The Queen is still the ace in Britain’s Royal pack

QUEEN ELIZABETH: Riding on the crest of a wave of positive publicity

QUEEN ELIZABETH: At 87, she’s riding on the crest of a wave of positive publicity

Over the years I’ve heard many impassioned pleas by republicans to axe royalty – not literarily, I assume, though I wouldn’t put it past some of the raving firebrands.

Predictably, they trot out the usual verbiage, like that voiced by a strident anti-monarchist in a BBC Newsnight debate last Monday, amid the euphoria celebrating the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, new, third man in the House of Windsor pecking order.

In summary, the woman – a Guardian columnist (surprise, surprise!) – insisted the monarchy was an anachronism; nobody was entitled to have a silver spoon thrust into their mouth from Day #1; most countries opted for a president; and it was all ‘yah-boo unfair.’

Ah, such is life. Because if fairness prevailed, I’d have won last week’s British Open Golf championship or be banking €350,000 a week, like Neymar, Barcelona’s new, Brazilian wunderkind, just for playing keepy-uppy with a spherical object.

Alas, alack or otherwise, some are born into privilege and a rare few become kings.

Meanwhile, having a good president – especially with executive powers, which British monarchs long since lost – is pretty much a lottery of deciding who the most plausible snake-oil salesman is.

And when presidents come to mind, so does the spectre of Richard Nixon and the slogan that immortalised his Tricky Dicky image: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

Personally, I prefer a constitutional monarchy and, over the 61 years of her reign, The Queen has done an impeccable job, which is more than can be said for some of her kith and kin.

Even at 87, the gait now plodding, she exhibits wholehearted commitment to the cause of country, commonwealth and empire, albeit now reduced to a melange of sometimes contentious dependencies.

Ma’am suffered trials and tribulations, of course, none more than in her ‘annus horribilis’, 1992: Charles’ separation from Princess Di erupted into a public slanging match, Ann divorced and the tabloids had a right, royal photo fest with snaps of Andrew’s ex, Fergie, having her toes sucked by her ‘financial adviser.’

To cap it all, Windsor Castle caught fire and a priceless art collection was damaged.

Five years on, the Palace gaffed monumentally, utterly misjudging the national mood following Diana’s death. Against protocol, Prime Minister Tony Blair practically ordered the entire bunch back to London from Balmoral and drop the Buck House flag to half-mast, because the people demanded it.

TRICKY DICKY NIXON: 'Would you buy a used car from this man?'

PRESIDENT NIXON: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’ was the rhetorical question used to tar him with a Tricky Dicky image

Never before was the British monarchy’s stock so depleted and resurrecting it so costly. The Queen and Charles agreed to pay income tax, Buckingham Palace was opened to the hoi polloi to raise funds to repair Windsor and HM’s exes ( a.k.a. the Civil List) was slashed.

However, what resuscitated Royal fortunes was the advent of the Princes Charming, Wills and Harry – the heir thoughtful and sensitive, the ‘spare’, an endearing jack-the-lad.

William’s marriage to commoner Kate captivated the nation and now the birth of a son and future king has catapulted the British crown’s popularity to a new zenith (and how many kings will be able to claim their gran was a BA trolley-dolly and great-great granddad a coal miner?)

Still, the Guardianista-republican is right: the monarchy is an anachronism and probably the world’s juiciest, real-life soap opera – an everyday story of Royal folk – to boot.

That, though, is the way we like it. Because forensic analysis of Britain would inevitably conclude the country is an anachronism, too, miraculously and creakingly evolving like no place on earth.

Steeped in the trappings of centuries-old tradition and inclined to be socially conservative, Brits are mainly tolerant as a nation, though resentful of foreign interference and stoic in repulsing invaders. Hence, ruffling our plumage comes with a health warning.

Meanwhile, we’re obsessed with bemoaning the weather – hot or cold – and inventing games with rules so arcane only a handful of former colonies understand them (e.g. have you ever tried explaining cricket to a Spaniard?)

And, despite losing an empire on which once the sun never set, Britain continues to punch above its weight on the international stage, Perfidious Albion one moment, honest broker the next.

Unlike almost everywhere, we have no written constitution yet constantly defer to one; we also have an affinity for democracy, even if our politicians are often more quantity than quality.

Then there’s our relationship with Europe, best summarised by a 1930’s Times headline that pronounced, with telling understatement, ‘Fog in Channel – Continent cut off.’

But, then, we do inverted superiority rather subtly, which probably accounts for Britain’s semi-detachment from the EU and retention of the £ (no bad idea, in retrospect, given the Eurozone’s abject failings).

KATE AND WILLIAM: Now with baby George, they've given Britain's Royalty

KATE AND WILLIAM: Now with baby George, they’ve helped resuscitated the British Royal Family flagging fortunes

Meanwhile, underscoring our distinctiveness, we drive on the wrong side, have a taste for warm beer, don’t dress as foppishly as Italians, our national dishes are invariably fried and, in the publicly-funded BBC, we possess a self-appointed, liberally illiberal arbiter of the national conscience.

I could go on, but you get the drift.

So finally, let’s return to the Monarchy. And note the capital M this time, since there are countless kings and queens sprinkling the planet, but only one Monarchy the world sits up and really notices – the British one.

Others come and go almost unheralded, as Holland’s Queen Beatrix, 75, did in April, standing aside for her son, now King Willem-Alexander. And earlier this month, 79-year-old Albert II vacated the Belgium throne, replaced by his son, Phillippe.

Neither abdication caused much of a ripple and it would have been thus had Harald V of Norway, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav XVI or Queen Margrethe II of Denmark asked for their marching orders.

Meanwhile, King Juan Carlos – once feted for leading his country out of the dark age of dictatorship – must be eying Britain’s monarchy with undisguised envy, as a slew scandals rock Spanish royalty.

To those hankering for Britain to be a presidential republic, then, here’s a tip: visit Zimbabwe.

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Oh Danny Boy, you’re all at sea about cutting the UK’s nuclear shield

Apart from any card-carrying member of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND), I can’t think of a worse candidate to proffer advice about the future of Trident, spearhead of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, than Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander.

With the possible exception of Paddy Ashdown, a Special Boat Service veteran, the Lib-Dems generally don’t do defence any more than I crochet doilies No, they’re far comfier on non-martial issues – gender equality; ASBOs instead of hard time for lags; more Europe, not less, etc. – so stick to what you (think) you know, I say.

I mean would you canvass Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne’s opinion on curbing pub opening hours or task Top Gear petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson to say why bicycles are better than cars? Neither would I.

So asking Red Danny – that’s an allusion to his politics, not hair colour – to provide a circumspect overview of whether Britain needs to replace all four of its nuclear-tipped, ageing Trident submarines seems a rather redundant query.

Predictably, in what he modestly claimed last week was ‘the most comprehensive study ever published’ on the Royal Navy’s formidable defensive shield, he pronounced that Britain should ‘step down the nuclear ladder’ and described Trident as the ‘last unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking’.

Perhaps as an afterthought – some would say a wobble on his lofty, moral perch – Alexander recommends we only need three new, Trident-class subs, not the four currently deployed, 24/7, that need de-commissioning by 2024.

What the Lib-Dem military mastermind fails to appreciate, though, is that for 45 years the Tridents have lurked, submerged and unseen in undisclosed locations. This has helped NATO gain a tactical edge against anyone tooled up with land-based missiles, which can be ID’d in a flash by spy-in-the-sky satellites (and read this column from 10 miles high).

MAN OVERBOARD: Danny Alexander wants to scrap one of Britain's four, Trident nuclear subs - a drop in the ocean in real terms

MAN OVERBOARD: Danny Alexander wants to scrap one of Britain’s four, Trident nuclear subs – a drop in the ocean in real terms

Nonetheless, Alexander is right that the saving in beaching a single Trident would be a not insignificant £4bn.

However, taken as part of a £40bn defence budget – 2.5% of Britain’s GDP – it is a relative drop in the ocean, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Money, though, is not the issue for those far-Left and piously-principled residents of La-La-Land, for whom the very mention of Trident and its nuclear, Cruise missile payload is anathema.

So they’ll regard the loss of even one super-sub as partial vindication for all the energy they expended on hot air, placards, sit-ins and demos from the 1950s onwards that got them precisely nowhere.

Today’s postcard to them from the real world is that, though the stalemate between the communist East and democratic West may be technically over, we inhabit a planet where the omnipresent threat of atomic Armageddon is a worsening.

Russia might have shrugged off its Soviet mantle, but it’s still sufficiently paranoid to invent two new types of undersea-launched ballistic missiles, a new class of ballistic submarine, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, a new bomber and deadlier Cruise missiles.

As the military historian Sir Michael Howard warns, ‘The nuclear dragon is asleep, not dead’.

So clearly Moscow’s nationalist tsar, Vladimir Putin, doesn’t buy into any post-Cold War peace posturing, even from a US President as malleable and hands-off as Barack Obama.

And, at the risk of going boss-eyed, Putin is looking both ways…in fact, further east rather than west.

The danger posed by Iran’s quest for a nuclear armoury heightens by the day, as the mad mullahs’ subterranean centrifuges churn out increasingly greater amounts of fissile material while they slyly dodge full, UN accountability.

Meanwhile, those inane enough to be seduced by the smiling visage of the nation’s new president, Hassan Rohani, are overdue for an alarm call. Because, like his odious predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he’s merely a puppet of the tyrannical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who’s fixated on becoming a nuclear bullyboy.

Not that such capacity doesn’t already abound throughout Asia, often in the hands of maverick regimes, nowhere more unhinged than Stalinist North Korea, where the crackpot dictator would rather starve his people than forsake the prestige of being a nuclear power.

Increasingly flexing its regional supremacy muscles, China long ago joined the nuclear club, as did India.

NUCLEAR SHIELD: Trident subs have been helping to keep the West safe for 45 years

NUCLEAR SHIELD: Trident subs have been helping to keep the West safe for 45 years

Pakistan even has a thriving export industry in nuclear hardware and that’s where Sunni Saudi Arabia will shop for an off-the-peg, super-bomb when – no longer if – their arch enemy and Shiite neighbour, Iran, cracks the technology.

As a prelude to its final development, the turbaned maniacs have threatened to blow Israel off the map. And heaven help the world, let alone the Middle East, if they try such mind-boggling stupidity.

The tiny Jewish state refuses to confirm or deny it packs a nuclear punch, so take it as read it has one. However, unlike Iran, it threatens no-one, but relies on the power of ambiguous mystique to discourage wannabe attackers.

So back in the La-La Land of Westminster, inhabited by the party of pacifism, Lib-Dem Danny Boy sounds off about slashing Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet by a quarter.

And this in the wake of the Coalition decimating the army and having to live with the former Labour government’s reckless spending of £7bn on two aircraft carriers, one of which is likely to be mothballed on completion in 2020 to save money.

The loss of a single Trident, though, would be a heftier blow, according to many defence analysts, who say the super-sub fleet provides NATO with a far superior deterrent than anything on or above water.

Therefore, even under the clunking fist of austerity, many in Britain believe £4bn is price well worth paying at time when the world totters on the brink of cataclysm.

Hopefully, then, Danny Boy’s recommendations will receive the consideration they richly deserve…and be filed in an appropriate receptacle, like the one under the Prime Minister’s desk.

Britain needs no lectures on human rights from Europe’s bullying court

Charles Dickens expressed his low esteem for the legal system in Oliver Twist, by penning the immortal line, ‘The law is an ass.’

If the European Court of Human Rights had existed in Victorian England, the great novelist and social commentator might have reached a far more withering verdict…that it is a bullying buffoon, for too long arrogantly riding roughshod over the laws and parliamentary voices of its 47 member states with thuggish zeal from its ivory tower in Strasbourg.

And last week it proved beyond a scintilla of doubt it’s no longer fit for purpose by upholding appeals against ‘life-means-life’ sentences by three of the most callous, brutal murderers ever brought to justice.

One was Jeremy Bamber, who, in 1986, murdered five members of his family – including his parents and two young nephews – in a bid to snatch a large inheritance. He even tried to pin the crimes on his mentally ill sister, whom he also shot.

Another, Douglas Vinter, stabbed his wife to death in 2008, less than three years after being released from jail for a previous murder.

The third, Peter Moore, killed four gay men in 1995 for perverted sexual gratification.

Yet, in their blustering inanity, the Euro judges decided that whole-life tariffs, which force murderers to die in jail, are ‘inhuman and degrading’.

Naturally, they ignored the ‘inhuman and degrading’ treatment meted out to the victims or the sentiments of the British people and lawmakers, who believe certain heinous criminals are beyond redemption.

The ECHR also failed to take into account that, after abolishing capital punishment in 1965, life sentences sometimes meant lifers would go the distance and currently 49 are subject to that fate.

MULTIPLE MURDERER: Jeremy Bamber killed five of his own family, but the ECHR rules his 'life-means-life' sentence breaches his human rights

MULTIPLE MURDERER: Jeremy Bamber killed five of his family, but the ECHR ruled his ‘life-means-life’ sentence breaches his human rights

Inevitably, the ruling will bring succour to Moors murder, Ian Brady, and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. And no doubt their legal teams are beavering away now on appeals to the robed primates of Strasbourg – especially after Brady failed to convince a court he was bad, not mad, and should be transferred from a mental facility to a prison, so he can legally starve himself to death.

If this latest ECHR judgement was a one-off aberration it could almost be excused. But it wasn’t, because it followed a litany of crackpot rulings that make a mockery of UK justice.

The Abu Qatada farce was indisputably the most contentious, since it hamstrung a national government’s will to rid itself of an evil fanatic – described by a High Court judge as ‘Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe’ – who entered Britain illegally and urged his followers to kill British troops.

Yet it took eight years of toil by five Home Secretaries (Interior Ministers) to get rid of the monster and shrug off the ignominy piled on a nation that evolved one of the first, fair, moral codes of justice – reaching back to the 13th Century Magna Carta – by a bunch of foreign appointees, many from lands where freedom is still as shiny as a new euro.

Rightly, countless precedents in English criminal law were enshrined in the European Charter for Human Rights, codified in 1953 by the Council of Europe after the horrors of World War Two, especially the Holocaust.

These formed the basis for the ECHR when it was established in 1959 as a court of last resort.

The problem is, during the ensuing 54 years, it has extended its remit well beyond the intentions of the founding fathers and its power grab now vetoes the democratic will of its constituent parts.

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: Euro judges ignore the human rights of murder victims and member nations

JUSTICE ON TRIAL: Euro judges ignore the human rights of murder victims and member nations

The result is practically any ne’er-do-well who can’t convince anyone from a magistrate to a Supreme Court judge of his innocence can take the gripe to Strasbourg and bog the legal system down for years, not to say rack up vast legal aid costs (£1.7M in Qatada’s case).

Unsurprisingly, ‘human rights’ has become one of my learned friends’ financial honey pots, as the number of appeals to the ECHR exploded from 8,400 in 1999 to 57,000 a decade later, with 119,300 pending.

Meanwhile, Strasbourg’s meddling goes far beyond individuals and into national affairs of state, as demonstrated by its demand for the UK to give convicts the right to vote, despite prevailing public opinion insisting felons forfeit that privilege during their time behind bars.

Now, finally, after years of scorn from Strasbourg, a British Home Secretary – namely Theresa May – is making more than noises about quitting the jurisdiction of the ECHR.

Obviously, this doesn’t please Dean Spielmann, the Luxembourg judge and president of the court, who warns, ‘Any member state who would leave the Council of Europe, who would denounce the convention, would lose its credibility when it comes to promoting human rights also in different parts of the world. It would be political disaster.’

Spielmann isn’t the first judge to talk codswallop through his wig (not that they wear them in Strasbourg). But he’s entirely mistaken to criticise a nation, whose legal system is still one of the envies of the world and has sufficient in-built safeguards to ensure justice is done and seen to be.

GUILTY VERDICT: Ex-UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett, puts the ECHR in the dock

GUILTY VERDICT: Ex-UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett, puts the ECHR in the dock

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights generally have no issues with how the UK dispenses law.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of countries who have signed up to the UN Convention on Human Rights who barely pay lip service to the concept.

So Spielmann and his ECHR cronies might like to heed the wisdom of David Blunkett, who oversaw the ‘whole life’ sentencing legislation as Home Secretary in 2003.

‘Whatever the technical justification the Strasbourg court may have, it is the right of the British Parliament to determine the sentence of those who have committed crimes and for democracy to have the will of the people implemented. To do otherwise can only lead to disillusionment, mistrust of, and a dangerous alienation from, our democracy itself,’ he noted sagely.

I rest my case.

Sorry, Morsi, you blew it – the people voted for liberty, not religious repression

As a democrat – American readers note small ‘d’ – I should be sympathising with Mohammed Morsi, dumped unceremoniously as Egypt’s first elected leader, after shading an election 12 months ago to rule the Arab world’s most populous state for a four-year term.

But he was frontman for the pernicious Muslim Brotherhood’s corny attempt at democractic respectability, the Freedom & Justice Party. And that should have been a heavy hint as to the direction Egypt would head…anywhere but full-blown democracy.

Also undeniable was how the Brethren slyly remained in the shadows when the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak’s secular dictatorship kicked off.

There was hardly a Brother in sight as students, middle-class professionals, women and intellectuals bravely took to the streets against the military regime, facing down tanks and riot police.

Morsi’s henchmen never needed to raise a prayer-bead in support, because they knew the opposition was largely a fragmented rabble. Only they had the organisation to concoct an election-winning gambit, even if it meant pretending to shelve their fundamentalist zeal.

Today, however, Mo wouldn’t win a one-man contest to be his neighbourhood rat-catcher. Nor does he deserve to.

Because, while the now ex-president might know every hadith in the Koran and can probably recite the entire tome, verbatim, Mo goofed spectacularly as a leader, faithful to the faith, but not the wider nation.

As he increasingly imagined himself a latter-day pharaoh, they baulked at his divide-and-rule arrogance, a litany of broken electoral promises, the remorseless drift towards an Islamic state, crackdown on civil liberties and the religious rights of non-Sunnis.

Most of all, sane Egyptians wondered why the country was an economic basket-case, where bread had become a luxury, power cuts a fact of daily life – unsurprising, given the busted flush of a country has only a fortnight’s fuel in its tank – unemployment and the murder rate soared, while the $200bn of external investment Morsi pledged never materialise.

OVER AND OUT: People power shows Morsi the exit from the presidency

OVER AND OUT: People power shows Morsi the exit from the presidency

Instead, corruption and chronyism ballooned, as exemplified by the appointment of an old Brotherhood mate, with links to a terrorist group that slaughtered 58 foreigners in 1997, as governor of Luxor. It so incensed Egypt’s tourism minister, he threatened to quit, further exposing Morsi’s utter disregard for the subtleties of power.

However, Mo can claim some credits, notably brokering a wonky truce between Gaza’s headbangers, Hamas – one of many Brotherhood franchises in the region – and Israel, plus begrudgingly maintaining a cold peace with the Jewish state, as negotiated by President Anwar Sadat (later repaid for his efforts with a hail of bullets).

However, despite claims to legitimacy – and he even forced through a referendum on a controversial constitution, that expressed some of the Brotherhood’s extreme themes – Morsi’s cavalier take on democracy wasn’t what the people signed up to.

As Samer Shehata, an expert on Islamist Arab politics, explains, ‘He has been a disastrous leader; divisive, incompetent, heavy-handed and deaf to wide segments of Egyptian society who do not share his Islamist vision.’

So, as they cried over spilt votes and a brief, bitter-sweet flirtation with democracy, the furious hordes sought a re-revolution – a return to (Tahrir) Square One – and won it, thanks to the army’s intervention.

Maybe the moral Egyptians have learned is be careful what you wish for. Because, in the wrong hands democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  And remember: a certain Adolf Hitler polled most votes in a democratic election back in 1932 and no-one needs reminding of what catastrophes that preluded.

Meanwhile, the world asks: whither next, Egypt?

IN THE FRONT LINE: But the Egyptian army wants to be peace-makers, not power-brokers

IN THE FRONT LINE: But the Egyptian army wants to be peace-makers, not power-brokers

Certainly, the military doesn’t want to be accused of staging a coup d’etat – it could cost them their $1.5bn annual ‘stipend’ from the US – therefore they’ll claim the role as peacemakers, not power-brokers and try to stop Egypt sliding into civil war.

Chief Justice, Adly Mansour, has been hastily sworn in as interim president and will nominate an provisional government of technocrats. The first item on their agenda will be to rip up Morsi’s Islamic constitution and draft one that’s inclusive, reflecting the nation’s secular aspirations.

All being well, a fresh election can be called within a year, but will the Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party once again be a player? Or will it be proscribed, as it was by Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser, who overthrew the venal monarchy of King Farouk in 1952?

More intriguing still, if the Brethren do enter the electoral fray, what if they win again?

Meanwhile, after the Arab Spring predictably disintegrated into an Islamic Winter, Morsi’s downfall and the moderate mainstreams’ revolt against religious autocracy will reverberate across the tinderbox of the Middle East and North Africa.

It certainly ought to send shudders down the spine of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, where – as I recently posted – he’s risks a decade of prosperity by imposing creeping Islamism, much against the wishes of the secular masses.

The West, too, must wrestle with the paradox of a democratic, post-democratic Egypt.

It might start by explaining a fundemental premise to success is the separation of religion from the state, no easy objective for entities like the Brotherhood, whose credo is, ‘God is our objective; the Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations’

And President Obama, slow-witted in dealing with the 2011 uprising, has to stop spouting support for Morsi and state emphatically that democracy isn’t about winning a one-off election, then insiting it’s a legitimate licence to impose a new tyranny.

Maybe he can borrow a headline from Cairo’s Al-Gomhuriya newspaper: ‘The people’s legitimacy was victorious,’ it crowed.

If any words entirely undermind all Morsi’s claims to the moral high ground, those do.