Queen Elizabeth may have more power than we thought

Back in December, after Queen Elizabeth attended a Cabinet meeting -- the first British monarch to do so since the American revolution -- I wrote a half-serious post wondering what's actually keeping her from taking back political power.  But according to a Guardian investigation, she may already have more than most people realized: 

Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals' little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war.

The internal Whitehall pamphlet was only released following a court order and shows ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood.

The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance. In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament. She was even asked to consent to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 because it contained a declaration about the validity of a civil partnership that would bind her.

Prince Charles has been asked for consent on 20 pieces of legislation. The law gives royal family power to review laws affecting their "hereditary revenues, personal property or personal interests of the Crown," though apparently those interests have been interpreted pretty widely, as the Guardian reports that the Queen's consent has been sought for bills dealing with subjects such as corporate manslaughter and child support payments.

JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/Getty Images

Passport

Doomsday Clock still at 5 minutes to midnight

Last year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its famous "Doomsday Clock" -- which measures the likelihood of global catastrophe -- one minute closer to midnight, citing a lack of progress on nuclear disarmament and measures to address climate change.

Yesterday, the Bulletin again saw a year of stasis, but opted to keep the clock at five minutes to midnight. In an open letter to President Obama, the Bulletin's Science and Security Board writes

2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the US elections the focus was "the economy, stupid," with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population's well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world's energy sources. 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, marked by devastating drought and brutal storms. These extreme events are exactly what climate models predict for an atmosphere overburdened with greenhouse gases. 2012 was a year of unrealized opportunity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, to lower the immediacy of destruction from missiles on alert, and to control the spread of fissile materials and keep nuclear terrorism at bay. 2012 was a year in which -- one year after the partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station -- the Japanese nation continued to be at the earliest stages of what will be a costly and long recovery.

The stasis of 2012 convinces us, the Science and Security Board, to keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock in place.

The clock -- a staple of apocalyptic fiction, notably Allen Moore's Watchmen -- can seem a bit arbitrary at times. We're now closer to midnight than we were during many years at the height of the Cold War. (The clock got as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. began development of the hydrogen bomb.) But as board member Lawrence Krauss explains, the difference in the last few years has been BAS's decision to take issues like climate change into account in addition to nuclear weapons. The apocalypses that the clock is now anticipating are more of the whimper than the bang variety.

 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images