|Volume 53 Number 13, May 6, 2023
Since becoming King, Charles' very role as sovereign and his symbolic function as representative of the state have also come into question. The UK Constitutional Law Association published an article on March 27 entitled "Ursula von der Leyen's visit to Windsor: Who defines King Charles' constitutional role?". The article reports that "King Charles found himself embroiled in controversy for hosting Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission of the European Union, at Windsor Castle, only hours after the new Brexit deal concerning Northern Ireland was unveiled by von der Leyen and the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak." King Charles' meeting with von der Leyen was seen as his giving public support for the "Windsor Framework", which is itself a highly charged political matter. This was seen as a "notable departure" and deviation from the convention of political neutrality expected of the King, and seemed to illustrate Charles' desire to actively intervene in the politic al life of the country using what has been termed "soft power", defined as "a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence".
This term "soft power", a conception much elaborated and established in the time of the government of Tony Blair, was used again in April this year when Charles visited Germany and met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and first lady Elke Büdenbender. Newspapers around the world declared his visit a great success of "British Ceremonial and Soft Power", the term "soft power" seemly used to connote a benign and innocuous influence. However, it hides a more sinister and dangerous political motive.
Back in 2014, the Parliament UK Website commissioned a Select Committee report on "Soft Power and the UK's Influence". In Chapter 4 of this report, entitled "The UK's soft power assets: their role and function", it says: "As our witnesses have made very clear, the days are long gone when this nation's, or any nation's, power could be measured in the size of its military forces, or in traditional patterns of enforcement. New, softer and smarter methods must now be combined with older approaches in order to secure and promote the UK's interests and purposes.'
By having such meetings with world leaders such as von der Leyen and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Charles is seen to be stepping beyond his symbolic role and that of the independent "Actor" maintaining the balance of power in the political arrangements at the Apex of Covenant Thesis. Instead, he can be seen to be serving the "softer and smarter methods" alluded to in the Parliament UK report and seems to be behaving as though he is faction on his own vying for power and influence as a person in his own right. And this is the nub of it. King Charles cannot be both a symbolic actor embodying a fictitious person of state and a political leader in his own right making claims to power and to rule.
"The essence of the Covenant between the Sovereign and the UK government," as the UK Constitutional Law Association article reports, is that "in Britain's constitutional monarchy, there exists a convention that the sovereign maintains strict political neutrality, which is achieved through the principle that the monarch acts on the advice of government ministers when carrying out public functions". Beyond this, the monarch has certain "discretionary powers" under what is termed the royal prerogative. The article goes on to say that "whilst remaining politically impartial, the monarch is entitled to 'advise, encourage and warn ministers" - what is known as the "tripartite convention". This is the fiction of the Fictional Person of State as contradicted by the reality of the factional exercise of "soft power", which indeed goes hand in hand with the "hard power" of military might and aggression.