Since the time of Alfred the Great, this country has had a monarch of some form or another. The monarchy has provided stability and governance in tricky times, for sure, but does it have a place in this day and age? I think not.
Firstly, we must consider the system of democracy and meritocracy that has come to define this nation. This nation is not ruled by elites, but by the British people who, to save time, elect representatives to make decisions of governance for them. This country is the birthplace of modern democracy, and indeed it was the challenge to the divine right of Kings that led us there. So why do we still have these unworthy, and wholly unelected people representing us on the state level?
The Queen of the UK, Elizabeth II, has the constitutional power to wage war against other nations, and even to dissolve the parliament of representatives that we have chosen. The common answer to this is that the Queen would never use these powers, and if she ever were to use her powers, then we would not hesitate to dethrone her. But I wonder how we would go about dethroning a monarch without a Parliament. It would have to be done through bloody revolution, and with the cunning use of a guillotine. This could work. Sure, many of us would die, but we would be dying for a republic, and freedom from tyranny. The only thing that could stop it from working would be if we were also at war with Spain. But that would never… Oh no! The Queen has just waged war with Spain! Right well that does it, Britain is no more.
You might be thinking at this point that I’m being ridiculous, and sweet Elizabeth would never want to see her country in such dire straits. And you’re right: As long as she is on the throne we are pretty safe from this sort of thing. However, the family of Windsor is no less likely to produce mad offspring than the rest of us (maybe more likely, even?), and I think we’ve all seen that murderous glint in Prince George’s youthful eye. The chances may be small, but the consequences immense for leaving these vital powers in the hands of a family with very few constitutional restraints.
The other common defense of the British Monarchy is that it provides a good check on the powers of government. This is a vital thing to have in a thriving democracy as governments can be as mad as monarchs, and need restraints. Every democratic country has these checks and balances.In America, the man one is a written, entrenched, unbreakable constitution which lays out exactly what everyone can do in every situation, backed up by an unimpeachable Supreme Court. They also have an elected President who can veto legislation he/she deems harmful. But that’s nothing compared to us! We have an unelected 91-year-old woman backed up by an unwritten constitution of whispers and promises. Should our government wish to turn our little island into a European North Korea, our first (and last) line of defense would be a well-meaning nonagenarian with very little power.
I know it may seem as if I’ve contradicted myself: on the one hand I’ve said the Monarchy is too powerful, and on the other, I’ve said they’re nowhere near powerful enough. What I mean to say is that the Monarchy fails in both areas. The Monarchy is at once terrifyingly undemocratic and poses a tremendous threat to our society, and unable to do its one task of protecting us from despotic governments. The first heads to roll in a government putsch would be the Royal Family, and they would leave no constitution or back-up parliament to replace them as our protectors.
It is all too easy to see our country as one of unshakeable stability and security (after all, we’ve braved two World Wars and our island has remained under the same flag all the while). But we must be careful: no one ever predicts the worst events, and the spectre of disaster could be haunting Europe once again. I, for one, would sleep easier in my bed if the United Kingdom became a republic, united under a written constitution.
Perspectives clash when talking about the future of the royal family, particularly in a university setting. Over time, I’ve seen varying reactions, from bitter looks towards a new royal child spawned to pay taxes for, to admiration and patriotism towards queen and country. It’s easy to attack the royal family in many aspects. If I’m honest I quite like them, as a weird, multi-million-pound pet, that grants us the odd day off. Besides that, I think there genuinely are some good reasons for their existence.
Whatever republicans may wish, it’s hard to find any question Brits are more united on than whether the royal family should be abolished; support for the monarchy consistently sits around 70-80% (BBC). This figure is supported further by the extensive sales of commemorative junk each year. To scrap the monarchy, there needs to be a demand for change, and that simply isn’t present.
The classic argument about the royals is cost. It does seem a little excessive to spend a reported £292 million each year (brand finance) on one family, while many live out of food banks, and the grip of homelessness on our country becomes ever more apparent. The problem is the Queen and Co are actually making money for the country, the same reports showed the royals generate an annual £550 Million in tourism alone, which is just the tip of the iceberg money wise. I’m not saying the cost of the royal family is completely justified, but I do think we should be looking to the government to fix many issues, rather than jumping straight to abolishing Liz.
It’s also sometimes hard to look beyond what seems to be the Royal’s only occupation of waving feebly at some bizarre looking Union Jack covered fans, but they do actually serve some important roles. The Queen and her family basically still hold full time jobs, completing around 2000 engagements each year, as well as engaging in diplomacy, ceremonies, parties, charities and military roles. Diplomacy is extremely important; as a politician, half of the country usually hates you with a passion reserved for murderers and people who kick puppies, and this problem can extend to other countries. However, as a Royal, one can sidestep the issue and be an apolitical figure, representing the country, rather than its policies and politics.
The histories surrounding the Royal family (and Britain as a whole) are dubious to say the least, and the monarchy is often accused of entrenching elitism and the class system into our culture. However, it’s ridiculous to believe that this would change in a republic; the USA still suffers with these problems while Scandinavian countries, which often still have monarchs, are among the most equal in the world. Furthermore, UK culture is an ever changing, multi-dimensional beast, so I am cautious to say the royals embody British values and identity. What I do believe is their rich history has shaped our country and culture to where it is now, and their quiet modest charm does still resonate in the British psyche. I cannot see many positives in erasing this dimension of the country.
Admittedly, it’s hard to see how a country now would ever consider opting to have a hereditary and elitist head of state, but that’s not how Britain works. The irrational quirks of our history have always outweighed our rationalism. Britain is the country of impossible imperial measures, ridiculous winding roads and unnecessary spellings of the word ‘Worcestershire’. Our governance is no exception to this irrationality. There are many reasons for the success of the royals, but not all of them are based on pragmatism.
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