Thursday, May 28, 2009

Miffed Majesty

I have written here and elsewhere about one of the major differences between the U.S. and British political systems. Here in the U.S., we combine the roles of head of state and head of government in the same office, that of president. But, in the U.K., those roles are played by different people. The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state. The prime minister, currently Gordon Brown, is the head of government.

Consequently, there is one issue in Britain that we don't face in America: the relationship between the head of state and the head of government.

Most of their interactions occur during the prime minister's weekly "audience" with the queen. Brown goes to Buckingham Palace, and the two have an absolutely confidential discussion of current events. I wrote here about some of the strengths the queen brings to those meetings, which allow her to influence policy.

The confidentiality of the weekly audiences is respected to a remarkable degree. But, every once in a while, word of a disagreement between the two leaders leaks out.

In 1986, The New York Times carried this Reuters report about rumored differences between Queen Elizabeth and then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Now, the Times reports that the queen's relationship with Brown is strained. According to that article, she is upset because Brown failed to get her included in ceremonies next week to observe the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

Rumor has it that underlying tensions between the two leaders have led up to the current spat. Some of the difficulty reportedly arises from Brown arriving late for some of the weekly audiences.

While the queen defers to the elected politicians on matters of policy, they must show deference to her in a formal sense. Even though Brown undoubtedly has more important things to attend to than the queen does, it's considered disrespectful for him to make her wait.

UPDATE: The D-Day anniversary has now arrived and, in what appears to be a compromise of sorts, the Prince of Wales has traveled to Normandy to represent the Royal Family at the anniversary ceremonies.

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