The Big Debate: Is the British monarchy a viable institution in the 21st century?
As Queen Elizabeth II’s reign surpasses that of her great-grandmother Queen Victoria, it seems that anti-monarchist feeling has reached fever pitch.
Yet here I will highlight the array of benefits that the monarchy continues to bring to our country, and shine a light on the plethora of issues that are associated with the alternative route of an elected head of state.
Primarily, monarchy is still a viable institution due to the stability and continuity it affords our country; we can trace our current monarch’s hereditary line back to 829.
It is therefore clear that we need not worry about the future of our country, as there is no sense of ambiguity in who will lead us, unlike countries that have elected heads of state.
Those who view the monarchy as merely a symbol are quite mistaken; it continues to play an active role in the running of our country.
Take our current monarch, Elizabeth II, who has headed 12 governments, both Labour and Conservative, from Churchill to Cameron. Her knowledge of the workings of government is an incredible asset to our country.
Such involvement creates one of the main positive features of the monarchy, their political impartiality. Their lack of political allegiance allows them to represent their country’s best interests from a bias free point of view and, as Serge Schemann noted for the New York Times, elected leaders ‘cannot rise above politics the way that monarchs can’.
This allows the monarchy to unite, rather than polarize, their country.
Furthermore, the monarchy is clearly viable due to the economic benefits it brings the country. According to the New West End Company, London businesses brought in £120 million during the bank holiday weekend of the Diamond Jubilee, so it’s clear to see the benefits reaped from tourists flocking to the UK.
It’s not just landmark royal occasions that boost our economy, but the constant presence of the monarchy and you need only look outside the gates of Buckingham Palace to realize this.
Sceptics may suggest that the royal family are merely mantle-piece figures, but on the contrary they are working hard for Britain, especially in relation to charities.
This involvement can be traced back to the 18th Century and today individual royals become patrons of personally significant charities, as when the Duchess of Cambridge became a patron of The National Portrait Gallery.
Together the royal family are patrons to around 3000 charities, their involvement heightening the charities’ standing and ability to help those in need.
The monarchy also plays a vital role in representing our country on the world stage. They tour countries meeting officials, the public and improving the UK’s global standing.
Prince Harry’s recent trip to New Zealand saw the royal immersing himself in the Maori culture, meeting the Prime Minister and MPs, and visiting schools and universities.
These tours give the monarchy extensive reach and benefit the areas they visit. Furthermore, what would happen to the fifteen commonwealth realms, where our monarch is head of state, if the monarchy was deemed unviable?
It would be highly detrimental to lose ties with countries that form a crucial part of our past and its future.
Several arguments have been put forward to suggest the monarchy is still a worthwhile institution. This isn’t a case of whether one personally likes the royals, but more about what they can bring to our country.
The alternative is not a pleasant thought, especially when we’re on the brink of a new age monarchy, in which William, the Duke of Cambridge, will only reinforce the role of the monarchy in modern times.
Isabelle Le Gallez
Before I explain why I don’t believe in the viability of the monarchy, I will accept that the institution is a central aspect of British culture and politics.
The monarchy continues to enjoy widespread acceptance and thus my views are likely to create friction with the public at large.
Having said that, many of Britain’s great institutions, from the House of Lords to the fundamental nature of the union itself, are desperate for reform. The monarchy is not exempt from this.
The monarchy is a system of government wherein sovereignty is located in one or several individuals until abdication or death.
Considering this, I will pose a few questions: what does the presence of the British Crown say about our approach to meritocracy and equal opportunity, when the highest offices of state are reserved for those born into them?
What does it say to our concerns about social mobility and equality, when concentrated wealth and privilege is so visible?
What does it say about the state of our democratic values, at home and abroad, when we are denied the opportunity to elect our Head of State or upper house of parliament?
In the 21st century, these issues of meritocracy, equality of opportunity and democracy are on every domestic and global agenda.
I find it very difficult to see how we can ultimately tackle these questions with a monarchy at the heart of our society.
Abroad, the monarchy illuminates the hypocrisy of British foreign policy. Consistent levels of criticism are levelled at the EU for not being a fully democratic institution.
Surely that’s a bit rich coming from a country that has a Queen and does not elect its upper chamber, aptly called the House of Lords?
We went in Iraq and Afghanistan, overthrowing despotic dictatorships and preaching ‘peaceful democracy’, and as part of that had Prince Harry shooting at Afghan shepherds from a helicopter.
I believe one of the obvious alternatives to the monarchy is a directly Presidential office. If we consider how much enthusiasm Jeremy Corbyn aroused by democratising Labour party politics, it is very possible that democratising the selection of the head of state would go some way to addressing the chronic disengagement with our political process.
No matter your age, we all expect more from politics today. We want to be able to sack our MPs. We demand transparency and accountability from all levels of government.
Above all, we want our political voice to count. Of course, there are many areas of reform, from the House of Lords, to our electoral system, to devolution, and we can identity these before we get to the monarchy.
But the journey towards a more democratic, and a politically and morally prosperous Britain, will never be completed until we accept that the monarchy and all its estates are not fit for our time.