Glenn Houlihan argues we should view the Royal family as a group of political actors and an affront to our democracy, rather than the sedate, cutesy reality TV stars we currently do.
The royal family knowingly wear a cloak of glorified celebrity.
Elizabeth is everyone’s doting grandmother; Philip the grandad you avoid after a few sherries at Christmas; Charles the ambitious son whose aspirations are doomed to go unfulfilled; Edward the archetypical family man. And so it continues.
Despite this meticulously curated image, we must begin treating them like political actors instead of sedate reality TV stars, and recognise that their power – for all of its cutesy blunting – is an affront to democracy.
Cast your mind back to last year, and the two events which reshaped global politics.
In the UK, Brexiteers pledged to ‘take back control’ from Brussels’ ‘unelected officials’.
In the U.S, Donald J. Trump vowed to ‘drain the swamp’, a remarkably appropriate metaphor for Washington’s cluttered hallways of vested interests and unaccountable lobbyists.
Fast-forward 12 months, and rumours have it that the Queen will not stand down for Prince Charles, reasoning “duty first, nation first, I’m going to be there”, according to a well-placed source.
The issue isn’t that the Queen is – unsurprisingly – unwilling to abandon her position.
It’s that we continue to grant her unelected, unscrutinised family the privilege of heading the British state.
The arguments against hereditary powers hardly need explaining. Any advocate of democracy can point out that, in this day and age, bloodline has no place in politics.
It makes a mockery of fundamental civil liberties; the power to choose who governs, and subsequently hold them accountable.
The arguments for and against the monarchy have the tired ring of repetition, but in light of Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the increasing likelihood of Prince Charles’ ascension this decade, the debate is at its most pressing point for a generation.
Whilst the cost to the taxpayer and alleged tourism rebate are common facets to this discussion, they are a convenient distraction from the pivotal political consequences.
It’s worth remembering that, for all the claims of their de-facto impotency, the monarch is this country’s the supreme authority; not the government, not the courts, and certainly not the people.
That the Crown chooses not to use these powers – a lethargic excuse that smacks of paternalism – is entirely circumstantial; were the next monarch more (openly) assertive, then a constitutional crisis is inevitable.
Furthermore, the monarch has actively lobbied to exempt itself from Freedom of Information laws and has a history of insidiously interfering with policy.
Another, often forgotten or outright ignored, aspect of the ‘royal prerogative’ is its toxically empowering effect on government. Used as a failing proxy for a written constitution, it grants ministers the rather favourable position of fixing their own constraints; a deliberately centralising method of self-regulation which ensures political capital remains firmly trapped in Westminster.
If Brexit (and, in many regards, Trump’s victory) were symptoms of a deep-set dissatisfaction with unregulated sources of power, why on earth should our monarchy be exempt from the same criticisms?
It’s deliciously ironic that many of those who voted to leave the EU on the basis of reclaiming sovereignty will rush to defend the monarchy by citing history and tradition.
If, as I’m certain they will add, there is no appetite for change, why fear putting the question to a referendum? If the result is a resounding victory for the royals then we can move on, instead of beginning Charles’ reign with the taint of supressed dissatisfaction.
Cherry picking democracy destroys its worth.