By Robert J Davies
A TWEET from the Rural Conservative Twitter account yesterday generated quite a lot of debate – by our standards anyway. For those who haven’t seen it, we wrote the following:
“How very disrespectful of the police to breath-test His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, following his car accident today. Let us all give thanks to God that Prince Philip emerged uninjured. Our thoughts are with him tonight.”
It’s always difficult to say everything you want to say in a tweet. It would have been kinder and more appropriate had we also expressed concern at the fact that two ladies in the other car suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital before being discharged. For them, as for the Duke, it must have been a deeply shocking and frightening incident. Nearly all of us can relate to that, of course, since so many of the population at large have been involved in road smashes.
I certainly have personally and I also recall with a shudder, my days as a newspaper reporter when it would be my grim task along with colleagues to fill columns with accounts of dreadful – often fatal – road accidents. So, on behalf of the RCM I wish to say how much we, like everyone else this morning, feel grateful that yesterday’s accident near Sandringham was not a great deal worse. It was a miracle that the Duke emerged without a scratch and yes, let us give thanks to God for that.
Our tweet (written by me from the RCM account) generated anger and bafflement in some quarters because I expressed concern that Norfolk Police should have chosen to breathalyse the Duke. Why should anyone be above the law, some asked? Others thought it such a ludicrous remark that the Rural Conservative account simply had to be a parody. One individual, evidently with a taste for conspiracy theories, surmised that we probably hailed from Russia and were on Mr Putin’s payroll.
So let’s tackle these points. Firstly, no we’re not a parody account nor anything to do with Russia. Secondly, it is perfectly reasonable to say that the police acted entirely properly in breath-testing the Duke in light of what happened. Yet I chose, on behalf of the Rural Conservative Movement, to express displeasure at this and here’s why: it is my view that it was not necessary on this occasion. Had there been fatalities or serious, life-changing injuries then it would have been different but that was not the case.
It is my belief that if no alcohol could be smelled on the breath of the Duke that, mindful both of his great age and status as an extremely senior Royal, married to Her Majesty the Queen no less, that discretion could have been exercised and that he need not have been put to this indignity. Of course, one might say – and republicans among you will say – “but this isn’t fair, we’re all the same. It doesn’t matter who we are”.
Yes and no. We can’t have it both ways. Once you start ploughing that furrow you will end up saying that there is nothing special whatsoever about the Royal Family and that we are not to accord them any privileges at all, in any shape or form. That they are just like us, just one of us, and should be treated accordingly. Fine, but then that is the end of the Monarchy as we know it. It is our choice to put Royals on a pedestal; to bow or curtsey when they talk to us; to hang on to the Queen’s every word when she addresses the nation at 3pm on Christmas Day, and so on.
We don’t have to, but that’s how we do it in this country, because we value our Royal Family so much – and indeed, so does much of the world. Our wonderful Queen and her indomitable consort the Duke have enriched our national life immensely from long before most of us were born. As for privilege – theirs has been a life of remorseless duty. The Duke retired from public life less than two years ago, already well into his 90s. The Queen’s service to the nation will be lifelong. Not for them the privilege accorded to the rest of us, of working until we’re about 60 and then enjoying a long retirement, doing as we please.
So yes, it’s my personal view, and one I put forward on behalf of the Rural Conservatives, that these wonderful people deserve our utmost respect and, to use an old-fashioned word, a degree of deference. If I had been the bobby who came across that accident yesterday, I would hope to have been allowed to exercise due discretion in light of all the circumstances and permitted this great old man of 97 years, to have returned immediately to his family without further ado and certainly without being required to give a specimen of breath.
Many of you who do not agree with me on this will hopefully agree with the following: the Duke of Edinburgh is an inspiration to us all for the life he has led and the dedication he has shown to Her Majesty the Queen and to our wonderful country. And let us all wish them many more happy years together.
Robert J Davies, a writer and former newspaper journalist, is the founder of the Rural Conservative Movement, a non-affiliated conservative group based in the United Kingdom.