A Look At Royal Succession Reform

Melissa Block speaks with David Rennie, political editor of The Economist, about the monarchy — and proposed changes to the royal succession reform law.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now, a rare chance to talk about royal primogeniture. That is the rules of succession to the British throne. Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed changing succession laws so that a firstborn daughter could rise automatically to become queen and not be leapfrogged over by her younger brothers. But changing this centuries-old tradition is not a simple matter.

Joining me now to explain is David Rennie, political editor for The Economist in London. David, welcome to the program.

DAVID RENNIE: Hello.

BLOCK: Now, this wouldn't affect immediate succession, right? Prince Charles is the firstborn. So his sister, Princess Anne, would not benefit from this. She's out of luck.

RENNIE: That's right. We've got two spare generations in hand because both Prince Charles and his son, Prince William, who got married in the spring, they're both the firstborn anyway so they don't have elder sisters to worry about.

BLOCK: So the question is any eventual children that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - William and his new wife, Kate - might have. If a daughter were born first and then a son, under current rules, the daughter could not become queen.

RENNIE: That's right. And that's why I think we're seeing this action now. This is something that's been brewing. People have talked about how it looks like an anomaly, although you could argue having a royal family is an anomaly of its own.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RENNIE: But it looks kind of weird, in this age of gender equality, that girls get pushed aside in this way. And clearly, now we've got a young couple who just got married. Assuming that biology works the same way for royals as it does for everyone else, it's time to get on with working out what to do next.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Well, we'll leave that part aside. But what is behind this idea from Prime Minister Cameron? Why do you think he's doing this?

RENNIE: Well, if you are a cynic, you will note that last week, when Prime Minister Cameron made this announcement, he made a whole bunch of other announcements that were designed to appeal to female voters. And if you are very cynical, you would note that this came after the leak of an internal government strategy document that showed some alarm that the Conservative Party is losing support among women. And that has been hugely important to getting conservative governments elected in Britain since the Second World War.

BLOCK: That's if you're a cynic, which of course, we are not - you and I.

RENNIE: We're friends, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Well, how long have these rules of succession been in effect?

RENNIE: These go back centuries. Actually, they're looking at another one, which in its day was controversial enough to get people killed, but is now a bit like the gender rules - frankly, not causing a huge storm here. One of the other rules they want to change is the rule that anyone who marries a Roman Catholic has to renounce their right to the throne. And that was, obviously, a big deal a few centuries ago. It just got sort of yawns last week when it was mentioned.

I should also say that although you're right that she is the queen of England - Queen Elizabeth - she's also the queen of 15 other realms. And so, that's one of the reasons this is a bit fiddly. That would be Canada, Australia and then some pretty titchy ones like Tuvalu, and they all have to agree this change.

BLOCK: They all have to agree.

RENNIE: That's right.

BLOCK: So Grenadines, Papua New Guinea - the list goes on and on. They would all have to say yes, we are in agreement that if a daughter is born first, she can become the queen.

RENNIE: That's right. And conveniently enough, all of them get to meet at the end of this month and the queen will be there, too. And so they can all have a fireside chat and talk it over.

BLOCK: Queen Elizabeth - one of two daughters, we should explain.

RENNIE: She is. So that's how she got the throne now - without any brothers to beat her to it.

BLOCK: Well, David, what do you think? How much popular appeal does this idea have, to change the rules of succession in Britain?

RENNIE: You certainly didn't hear any opposition to it. But I mean, the truth is that it's not so different here in Britain to America. Most people are worrying about the financial crisis. They're worrying about their mortgage. It's kind of beside the point. Basically, you know, in the modern world, it's very hard to see one of the other governments standing up for the rights of younger brothers. And for people who are obsessed with the monarchy, which I should say, does not include The Economist magazine on the whole...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RENNIE: ...Sweden, they changed the rules a few years ago. So we now have a crown princess there who actually leapfrogged her younger brother, who had already thought he was going to be king - although he was pretty small at the time, I think.

BLOCK: Well, David Rennie, thanks so much for talking to us about it.

RENNIE: It's a pleasure.

BLOCK: David Rennie is political editor for The Economist in London.

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