A Reluctant Republican
Perhaps my favourite statement released during the period of Royal Wedding fever that recently gripped us was made in customary Twitter fashion by UK Uncut. It went something like this: “UKUncut will not be protesting at the Royal Wedding today because it is capitalism and not feudalism that ruins people’s lives today”. Although the monarchy might not bother us very much on a day-to-day basis, they provide various problems for creating long term change.
The key argument that I agree with for keeping the monarchy is based upon the American problem: an elected head of state is a political figure whereas the Queen is just the Queen – we don’t have paid TV commercials telling us who we must elect. Its definitely true that a monarch cuts out a lot of the arguments around who should have what powers.
But the problem lies at a much deeper level: the monarchy is political even if it isn’t democratic. It reminds us that things will be ok if we just show deference and accept the permanence of the structures around us, in which the poor must rightfully serve the rich and powerful. Ultimately, sovereignty lies with the British monarchy and not the people – the Queen, despite essentially being devoid of all agency in matters of decision making, is still in a position of absolute power which the democratic structures cannot touch and which you and I must simply accept exist.
This stability comes at a price. We cannot change the relationship between rich and poor other than to make it more or less tolerant. We must accept conservative values attached to monarchism without debate. Many careers are unavailable to individuals who refuse to serve the Queen; in particular, anyone wishing to protect their community by enlisting with the police must accept that their job is first and foremost to protest the Queen from their community and ensure that the Queen and her government have their way.
Continuing with the status quo simply allows us to defer the problem of power injustice. That said, having an elected president, especially in the American form, would hardly solve this by itself. But the fact is, even though I really don’t care that much, I know many of my political values make support for the monarchy as an ongoing institution near impossible. That doesn’t, of course, mean that one can’t respect the Queen as an individual: she didn’t exactly choose to be Queen, nor has she done very much harm with the role – though whether that will apply to her heirs and successors is another matter.
On one level, my problem isn’t so much the fact that the monarchy exists but with the reaction to those protesting against it, or the constraints on members of parliament that prevent any real change from being discussed. It cannot be right to call oneself a democratic society and not have a way of discussing constitutional change on any level. I’d like to think the British thing to do would be to hold a massive celebration in Westminster where the Queen hands over to the first President-figure and everyone celebrates with flags and cupcakes. It certainly would save on the loss of life.
Two problems remain with regards the monarchy, despite its supposed lack of power. First, technically for a mass protest to demand a change in government in Britain, it would have to march to Buckingham Palace and beseech the Queen to dismiss the government. This is the constitutional approach required by Britain’s unwritten constitution. With the monarchy once more reinserting itself into public consciousness through the wedding and next year’s Jubilee, we face considerable problems if we try and push the monarchy out as well.
The other issue is wealth: Britain still affords the monarchy a lot of lands and other economic privileges. In fact, Britain is one of the most iniquitously distributed countries by several accounts. Perhaps on some level it is this we should be looking to “reform” before any further changes are made. The problem is that current trends are not towards declaring spaces as common land but rather to sell them off. Whilst the Royalty do allow access to some of their land, would the new owners?
There is nothing to say that day to day life without the monarchy would be any different, let alone better. Yet if we ever get a referendum on the subject, I shall certainly be voting to move away from monarchic rule. Sovereignty must lie with the people if we are to have a more just society. No matter how much the monarchy appears ineffectual and apolitical, it remains a barrier non-the-less.