Republican sentiments

July 1, 2010

Writing as an avowed anti-monarchist, I was dismayed to read Peter Rice-Evans' attack (Letters, 17 June) on Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's article "Duke of moral hazards" (3 June). Fernandez-Armesto criticised the British Royal Family - and Prince Andrew and Prince Harry in particular - for being "a reproach to themselves and a disgrace to their educational advantages".

Rice-Evans says that "both princes have fought bravely as soldiers, risking their lives for their country; I have no means of knowing whether the author has done likewise".

But what sort of argument is this? Is Rice-Evans suggesting that we should disrespect the other princes - the heirs rather than the spares - who have not yet fought in a war? Or is he trying to say that the princes deserve exemption from criticism because they were soldiers? Try telling that to the very high proportion of ex-servicemen and women who are now in prison: 8,500 or 10 per cent of the total on any given day, according to the National Association of Probation Officers (although the government says the figure is lower).

Do Fernandez-Armesto's comments have anything to do with higher education? Probably not, unless to make the point that it is extremely difficult to teach anyone anything unless they have some motivation to learn. If your life chances are predetermined at birth - whether you are born into the underclass or the upper class - then it must be very hard indeed to do well at examinations: why would anyone bother?

Maybe the really interesting point about the column is this: why is it that only the upper class and the underclass in Britain - the "Ruperts" and the "Grunts", as I understand they call themselves - join the British Army these days? According to Andy McNab, the ex-SAS soldier and writer, "the average reading age within the infantry is 11, but the army will still recruit from a reading age of seven". Presumably, this average includes the ex-public school boys, too. Perhaps Fernandez-Armesto's point is that education is wasted on anyone but the working middle classes, who are the only ones who have something to gain from it.

Rice-Evans says that he hopes THE "will not become a red rag where disgruntled republicans display their malice". In this context I must be a bull because I would like to see more discussion of how it is that rank, privilege and station (or the lack thereof) still count in Britain today, and what the relationship is between the reproduction of a caste system with the monarchy at its head and our education system.

Kenneth Smith, Senior lecturer in criminology, Bucks New University.

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