting at the beginning of April he has arranged an exceptional visit to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

The details of his London stay are that Air Force One, carrying the President and First Lady Michelle Obama will land at Stansted Airport, Essex, on March 31. The presidential couple will then be flown by helicopter to Winfield House, the residence of the American ambassador, in Regent's Park.

The following day, April 1, Mr Obama will travel to Buckingham Palace. It is unusual for a President to meet the Queen outside a state visit. Reflecting the slightly less full-blown nature of the meeting, it was described by one official in Washington as "an informal, formal meeting".

A source said: "There is a wish to do these things discreetly when they meet for the first time."  That evening, Mr Obama will join other world leaders and their wives for an official dinner at Downing Street, hosted by Gordon and Sarah Brown. The next morning, the leaders of the G20 countries will gather and after the one-day meeting, the President will fly to Strasbourg for a forum of NATO leaders.

It must always be a peculiar encounter when head of other states to meet the Kingdom’s head of state. After all they are elected as heads of states. If they were not they would be very unlikely to be allowed to meet our head of state. The obvious irony is that an unelected head will only meet democratically elected heads. We have to wonder what on earth other country’s’ Presidents think of their meetings with Elizabeth. She has no power. What do they talk about?

No communiqué summarizing the discussion is ever published but just a glimpse of how these meetings go was contained a series of BBC programmes last year on Elizabeth’s daily work and life. It showed her discussing her family at such a meeting. No doubt when she meets President Obama she will politely refer to Prince Harry’s tour of duty in Afghanistan as Afghanistan is a prime area of policy for the US President. But where does Harry’s involvement take the conversation?

The point is that the discussion, it seems, can only be of the form of a pleasant and fairly meaningless chat. Nothing can come out of it. Elizabeth may be a little wiser having notched up yet another US presidential acquaintance but it impossible to imagine that Obama will have profited in any way by the meeting. For him it is a total waste of time.

So why is he doing it? To show his children the inside of a real palace?

You could argue that he is obliged to do it as a matter of protocol. The fact that the Kingdom chooses to have a hereditary head of state is after all not his business. But why should leaders of democratic republics have to go along with what is an absurd anachronistic constitutional farce of our choosing.

His apparent enthusiasm to meet Elizabeth may just be a sign of his blandness and lack of form. What should happen at that meeting is that the Queen with all her experience and maturity should, behind closed doors, give the young man some advice which he seems to need. She after all knew most of his predecessors and saw all their mistakes.




·        While He Seeks Out The Queen, Obama Snubs Brown On His Washington Visit

The unequal relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Brown has recently been fully on view. Brown’s visit to Washington was characterised by Obama’s snubs and lack of decorum. Contrast Brown’s attitude the President and the United States. His fawning, platitudinous speech to the US Congress made it clear that he wishes to ape the “poodle” antics of his predecessor, Blair.

In cringing fashion he waxed in the House

“And let me thank President Obama for his leadership, for his friendship and for giving the whole world renewed hope in itself.

“Madam Speaker, Mr Vice-President, I come in friendship to renew, for new times our special relationship that is founded on our shared history, our shared values and, I believe, our shared futures.

“So early in my life I came to understand that America is not just the indispensable nation, you are the irrepressible nation. Throughout your history, America has led insurrections in the human imagination. You have summoned revolutionary times through your belief that there is no such thing as an impossible endeavour. And it is never possible to come here without having your faith in the future renewed.”

The only substantive, but rather out of context point, he made in the whole speech was when he exclaimed:

“ … how much safer would everybody’s savings be if the whole world finally came together to outlaw shadow banking systems and outlaw offshore tax havens?”

We could all say Amen to that but Brown said nothing about what concretely he expected to be done. He finished by emphasising the partnership between America and Britain and partnership, as we know, is something the weak side of a relationship loves to refer to

“ … at this defining moment in history, let us renew our special relationship for our generation and our times, let us work together to restore prosperity and protect this planet and with faith in the future let us together build tomorrow today”

It just may be that Obama was put off by this speech for the arrangements for Brown’s visit outside of his speech to the House were offhand to say the least.

Initially, Brown wasn't granted a press conference with the usual miniature flags on the rostrums but then one was hastily arranged in the Oval office after the Brown’s aids had virtually begged. Obama looked like he would rather have been anywhere else than welcoming the British leader to his office.

Then although Sarah and Michelle met together there was no “couple’s time” with the leaders and their wives all present. This occasion always provides photographs that are eagerly sought after and published by the media.

But the detail that sticks is Obama’s choice of present for the PM -.a smashing box of 25 DVDS. Downing Street tried to keep the present a secret and then declined to say what movies were included in the set, however, it has been reported that the set included ET, Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz.

Now if I were Brown I would at least expect something I could put on the mantelpiece to remind me in later life of the day I met the President, however modest it might be. But a box of hoary old films. What could you do with that except chuck it in with your next car boot sale?

Obama’s motives are difficult to follow. Was it a calculated insult or does the man really not know form? Or was it a comment on the groveling blandness of Brown’s speech to congress?

Obama’s going out of his way to see the Queen on his London Visit in April is in stark contrast to his reception of Brown. He may be calculating that Elizabeth will retain her office longer than Brown and so is more worth talking to. And it must be genuinely difficult for an American, however well advised, to understand a constitution where all the power goes to the Legislature leaving the Head of State with none.



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……. …….until next week