I’m not a monarchist,” wrote the Labour activist Tom Bowell, “but I’m a patriot, I love this country, I respect our institutions and I always carried a deep respect for the Queen. For most of us, she was a constant in an ever-changing world.” That pretty much sums up my own feelings.
For years I have been convinced that the British monarchy is not as beneficial to us as we are led to believe. Even though it is a constitutional monarchy and quite different to other monarchies throughout the world, I’ve always thought it to be outdated, out of touch, pointless and expensive. Its hereditary principle means it is based on privilege and accident of birth. By definition, it is not democratic, and could never reflect the experience of most British people. The successor to the throne will always take the crown regardless of his/her suitability, character, previous scandals etc. I was never sure how it had benefitted the ordinary working person of this country. As much as the monarch and the royal family may try to understand economic and other hardships we face, they will never suffer them. They are cushioned from the difficulties of economic pressures, health care availability etc.
I have no idea how the monarchy would work as a kind of constitutional barrier against a dictatorship or a rogue Prime Minister. I have no idea what the how much the monarchy and all the hanger-ons cost the taxpayer (though I read it cost us £100m in security alone), nor have I seen any accounts relating to costs versus income* generated (*e.g. through tourism, trade deals etc.).
I have always struggled to get my head around the monarchy and the aristocracy in general. I don’t understand the peerage and its relevance these days. And I have no wish to understand the difference between a Duke, a Marquess, a Baron, an Earl, or a Viscount. All I know is, it stands for hereditary wealth and privilege and for me, it doesn’t sit easily in a modern democracy. The pomp and traditions have never offended me though. They reflect our history and the development of the United Kingdom. However, some of them seem unnecessary, bizarre, financially indulgent and slightly embarrassing – given we are trying to portray a modern, forward looking UK to the world. Being British is about other things too. The Queen made some modernising changes but there is still a long way to go if the monarchy is to survive.
I have to admit that I do have respect for, and even like some members of the Royal Family. I think some have an impressive sense of duty and are intelligent and hard working. I have always had a soft spot for the Queen and our new King because I think they have substance, positivity and I think they are nice people. I suspect they work hard although how would we really know?
The recent death of our Queen has resulted in an outpouring of grief and affection here and abroad and like many people I have been glued to the telly, fascinated to listen to the reasons she meant so much to people. I watched the many heartfelt tributes on news feeds and I have to admit to becoming quite emotional. I saw more affection for King Charles and more confidence in his future rule than I expected.
Of course, the anti-monarchists will remain respectfully quiet for a while but they will resume their abolition campaign after the funeral. That led me to wonder what a post monarchic state would be like. If the monarch gets the boot, surely the House of Lords and all those with hereditary titles must also get the boot? There would need to be a new elected head of state to meet and greet and make speeches whilst the Prime Minister does all the critical stuff.
I have to wonder though, would this be any better and would it cost less than having a constitutional monarchy? Would there be more risk of a Government being hijacked by a Hitler, Putin, or Trump? How would our politicians foster that sense of national identity, unity and solidarity which many people feel the monarch helped to create? If the monarchy is abolished, will people miss having a head of state that is independent of party politics and can represent the country regardless of short term political interests? Does it actually do that effectively anyway?
I do know the answers. I just cant get away from thinking the monarchy cannot be justified. That said, I wont be protesting in the streets. I am happy to leave it to the consensus of the British population.
I feel sure the British monarchy is safe for a while at least. Both the main the political parties seem happy with the monarchy and even north of the border where republicanism is stronger, its easy to see an Independent Scotland retaining a monarch.
But I think King Charles has a big job to do to convince me and others that it should continue long term. He is nowhere near as popular as the Queen. He will need to prove that the monarchy is relevant and benefits people from all backgrounds, ethnic groups, religions and young people. Hopefully, he will share the Queen’s undoubted qualities – intelligence, integrity, humility, grace and dignity but he will also have to show good judgement in promoting a modern and relevant monarchy and ensure that the Royals as a whole are good value for money.
To me, he certainly seems to have potential. He seems to be more affable than the Queen, intelligent, insightful and innovative, and he has shown he is prepared to take on the modernisation of the monarchy. The Prince’s Trust is one of the most innovative and successful charities in modern Britain. He has spoken out on architecture, the state of the environment, urban deprivation, and agriculture – which has sometimes landed him in trouble. I have to say, I think many of his comments were justified. And I think he was ahead of the game when he campaigned on the benefits of organic production, spoke out on the dangers of climate change and pointed out mistakes in urban design and conservation. As King, he will have to keep his personal views out of the public realm but I really hope he will take the opportunity to privately bend the ears of politicians and world leaders. We know he is good at rituals and ceremonies and will do his public duties impeccably. But I if he becomes a Royal ‘robot’ and does not use his influence to effect changes for good, he will become pointless.
Finally, my thoughts are with the Royal family at this time. We know what they are going through. It makes you think of your own losses and all the wonderful people we’ve known who of course will never receive the same level of recognition.
6 thoughts on “I’m taking a Reign Check on the Monarchy”
A very well written and balanced piece, Paul. Like you, I’ve been surprised by the feelings and interest this has invoked in me, and I will be interested to see how the new Carolinian age develops, and if it is of benefit to all in society, not just the privileged few. Making some of the royal family’s hangers on work for a living would be a good place to begin.
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Thanks Clive. Yes it will be interesting to see how things go. I’m hoping King Charles will qaddress the extended family’s expenses though if not I think there will be political pressure.
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The Queen had already made some big cuts to their demands on taxpayers so hopefully he will continue to do that. I agree though: if he doesn’t, he will be under pressure.
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Thanks Clive for spelling out what we will call the new age, Carolinian. I’m rather proud to have almost encompassed the whole of the Second Elizabethan Age. Yes a balanced account by Paul. Personally I’m sticking with royalty, not just because of all those lovely horses and soldiers marching and sweet princes and princess! Charles has spent a lifetime taking an interest in important issues and while the Queen loved horseracing he is interested in cows and cheese! We need to improve our food production and protect our countryside. Who would we find to replace him as a figurehead in a republic?
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It would be pretty hard wouldn’t it!?
I read a shocking statistic many years ago about the amount of land owned by the British aristocracy and how it has barely changed since it was appropriated and dished out by William the Conqueror in 1066. I can’t remember the details, but it does seem strange that the most unsuitable people are selected to rule through nothing more than an accident of birth. In my experience, those with wealth and privilege completely fail to understand (or even care!) about the trials involved in the everyday life of the ‘ordinary’ person. Their focus is on wealth, more wealth, and clinging on to privilege and power.