Debate: For the Abolition of the Monarchy

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The chances are, you think of yourself as a British citizen. You might have had citizenship lessons at school or voted in every possible election. You might even drink tea, make all your calls from a red phone box and spend half your life queuing. But, the fact is, not even these   lengths will make you a British citizen. We are all subjects. Subjects to an antiquated institution that is struggling on hundreds of years past its sell by date. I am, of course, referring to the Monarchy.

The Monarchy are an egalitarian’s nightmare. The word ‘subject’ itself is defined as ‘being under domination, control, or influence’ and comes from the Latin for ‘inferior’. We would like to believe that we are all equal in our society, but the opposite is ingrained in our constitution. ‘Commoners’ from all around the world, from the intelligent, to the talented, to the elected, are expected to defer with much bowing and saying of titles to Big Liz and her family.

Additionally the ‘Royals’ receive preferential treatment by other elitist institutions all around the country. In 1983, Edward Windsor was accepted into Cambridge University with A level grades of a D and two Es, [1] a feat I do not believe that someone without ‘his/her Royal Highness’ as a prefix to their name could have achieved. Furthermore, their exemption from Freedom of Information, arrest and Inheritance Tax [2,3] only enlarges the gap between the ‘Royals’ and the ‘Commoners’, or as John Locke, the seventeenth century ‘Father of Liberalism’ would have it, “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins”.

A favourite argument used by those in favour of the Monarchy is that they bring in all sorts of tourism and more than pay for their cost in tax through it. Naturally, this is a hard amount to quantify, and so is a tricky point to dispute or support. However, I would argue that were I to muster a band of fellow concerned democrats and pile them onto a Megabus, as many tourists would visit the the spot where we scaled the palisades of Buckingham Palace, removed the ‘Royals’, reclaimed the crown, and gave it to a lion, like on the ten pence piece. Surely that is more exciting than an old woman in a big house?

There has been debate in recent times about the true cost of the ‘Royals’ to taxpayers. An often quoted figure is that the cost for tax payers is around £40 million, which is described as ‘good value for money’, while they generate around £200 million in land that the Windsors own, but send the profits on to Parliament [4]. Of course, this figure is skewed, and doesn’t take into account a number of factors, such as the 24/7 security the ‘Royals’ require, and the cost to local councils to provide for a Queen’s visit, all of which is paid for by Parliament. This puts the costs at closer to £204 million a year. That’s nearly ten times the cost of the German Head of State [5].You also have to ask, where did the land the ‘Royals’ own actually come from? A little research shows that it was taken by William the Conqueror in 1066 as the spoils of war. This land should be handed back to the people. It can hardly be fair that the Windsor’s are benefiting from land that was taken from the people by force, even if it was nearly a thousand years ago.

As if this wasn’t enough, there’s another often overlooked cost when discussing the ‘Royal’ Family: the cost of their bank holidays. The bank holiday in May for the Royal Wedding is estimated to have cost the UK economy somewhere between £3 and 5 billion, [6] with another on the way for the Queen’s Jubilee. Against a backdrop of austerity measures, slashing up to £10 billion out of the economy so we can all watch a wedding and a trumped up picnic is nothing short of feckless. It seems absurd that much of Britain should be forced to take a day off to watch two people, who are no more extraordinary than anyone else, get married. This is a much larger burden on smaller businesses over large corporations, who can’t afford another day of closure and the three-day working weeks that came as a result.

Obviously I still haven’t addressed perhaps the biggest issue with the Monarchy, the fact that they’re unelected. You wouldn’t want your dentist or a pilot or a teacher to have the job purely on the basis that their dad did, so why is this acceptable for the Head of State? The only real argument for hereditary rule is that it supplies us with a non-partisan Head of State that can visit countries without any sort of agenda, but why do we need a neutral Head of State? Many states, including America and Germany, manage perfectly well with a partisan Head of State, and I strongly doubt the benefits of having a neutral Head of State come close to outweighing the damage it causes to British democracy.

Sadly, debates such as these are solely confined to the blogosphere and don’t come close to being discussed on the News, let alone Parliament. Even more worryingly, at a time when our faith in our democratically elected politicians is at an all time low, a million people [7] are willing to stand and watch the pomp and indulgent ceremony of a ‘Commoner’ marrying an unelected throwback to a time where longbows were the next big thing. That’s as many people as protested the war in Iraq back in 2003 [8]. And yet it seems that awareness of perhaps the greatest threat to British democracy today has always been restricted to a minority, some of whom fought a war for freedom and founded America. It does appear, that as Thomas Paine, one of the American Founding Fathers, once said, ‘a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.’

Article by Sam Walsh. Edited by George Richards.

Further Reading: 

[1] Citizenship Education and the Monarchy: Examining the Contradictions, Dean Garratt and Heather Piper, British Journal of Educational Studies , Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 2003), pp. 128-148, Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Society for Educational Studies , Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3122417

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_immunity#United_Kingdom – Accessed Feb. 2012.

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/the-queens-finances-ordinary-tax-allowances-for-royals-1472424.html – Accessed Feb. 2012.

[4] http://www.badgeronline.co.uk/2011/10/the-big-debate-the-british-monarchy/ - Accessed Feb. 2012. 

[5] http://www.republic.org.uk/index.php – Accessed Feb. 2012.

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-wedding/8155625/Royal-wedding-marriage-will-cost-economy-5bn.html - Accessed Feb. 2012. 

[7] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1381820/Royal-Wedding-route-A-MILLION-turn-celebrate-Kate-Middleton-Prince-William.html – Accessed Feb. 2012. 

[8] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2767761.stm – Accessed Feb. 2012. 

[9] http://www.thediamondjubilee.org/ – Accessed Feb. 2012. 

[10] Monarchies: what are king and queens for? Tom Bentley, James Wilsdon, Demos, May 2002.

[11] http://www.royal.gov.uk/TheRoyalHousehold/Royalfinances/Overview.aspx – Accessed Feb. 2012.

[12] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199596/cmhansrd/vo960430/text/60430w01.htm – Accessed Feb. 2012.

[13] http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/role/parliament-crown/ – Accessed Feb. 2012.