Removed from the experience of ordinary Britons, and having made no gesture to show her empathy with the nation’s difficulties, this is a monarch thumbing her nose at her subjects, writes Andrew Child. The monarchy is damaging to foreign policy, undermines the concept of aspiration in social mobility and is used as a puppet of our politicians.
As “the nation” apparently celebrates 60 years of the same unelected head of state – aka the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – there’s every reason to argue that it’s time to abolish the monarchy. And there was every reason to protest at Elizabeth Windsor’s Thames Pageant on Sunday. We – the British people – can do so much better.
The easiest way to think about why we’d be better off without the monarchy is to ask a simple question: what has it ever done for us? To answer it I’m going to turn to the supporters of monarchy for assistance (It’s only fair in the interests of balance). I want to consider each of their arguments in turn and see what we’re left with.
The most-cited reason for supporting the monarchy is that they sum up who the British people are. They’re Britishness itself. This is an argument that was often deployed by the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne during last year’s royal wedding “celebrations”. Really Peter? Because I went to a state comprehensive school and I rely on the National Health Service for my care. That’s a big part of who I am – and that’s a big part of the experience of the nation at large. The Windsors are however completely removed from that experience. I also live in multi-cultural Brixton in south-west London. And such diversity is now a big part of the British character. It’s often said that curry is as British as fish and chips or a Sunday roast. Few would disagree. The hereditary principle denies us the possibility that our head of state can ever reflect the experience of the many.
So how then is the Queen supposed to meaningfully speak for and represent the nation? Another prominent argument. Her background and lack of democratic legitimacy make this extremely difficult. This otherness is sometimes mistaken for impartiality. But she is anything but impartial. The queen is a monarchist, she is aristocrat-in-chief. She has a position and a narrow interest to defend. It’s hard to see how she can act in the interests of the nation.
But try she might. She might try to understand the current economic plight of the nation – a nation which is in the grip of a double dip recession and all that goes with it: cuts in public services, mass unemployment, depressed wages, a reduced standard of living, increasing inequality. But no words like recession and austerity have passed the lips of our head of state. We essentially hear from our head of state twice a year. Once is when she reads from a piece of paper which tells her and us what the government intends to legislate on. And again in the Queen’s Christmas message, when we are served up bland, platitudinous nonsense from which it’s hard to discern what century we’re living in.
Some would argue the position neither allows her to speak for herself or the nation. This is something to be debated. But the Queen could and should make a gesture to show that she understands the nation’s difficulties. That we are truly “all in this together”. But such as acknowledgement is painfully lacking. No offer to pay the same taxes as the rest of us. No offer to accept less money from the taxpayer for her official duties. Instead the Queen has struck a deal with parliament to replace the Civil List with the Sovereign Support Grant. A deal which massively boosts her official income. This is a monarch instead thumbing her nose at her subjects.
Another well-rehearsed argument is that the monarch somehow provides balance in our political system. That she is a check on our politicians. I’ve dealt with some of this already. But let’s get down to brass tacks. Our prime minister may be offered personal opinions at one of her weekly briefings at the palace or through a meeting of the Privy Council, but we’ve no idea what is said. They’re not opinions offered in the public realm. Because despite the monarchy being a public institution there’s no public scrutiny of it. It’s exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. And if our politicians misbehave – as they did quite astonishingly through their abuse of parliamentary expenses – it is they who call an inquiry in themselves. The Queen does not hold them to account and she herself cannot be held to account. Discussion of royalty is banned by parliamentary rules. Furthermore the Queen is used as a puppet of politicians. Either to hide behind at times of unpopularity so as not to take ultimate responsibility. Or to rubber stamp their cronyism through our corrupt honours system. Politicians largely decide who get the gongs – big party donors and the like – and she hands them out.
What else? The Queen promotes Britain abroad. No-one else does pomp and ceremony like the Brits, goes the old cliche and our foreign friends apparently view it all with some envy. Now this I really do find offensive. The fact of the matter is that monarchy is extremely damaging to the effectiveness of our foreign policy. How on earth are we supposed to support the Arab Spring and foster the idea of greater democracy elsewhere in the world when we have such as imperfect democracy ourselves? By not electing our head of state? But it doesn’t stop there. Our Queen gives legitimacy to murderous dictators by inviting them to dine with her and celebrate 60 years on the throne. I speak principally of King Hamad of Bahrain and King Mswati of Swaziland. But also Saudi royals, who deny women basic rights and help crush democratic uprisings in neighbouring countries with military might. In these actions we see a monarch who has contempt not just for public opinion and democracy but for human rights. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of the 54 Commonwealth nations are now republics. Hard to see the evidence of envy in that.
Then there’s the argument that monarchy provides stability and continuity. I won’t dignify this ridiculous proposition with a proper answer, other than to say that its a bit like making the case for not brushing the old cobwebs away during the spring clean.
Still, monarchists think they have a trump card. When all the other arguments have been quickly demolished – and I think I’ve shown that’s not hard – they say: “Well, at least they bring in the tourists. You can’t argue with that.” Well I do. And it’s an argument that even Britain’s main tourist body Visit Britain no longer makes, under pressure from republicans, because it’s logically threadbare. The history of our monarchy and the royal palaces may well be part of the reason some tourists come to Britain. But it’s quite obvious that it remains if we choose to become a republic. And there’s no reason to suppose that our republican constitution would deter visitors from exploring that history. Indeed there’s a perverse argument for saying we could better monetise that history under a republic. Versailles in republican France is in the world’s top 50 tourist destinations and receives six million visitors a year. In contrast Buckingham Palace, during its short summer opening, receives less than half a million. Go figure.
There really is no rational argument for monarchy. It serves very little purpose other than to help perpetuate an outmoded class system and to promote anti-aspiration at a time when Britain is the most unequal society it has been in the Queen’s 60 year reign. That lack of a rational argument tells me that the day when Britain becomes a republic is nearer than many think. And this despite a state which is geared towards bludgeoning its citizens into royal submission the moment they first enter the school gates. We have rational minds. We just need to use them.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.
Andrew Child is a director and spokesman for Republic, the campaign for a democratic alternative to the monarchy. He helped to organise the group’s Jubilee Protest which took place in London on Sunday, 3rd June and was billed as the largest republican demonstration of modern times. In the 90s Andrew studied politics at the University of Essex before embarking on a career in journalism which has included several different news editing roles at the Financial Times. He writes a regular republican blog called The Queen is Dead.
Do Brits live in a bubble, making excuses, and justifications for its monarchy?
If so, would ending the monarchy unleash other nations to make modern progress by ending their own monarchies out of past feudal practices and traditions?
How maintaining the status quo can be bad for many nations might be an inquiry of merit than rewards monopolies, and hides state control while creating propaganda that all is swell, to prevent disruption that may be more fair to all through entrepreneurial spirit.
Well Britain rid itself of Monarchy before but only for a brief time not long enough. Cromwell knew how to deal with Royalty what ever else hid did wrong. Parasites are not normally beneficial for the host.
Karl Marx said that the British lacked the will for revolution and there lies the problem. The poor peasants have been bred to tug their forelocks and to grovel.
Britain will one day be a republic but only when the people have education enough to see how they are used to maintain the Status Quo at their own expense.
Good article. However, Emily’s comments are typical of many a royalist I’m afraid. Firstly, if the Windsors are such a big tourist draw, then please tell us all to the nearest £5m how much they directly generate? This means no inclusion of anything and everything with ‘royal’ in its title.
Secondly, if the Windsors ARE such a boon to the British tourist industry (very doubtful) and are prepared to take the credit, then they must also take an equal amount of the blame when tourist numbers take a dive!
Thirdly, since when has it been a major function of a head of state and their family to be a tourist attraction?
And fourthly, the Windsors are hardly the most invigorating or inspiring bunch. God alone knows why people are so interested in this tepid family. Indeed, one will find people just as (if not more) interested in their many scandals, divorces and gaffes as they are in their weddings, births and jubilees.
I’m disappointed with the left wing beliefs apparent in this article that clearly have nothing to do with the issue. If the issue is simply whether or not Monarchy is the most appropriate form of government then it should be measured on that alone. I’m so sick of lefties harping on about how ‘undemocratic’ things are or ‘human rights’ as an excuse for their viewpoint, red herrings at best. Why would Britain want to support the Arab Spring? The rebels are terrorists! I’m sorry to burst your bubble but democracy is not something to aspire to and is a buzzword at best, the result of media brainwashing in the modern world, nor is the excessive human ‘rights’ (there is no such thing as an inherent right, ‘privilege’ would be more fitting). Throughout history nations have performed the best with monarchies or aristocracies because the common man isn’t qualified to make policy. Nevertheless, these two concepts are not more important than productivity and efficiency. Half the economic problems of our era are due to the notion of ‘entitlement’ that the young generation supports.
The fact that a handful of social positions are inherited and not for the common man has zero impact on common man’s life but provides many benefits. A commoner can still achieve a lot without needing to be King haha. The article fails to mention that a leader trained from birth has more experience and knowledge of governance at age 20 than most ‘politicians’ do in their 50s, as while politicians were drinking at frat parties and won’t even decide to run for office until much later…the monarch-to-be is excelling in every aspect of life. Continuity is a big benefit, as is unity that it provides, the monarch isn’t relying on being elected every few years and so can make long term policies, the monarch is free from special interest because they are not part of a political party (a disgusting notion since parliament was designed to be comprised of only ‘individuals’ not parties). Republics divide, monarchies unite.
The issue with the British monarchy is not the institution, but that the monarch has too little power and influence and that is why they are seen to not do much, because the politicians wont let them!!
You talk about democracy not being important and human rights as ‘privileges’. However, I don’t doubt that if you were ever in a situation where you were without them, you would not see them as such.
You make generalizations such as ‘Throughout history nations have performed the best with monarchies or aristocracies’. However, you give no evidence for that statement.
You talk of how ‘ the common man isn’t qualified to make policy’. Well, I hate to burst YOUR bubble but it is ludicrous to seriously believe that someone elected to run the country and has most likely got extensive experience in politics is less qualified to run the country than someone who simply has some ‘royal blood’ in them.
‘a leader trained from birth has more experience and knowledge of governance at age 20 than most ‘politicians’ do in their 50s, as while politicians were drinking at frat parties and won’t even decide to run for office until much later…the monarch-to-be is excelling in every aspect of life’. Again, generalizations!
You talk of how the monarchy can make ‘long term policies’. But I’m sorry, I don’t WANT an unelected individual making policies for me or my country. Surely that amounts to dictatorship! And that is the sort of ‘continuity’ we should NOT have…
‘the monarch is free from special interest’ No they are not! A monarch’s special interest is their position and the current system. Like anyone, they are bias, but unlike politicians they are not elected democratically so are not accountable to citizens, if anything, they have MORE special interest.
‘Republics divide, monarchies unite’ Again, no! Under your precious monarchy we have those wanting Scottish indepence, riots and a huge social divide! I see no evidence of where due to a Republic, a nation has been divided.
And the issues with the British monarchy is its enforcement of the class system, linkage of the church and undermining of the political system to name but a few. Definitely NOT their lack of power, they have too much already!
Andrew, I am an American who wants to express my complete solidarity with you. Monarchy is an outdated, archaic relic of feudalism, which went out with the medieval era. Modern societies reward people for what they do, not who they are by birth or marriage. The kind of “good work” some people say the “royals” do amounts to making public appearances and photo ops–not exactly hard work. The opportunity to do such work should be open to everyone, not determined by heredity. As to the notion that Americans are fascinated by British “royalty,” that is a lie perpetuated by Big Media, all corporate-owned, who want this to be true and keep trying to shove “royalty” gossip down our throats.
no its not, monarchy is a far superior symbol of unity then a republic and makes a nation far more unique then one with a mere “president”. According to your logic then a president in a parlimentary system is equally useless, as the president of germany or israel isnt rewarded for “good work”
Exactly, they are equally useless. Who said we needed a president?
Its good to know that every time you put the kettle on (and anything else), some of your electric bill is going to help the needy http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1323228/Queens-38m-year-offshore-windfarm-windfall–owns-seabed.html
The monarchy had to be shamed into paying some income tax (after the Windsor’s tax scam of the 1930’s (colluded in by the governing establishment) was revealed in 1992. People pay a substantial proportion of their earnings in VAT, income tax, council tax, business taxes and national insurance contributions. Inheritance tax recovers a proportion of the wealth an individual has made during their time in the state. In the UK 1,700 people ’own’ a third of the land area, about 200,000 have two thirds (cf. 1872 when 7,000 people owned four fifths). Land is the only substantial untapped source of revenue in the UK (the establishment’s ‘sacred cow’?), for example with a tax of 1p/m2 on their present holdings, the Duke of Buccleugh would pay £9.76M, Duke of Athol £5.92M, Duchy of Cornwall £5.44M and the Duchy of Lancaster about £1.87M (if exclusive use was retained over all the land). The average detached house would pay £4 p.a. the average terraced house £1 p.a.
The aversion governments’ display towards land taxation reflects a commitment to the status quo by the governing classes that will guarantee a continuing housing crisis. It cannot be seriously tackled until the feudal nature of UK land law is altered. When Parliament arrogated the power to tax UK citizens to itself, dispossessing the monarch of that right, it left the UK ostensively owned by the monarch as feudal overlord thus she would be liable for any simple land tax based on ownership imposed by parliament (cf. income tax).
If we were to tax the monarch on her realm she could charge those who occupy it and induce a freer market in land (or at least furnish the treasury with more tax) but since much of her land is held freehold (free from any charges from the monarch) she cannot. This creates an anomaly that serves the owners of extensive freeholds well; they own the freehold not the land so the monarch is a buffer between them and a simple direct tax. The monarch cannot charge the freeholder but the monarch could not afford to pay a land tax on her entire domain.
This feudal system of landholding ensures, whilst it remains in place, that any land tax proposed would be complex to frame and expensive to implement which acts as a disincentive to legislate and as a protection for the 0.3% who hold about 66% of UK land, the preservation of the monarchy as feudal overlord is vital for the protection from taxation of the land holdings of the 0.3% which includes Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians besides a motley collection of oligarchs and plutocrats who are the powers in the land. If people wish to be subjects of a monarch that is their prerogative but as with parliament seizure of the monarch’s tax raising right it could also seize the monarch’s domain, leaving the monarch in place as the nation’s chief celebrity. It is not the Queen that fights hardest to retain her position its the political and financial elite who need to keep her in place to protect their landholding from a simple land tax which would get them to shoulder their fair share of the tax burden.
How could the monarchy benefits the common people? Absolutely Nothing! Does the rare privilege of catching a glimpse of a royal person improve our life and our society?
They only benefit themselves and the aristocracy.
Bravo!!! As an American, I am utterly shocked that the great citizens in GB would support tyranny. You are oppressed if you support the monarchy. I’m free as Dobby would put it and here I am born poor and I make my way by own hard work. It is wrong to own land and not earn it.
In the category of murderous dictators, don’t forget the unlamented Nicolae Ceaușescu, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (only withdrawn after his overthrow). His visit to Buckingham Palace, back in 1978, is still remembered in Romania and not without bitterness.
so many unemployed young people! so many homeless people! 20-30,000 pensioners die from the cold every year!!! so many ex-servicemen thrown on the scrapheap after every war! The romanov royals dont give a hoot about us servants and will not unless we rise up and take britain back! bring on the revolution ,bring on the republic!
If this is the standard of teaching at the LSE, heaven help the students. I doubt I have ever seen such a lazy piece of writing.
On his blog the author claims this is the most “popular” blog this week on this particular site. It is the most accessed, true enough, but being read and being popular are two entirely different things.
The ‘arguments’ put forward in support of a constitutional monarchy are not ones I see anywhere else but those put forward in anti-monarchy polemics; not so hard to knock them down, then, reciting the same tired old criticisms that continue to find no traction with the public at large because they ignore the wider reality of our heritage and culture. And for what it’s worth I grew up in Brixton before you were even born Mr Child, so no preaching to me about how “diverse” and “multi-cultural” you are or want us all to be – been there, done that and got the T-shirt.
I see nothing in this as an argument to be a Republic. In fact, some of the arguments seem to be equally applicable to the Government, for example: “Removed from the experience of ordinary Britons, and having made no gesture to show (their) empathy with the nation’s difficulties, this is a (government) thumbing (its) nose … ”
The debacle over the ‘pasty tax’ being a good example, but there are many more.
Well said. This Monarch Has been particulary useless, signing away our rights and laws to Europe which goes against her oath to protect her subjects, yet those brainwashed sheeple claim she is keeping the politicians in check! Absolute garbage, they keep each other in elite positions of power and corruption with one sides corruption being used as leverage against the other. power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutley!
What absolute nonsense! Forgetting the fact about how much tourism and revue is generated from the royals, they do so much good work throughout the UK and beyond. Could you imagine giving up your childhood and the normal way of life to be in the public eye 24-7? Also, there are so many things wrong in this country that we should be focussing on rather than your pointless argument. We should be embracing the royal family throughout the united kingdom. I am Scottish and proud to be British at the same time – you can go and join Alex Salmond in his negative drive!
Emily, change the record. That’s about the only reason monarchists come up with to keep this unbelievably expensive and undemocratic family on the ‘payroll’ why do tourists go to France? or anywhere that does not have royalty. Grow up and learn a bit of history and Social politics. I would rather have 9500 nurses (including myself) than you know who. You choose or perhaps next time you or your family are in need of urgent medical care you might think about what your contributing your tax to.
Here Here! Absolutely spot on louise!
Emily, did you read the article? Or did you just have a knee-jerk reaction to the headline? The tourism argument (among others) are addressed and demolished above.