The lady in the middle should make way for the guy on the right.

Photograph: WPA Pool via Getty Images

All I Want for Christmas Is an Abdication

Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was London bureau chief for Bloomberg News and is the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”
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Queen Elizabeth II's annual Christmas Day speech, when the U.K. monarch treats her subjects to a recap of the year almost ended and her aspirations for the one coming, could be more gripping than usual this year.

Britons are anxiously awaiting whether Elizabeth Alexandra Mary will seize the opportunity to abdicate. If she does, she shouldn't stop there; she should engineer a deal to disenfranchise Prince Charles and put her grandson William, and his wife, Kate, on the throne.

That's not as far-fetched as it sounds. Last week, Coral, the U.K. bookmaker, stopped taking bets on whether the queen will quit the throne after 15 punters wagered a total of about 3,000 pounds ($4,650) on the possibility -- at odds of about 10-1. The company said the hourlong splurge "set alarm bells ringing." The Internet duly caught fire with speculation.

The queen has unarguably earned a rest. She's had the job since February 1952, and is just months away from surpassing Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, as the longest-serving monarch. She's currently on her 12th prime minister. Her Diamond Jubilee two years ago was an unqualified success, marking a resurgence of public affection for the royals. Charles's disastrous marriage to Lady Diana Spencer, and their subsequent affairs and divorce, had turned into a distasteful soap opera unbecoming of the head of state's family and history. 

The Buckingham Palace public-relations machine bats away the abdication question by referring to the queen's 1947 pledge, on her 21st birthday, that her entire life would be in service to the nation. The uncomfortable truth -- not quite taboo, but close to it -- is that even monarchists are less than enthused by the prospect of Charles, who turned 66 last month, taking over. It'd be easier to skip a generation while the queen is alive.

Easier, but still not easy. "I'll run out of time soon," the longest-serving heir apparent said in 2012. "I shall have snuffed it if I'm not careful." I have huge sympathy for Charles's position, but I'd argue his life in the antechamber means he's uniquely unqualified to do anything, including being king.

In May, he compared Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine with those of Adolf Hitler's Nazis, necessitating a meeting between the Russian embassy and the Foreign Office. The Guardian has unsuccessfully waged a nine-year legal battle to force the publication of 27 letters Charles wrote to ministers in seven departments, which the newspaper says will show him interfering in government policy. While political meddling, talking to trees and bizarre sexual innuendo with your mistress don't amount to an automatic disqualification, they don't exactly augment the heir's almost non-existent CV.

By contrast, Wills, as his son is affectionately known, has been expertly groomed since birth to be a modern king for a modern world. He married a commoner, Kate Middleton, adding some variety to the royal gene pool. Their biggest scandals to date involve a couple of photos of Kate in a windblown skirt, and some privacy-busting paparazzi nude shots of them on holiday. Handily, William's brother Harry is much more likely to be caught playing strip billiards in Las Vegas, giving the newspapers a royal playboy to pursue.

As any chief executive officer will tell you, the best time to quit is when you're ahead. Even Pope Benedict XVI understood that. What's more, U.K. Plc, its CEO Liz, and its board members in the Royal Family are in an unusually sweet spot right now. I'm agnostic on the monarchy's cost-benefit ratio, but an orderly transition to King William and Queen Kate might be just the thing to turbocharge the U.K. economic recovery and ensure that the Royals maintain their current popularity. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Gilbert at magilbert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Paula Dwyer at pdwyer11@bloomberg.net