Inheritance versus Election by Angela Caldin
I’ve been watching the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with enormous interest these last days and trying to decide whether I’m a monarchist or not. It’s beyond a doubt that our stalwart Queen has worked extremely hard for 60 years and been utterly committed to her duty. It’s also beyond question that, here in the UK, we know how to celebrate a royal occasion with a majestic flourish and how to put on a spectacular regal show, whatever the weather.
Those 60 years embody a powerful argument for the monarchy, an institution which affords a focal point for tradition and unity as well as providing continuity and stability. The joyful celebrations up and down the country and the magnificent scenes on the Thames and outside Buckingham Palace are testament to all that. Who can look at the swathes of people thronging the Mall without acknowledging the nationwide affection felt for the crown?
The monarch does not hold meaningful power; but the British constitutional system provides for the crown to play a formal role in the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. At the same time, there are elements which are intrinsically part of the British system such as common law, jury trials, legal precedent and the right to protest. Removal of the monarchy could unravel this delicate framework of political checks and balances, tested and modified over centuries.
It’s claimed that the Royals promote the image of the United Kingdom worldwide and it’s true that interest in them is keen at home and abroad. It’s also said that they contribute to a significantly greater national income through money from tourists who come to see the palaces and the traditional ceremonies such as trooping the colour. Royalists claim that the costs of a republic with a head of state would be broadly the same as those of the monarchy.
Republicans say that the monarchy is not only an unaccountable and expensive institution, unrepresentative of modern Britain, but it also gives politicians almost limitless power. They add that hereditary monarchy is unfair and elitist, claiming that, in a modern and democratic society, no one should be expected to defer to another simply because of his birth. For them, ‘the people’, not the members of one family, should be sovereign.
For republicans, monarchy contradicts democracy and denies the people the fundamental right to elect their head of state and for every citizen to be eligible to hold that office. They argue that an elected head of state is accountable to the people, and that such accountability creates a healthier nation. By contrast, the order of succession in a monarchy specifies a person who will become head of state, regardless of qualifications or national choice.
Republicans argue that as a concept, monarchy is archaic, reminiscent of medieval feudalism and that its pomp and ceremony, palaces and extended family cost the taxpayer dearly.
So where do I stand? Clearly, the Queen is there because of an accident of birth and it is pure chance that her family rather than anyone else’s occupies such gorgeous palaces and lives in such luxury. But she’s done a marvellous job, always gracious and dedicated, these last 60 years. Without her, we’d have to decide what alternative head of state we wanted, how we wanted them to be chosen, for how long they could remain in office, what their role would be and, crucially, how much power they would have. The Queen has no power, and, in spite of the fact that she never expresses an opinion, she is greatly loved by the majority of her subjects. So I’m plumping for the monarchy. But wait a minute, she’s unelected, she represents hereditary status and wealth, and she has no real role apart from being a figurehead who declares places open, visits other places, welcomes foreign dignitaries and travels the world. In addition, we know who’s going to succeed her. Will I feel the same admiration for him as so many of us feel for her? Goodness me, maybe I’m a republican after all.