August 22, 2017

Royal Flush: it’s time to abolish the monarchy

Royal Flush: it’s time to abolish the monarchy

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.

2.43 avg. rating (49% score) - 35 votes
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Glenn Houlihan
Glenn Houlihan is the Deputy Editor of The Badger, Sussex University’s student newspaper. Well, until he tells the Editor he's flying to America next month for his year abroad at UMass Amherst. Currently you’ll find him proofreading for a travel agency whilst nervously checking how England’s middle order are faring against South Africa.
  • franknowzad

    We should get rid of all the hereditary Red Princes representing Socialist experiments in Parliament. Stephen Kinnock for example.

  • Joe Eldren

    You make a very good point – what would happen if the monarch threatened to, or indeed did, abdicate in the face of what they saw as a monstrous policy? I doubt any politician would be willing to face the firestorm that would bring on, popular monarch or no.

    Which brings me on to another point – the Aussie & New Zealand current crop of politicos are all festering for a republic again (yet again). Whether or not they succeed, at the end of the day this is a matter for the voters of those countries to decide. I’m sure the Royals would be somewhat sad to see them leave the ‘family’, but it’s happened before and the world didn’t come to an end. And, as Price Phillip once remarked, if the (British) people didn’t want a monarchy, they wouldn’t have one.

    We DO have a constitutional monarchy, it IS remarkably successful in all sorts of ways; of course there are always issues. BUT, is a republic any better in any significant way? I’ve yet to see any real evidence.

  • When Prince George was born, there were complaints that we now knew that our next three Heads of State, probably stretching into the twenty-second century, would all be white males. Well, they would all have been white males, anyway. The present one is not male. But any elected Head of this State always would be. And white. And quite or very posh. So why bother changing the present arrangements? No one with anything like the Royal Family’s foreign background would ever stand a hope of becoming the President of Britain. The Queen is of heavy immigrant stock, and she is married to an immigrant.

    They are both probably part-black. In fact, no one could believe anything else having seen a portrait of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whose features were publicly called “Negroid” at the time, when her ancestry was common knowledge and apparently disturbed nobody. The city of Charlotte in North Carolina is named after her, and it is the seat of Mecklenburg County. Furthermore, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are plausibly believed to be descended from Muhammad through various part-Moorish royal lines on the Iberian Peninsula. Even if Robert Graves was once ushered away from Her Majesty after he had mentioned their common descent from the Prophet of Islam, that view is widely held in an entirely matter-of-fact way across the Islamic world. Genghis Khan and the Tang Emperor Suzong are less plausible ancestors, but not impossible ones.

    Loyalty to the monarchy is nothing if not a bulwark against racism, and not only, although certainly, because the Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth, as well as directly of 16 member-states. Only four of those 16, including this one, have white majority populations. Only two of the remaining 14 British Overseas Territories are predominantly white, and only one of those two has a population descended primarily from these Islands, something that Canada and Australia also do not have. Try and imagine anyone with anything remotely approaching the Queen’s known ancestry as a candidate for President of Britain. No such person would stand the slightest chance of election to that office. Nor would anyone aged 26, as the Queen was when she came to the Throne. Nor would anyone aged 91.

    The Royal Family is not at the pinnacle of the class system. That is the old Noble Houses of England and Scotland, who look down on the Royals as immigrant noovs, an unfortunate political necessity from the eighteenth century. That was the root of the trouble with Diana. She had married down. Time was when the Spencers, then the richest family in the Kingdom, had even bankrolled the indigent Hanoverians.

    Liberty is the freedom to be virtuous, and to do anything not specifically proscribed. Equality is the means to liberty, and is never to be confused with mechanical uniformity; it includes the Welfare State, workers’ rights, consumer protection, local government, a strong Parliament, public ownership, and many other splendid things. And fraternity is the means to equality. For example, in the form of trade unions, co-operatives, credit unions, mutual guarantee societies and mutual building societies; numerous more could be cited.

    Liberty, equality and fraternity are therefore inseparable from nationhood, a space in which to be unselfish. Thus from family, the nation in miniature, where unselfishness is first learned. And thus from property, each family’s safeguard both against over-mighty commercial interests and against an over-mighty State, therefore requiring to be as widely diffused as possible, and thus the guarantor of liberty as here defined. The family, private property and the State must be protected and promoted on the basis of their common origin and their interdependence, such that the diminution or withering away of any one or two of them can only be the diminution and withering away of all three of them. All three are embodied by monarchy.

    Monarchy further embodies the principle of sheer good fortune, of Divine Providence conferring responsibilities upon the more fortunate towards the less fortunate. It therefore provides an excellent basis for social democracy, as has proved the case in the United Kingdom, in the Old Commonwealth, in Scandinavia and in the Benelux countries. Allegiance to a monarchy is allegiance to an institution embodied by a person, rather than to an ethnicity or an ideology as the basis of the State. As Bernie Grant understood, and as one expects that Diane Abbott understands, allegiance to this particular monarchy, with its role in the Commonwealth, is a particular inoculation against racial feeling. No wonder that the National Party abolished it in South Africa. No wonder that the Rhodesian regime followed suit, and removed the Union Flag from that of Rhodesia, something that not even the Boers’ revenge republic ever did. No wonder that the BNP wants (or wanted, since it now scarcely exists) to abolish the monarchy here.

    It was Margaret Thatcher who mounted an assault on the monarchy, since she scorned the Commonwealth, social cohesion, historical continuity, and public Christianity. She called the Queen “the sort of person who votes for the SDP”, and she arrogated to herself the properly monarchical and royal role on the national and international stages. She used her most popular supporting newspaper to vilify the Royal Family.

    When the Sex Pistols sang of a “Fascist regime” in the Britain of 1977, then they were referring to a Labour Cabinet with Tony Benn in it. Benn had also been the Postmaster General who had taken on the pirate radio stations in order to protect the livelihoods of the unionised musicians. The fans of pirate radio and then of the Sex Pistols went on to elect Thatcher three times, and did not vote Labour at another General Election until Tony Blair had come along, giving him a third term as Prime Minister even two years after the invasion of Iraq.

    God Save The Queen, Comrades. God Save The Queen.

  • Stephen Brown

    Elegantly put.

  • Joe Eldren

    I’m not disagreeing with you, but all the “mad, bad and useless monarchs” are all pretty much historical figures now. We have a monarch who know EXACTLY what her modern boundaries are and is careful not to exceed them and whatever people think of Prince Charles, I very much doubt he is that much of a fool (as the lefties love to portray him) that he doesn’t know where his limits as a modern constitutional monarch will lie.

    As you say, our monarchy like that of Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Spain etc provide a non-political stability and enshrine the rule of law above that of political or orthodox expediency. Too many ‘republicans’ are focused on little more than blatant envy for them to be any sort of serious force for change, which is a pity; any institution of government should be subject to critique and dispassionate appraisal but British republicanism is little more nowadays than a whiny Facebook group. Serves the Common Purpose travellers right, I think.

  • Enoch Powell

    I quite agree.

  • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    “… My point is – heaven forfend – an unpopular monarch is much harder to get rid of than an elected politician….”

    “Sez YOU.” — Oliver Cromwell

  • Terry Mushroom

    As much as I enjoy a public spectacle, that route is not the one I’d advocate for an unpopular monarch!

    My view of the monarchy is very pragmatic. With all its mad, bad and useless monarchs, it’s given us stability and the rule of law thus far. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  • Enoch Powell

    Really? It seems to me that we got rid of some of our most unpopular monarch with far more finality than we ever got rid of our most unpopular politician.

  • diqi

    Do you mean Liberals or do you really mean Socialists or LibDems?

  • forgotten_man

    If there is one thing I have, slowly, discovered over time is that the apparently obvious often isn’t the way to do things.

    Having a monarchy isn’t a logical thing but lats remember that most of the countries with a ‘constitutional monarchy’ are also very high on the list of places people from truly despotic regimes want to go to.
    So you might want to ask some of these experts on the result of bad government why they so want to go to places with, technically, a despot in power.
    Perhaps it is ‘Stockholm syndrome’…literally in one of the places mentioned…

    Same thing with the house of lords.
    Many have no need to pander to the headlines and can utter uncomfortable truths without electoral oblivion shortly after so don’t need to resort to pork barrel deals to operate unlike the elected second chambers elsewhere.

    Also, if the Windsors are dethroned then there is the sticky issue of the crown estates who’s revenue was reverted to the government in return for the civil list that runs the monarchy.

    That was a bad call for the royal family as the crown estates generate far more than the civil list if that reverts back to the newly minted Mr. & Mrs. Windsor there would be an even bigger hole in the deficit…unless we are going to go all Bolshevik on them.

    Also, a long term presence at the top of the international gives you a quick dial list of names the no temporary elected official, first or second chamber, will ever have….

  • forgotten_man

    The or , ‘a’ constitution is all very well if it is then enforced.

    In the US case it largely hasn’t , from debasement of the currency to the suppression of freedom of speech (aka ‘micro agressions, ‘safe spaces’, ‘deplatforming’, and losing your job because of your opinions …the list is endless..) .

    Even Habius corpus is now an option rather than a principle so I’m not sure the non monarchy route is altogether working out.

  • PianoWireSolutions

    No, you’re wrong there. I’ll wager you’re not even posting from these sceptered Isles.

  • DespairingVoter

    +1 I can’t believe that I just wasted bandwidth on that drivel!

  • Androsupial

    The monarchy – at least in its British manifestation – is largely ceremonial, and good for tourism; emotionally (and constitutionally, I suppose) it provides a point of stability and reassurance. You can satisfy its constitutional role via an elected alternative … but, in effect, you would simply be disposing of a time-tested system that makes no real difference to ‘real life’ in favour of candidates who either represent the political views of their parties – so no change there, then, nor any vestige of objectivity – or who pander to the popular prejudices of the time (to get elected) without having any vision of the nation in the years ahead.

    Put it another way: nobody has yet come up with an alternative that would be better. Across any 100-year period, the average performance of the British monarchy has been better than the average performance of any other country’s elected presidents. As far as I am concerned, that’s it.

  • Terry Mushroom

    As it happens, I’m a monarchist. My point is – heaven forfend – an unpopular monarch is much harder to get rid of than an elected politician.

  • Dr Evil

    As an adult living in what is supposed to be a democracy I want a grown up form of government where any citizen (not subject) can aspire to be head of state. There should be no monarchy. There should be an elected President. There should also be a writen constitution which should be based on our Bill of Rights. BTW, why are those rights not enforced?

  • Dr. Heath

    Until the C**tgate Scandal revealed the nation’s ornament to be an uneducated, foulmouthed cry-baby, I would have said that David Beckham was the person most likely to be elected to the job of Meaningless Figurehead. If we end up choosing an ersatz monarch via the ballot box, I’m sure Parliament would first need to pass a law requiring that the winner is someone who’s won Strictly Come Dancing. This would increase the odds of a fantastically wealthy BBC employee, some gurning creep that no Japanese, Korean, American or Spanish tourist has ever heard of, moving into Buckingham Palace. A few cheesy tango performances on the balcony on inauguration day are bound to please the few dozen people who’d bother to show up to watch.

  • Enoch Powell

    The Monarch isn’t unpopular and when we vote out shitty politicians, we just get other shitty ones to replace them.

  • perdix

    The author is obviously preparing himself for a life of non-jobs for which he is hoping to be very well paid.

  • Terry Mushroom

    Agreed that she’s awful. But you could vote her out. Unlike an unpopular monarch.

  • Bogbrush

    Lazy and repetitive article. Did it not occur to you that this is not a system of personal rule rule but of embodiment of the State into a person who acts on behalf of the people in ceremonially holding authority over Parliament?

    Yes, they are lucky individuals to fall into this position but luck plays a part in all our lives and it has zero relevance to any question of a constitutional issue.

    This really is poor standard stuff.

  • Dr Strabismus of Utrecht

    Pointless and irrelevant article.
    Probably better to wait until you’re all grown up before giving us the benefit of your wisdom again.

  • MikePage

    Exactly. We’re not the bloody French, voting for someone we inwardly hate to be our figurehead. Instead, we are very fortunate to have an untainted figurehead.

  • Cullerchris

    Don’t worry about it mate, you’ll be long dead. The one to worry about will be King Charles III.

  • 1Remo_Williams1

    Sorry Glen, but if it ‘ain’t broke don’t fix it’. For the amount of money they bring in through tourism, trade, etc. They are worth the money. Nice prose by the way. Your education money is being well spent.

  • Joe Eldren

    Oh. Written by a ‘student’, seemingly. Tells me all I need to know about the shallowness of the arguments employed (and which look to be cut’n’pasted straight out of the Republic Campaign’s tired old schtick). Other posters have covered the main rebuttals; as for the alleged misuse of the Royal Prerogative, have a look at how the Presidential Executive Priviledge gets misused in the US.

  • Andy

    Sorting the Lords is easy – get rid of all the Life Peers and bring back the Hereditary Peers. Much better.

  • ale bro

    I tend to agree with the author that the principal problems that the monarchy causes have nothing really to do with the monarch. the problem is more that under the shelter of the royal prerogative the executive government is given a free pass to ignore the rule of law and due process. the class based patronage system that the government controls means that honours can be used to buy political favours – how many public inquiries or reports have been skewered by the promise of a seat in the house of lords or a convenient knighthood? clearly it is wrong that government can abuse constitutional processes to protect itself from embarrassment or to reward political donors. selling seats in the house of lords is a crime but in recent years both labour and conservative governments have escaped with no sanction.

    a constitutional resettlement gives the opportunity to ensure that the rule of law applies to all, not just those who are not resident in the palace of westminster

  • springmellon

    The Monarch is completely politically impotent. The Monarch can theoretically refuse Royal Assent to a Bill passed by Parliament but this has not happened since 1707, when Queen Anne refused it for a Bill for settling the militia in Scotland.

    This is just one from a long list of Lefty non issues that they continuously obsess about until they finally grow up and focus on issues that make a real difference in people’s daily lives.

    Far more important is the need to address the House of Lords, which does actually have political power. It is now packed full of political toadies, unrepresentative of political power in the Commons and unaccountable to the electorate. The recent conduct of the Lords in relation to Brexit legislation has revealed the urgent need to further reduce the number of Lords, the political composition and, most importantly , to further reduce the Lords’ power to block legislation.

  • PianoWireSolutions

    I’m more than happy with our head of state, thanks.
    The alternative: President Prescott.

  • The Third Man

    Charles III could certainly improve efficiency of the monarchy by slimming it down and allowing the minor Royals – Andrew, Edward, Fergie’s offspring, the Duke & Duchess of Kent etc – to be pensioned off or to get jobs and get rid of a few of the palaces/residences (30+ if google is to be believed) to the national trust or be sold.

  • Fubar2

    Load of old b*ll*x. There is no involvement to speak of in politics and the position is entirely titular.

  • Jonathan Miller

    A yearning for Republicanism rarely survives residency in a republic.

  • Martin Adamson

    Personally, I’d rather be governed by King George III at his maddest than by any living British politician.

  • GUBU

    Proof that August is a slow time for political news…

  • JohnInCambridge

    Silly-season time-wasters often think of the royal family as cheap journalistic fodder. What in their ignorance they never realise is that they are looking 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Never look at who we’ve got as a symbolic head of state because it doesn’t matter as long as she brings the tourists in (which she does incredibly well). Look instead (and aim your ire at) the worthless crowd of narcissistic wannabes who’d love to make a total hash of being top-sleb. There are dozens of them secretly polishing up their rendition of, ‘If I ruled the world’. Arrgh!

  • Malcolm

    There are plenty of targets in the political world of the UK that need sorting out long before we turn any attention to the monarchy. The House of Lords is full of unelected (and in a good many cases unelectable) people who, unlike the monarch, do actually wield real political power over this nation and its citizens; if anything is undemocratic it is them. Then there is the pressing need to sort out a fair devolution settlement for England so that we, as a nation not a collection of artificial regions, have the same control over our affairs as has been granted to the other home nations, and without the current interference from them that we have to endure. Once we have done that we can look at the system of voting whereby parties like the SNP win many seats with a fraction of the votes received by parties that win none. If you really care about democracy, Glenn, try aiming at the harder targets rather than the low hanging fruit that really doesn’t impact on democracy at all.

  • Wally-Jumblatt

    I don’t think you understand the point of the Monarchy in this country.
    They sit and wait, and wait and wait, til someday the nation revolts against it’s government, and rallies round the flag.
    The monarch then -acting on the will of the people, throws out the government.
    In the meantime, the monarch listens to what is going on, and asks the government testing questions.
    That’s all. Might be once every 300 years or so, but you’ll need them to minimise the bloodshed that would otherwise happen.

    We may not need hundreds of Royals, but there needs to be enough of them to support the Monarch when something needs done.

    -do you actually think they enjoy it?

    -actually who knows if Charles might surprise a few people. What he says as a Prince may not be what he says as a King. (or not)

  • Leo Savantt

    The Monarch is theoretically a bulwark against the dangers of unchecked demos, it is a force that can restrain the tyranny of the majority, as well as the more draconian tendencies executive. Furthermore monarchy comes without the necessity of political ambition and associated egomania. An accident of birth places an individual into a prison, albeit a gilded one. The real argument against constitutional monarchy is the restrictions on the human rights of the sovereign, whereby the pressure to do ones duty severely restricts personal choice. The UK’s Sovereign is the servant, not master, of the people.

    A constitutional monarchy is not only compatible with democracy, especially if the majority support its existence, it also can help ensure democracy’s long term survival by helping to modify the nefarious agendas of the politician. Even, God forbid, if Prince Charles becomes King the institution will likely benefit us all.

  • Paul W

    Yes – unanswerable but Charles will succeed Elizabeth and William will succeed etc etc…

    At least it avoids the rest of the pack that might covet the power.

    Could be much worse.

  • Johnnydub

    Whilst an ardent monarchist, the thought of King Charles IV makes me itch to be a republican.

  • For conservatives:President Blair. For Labour types: President Thatcher.

    No-one gives a toss what the Liberals are scared of.

  • SonofBoudica

    “we must begin treating them like political actors”. This writer seems to have failed, completely, to understand the role of a Constitutional Monarch in the UK, who is apolitical, and how any replacement system would bring (a) money and (b) politics into play which would be detrimental to our system.

  • Ash

    As someone once said….there’s an unanswerable 3-word case in favour of the monarchy: President Cherie Blair

  • MikePage

    Yawn. Heard it all before, though usually seasoned with more invective. Writer even admits there is no appetite for change. Who’d propose that referendum then? Bad career move.

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