Debate: Against the Abolition of the Monarchy
It would be wrong to say, as many have before, that the queen is symbolic of what it means to be British. The Queen represents, not our collective identity as some might suggest, but something altogether different – our historical legacy. Since the joining of the crown in 1603 (with the exclusion of the short-lived republic of the mid- 17th century culminating in the execution of King Charles I) the royal family has been an integral part of our political and cultural landscape . The monarchy is our living, breathing history. In a time where globalisation blurs national identity, the monarchy serves as a unifying force.
Last year, thousands flocked to the streets in celebration of the royal wedding, inciting an optimism and nationalistic pride that served strong enough to temporarily blow away the looming grey clouds of the financial crisis. The Daily Star ran the headline: “Happiest Days of Our Lives” .
Any opposed to the wedding cite the fiscal irresponsibility (they mean expense) of such a lavish event at the cost of the tax payer. While no one can deny that it was a costly endeavour, there is more than direct cost to be accounted for, says Michael Saul, head of Hospitality and Leisure at Barclays Corporate. He estimates that the total profit in London was £107 million from visitor expenditure, not including the global exposure that no touristic department could ever have managed ahead of this year’s Olympic Games .
Politically, a head of state is a necessary mechanism for a parliamentary democracy. Unlike France, revolution has not marked our constitution with a republican spirit. The Queen serves as a figure-head, representing the British public as whole. Unlike a president, she serves us all equally, wheras a president can only represent those who voted for him. This is essential in our bipolar system, as party allegiance and affiliation would surely disrupt stability (as the Americans who so curiously scratch their heads at our Monarchy are now discovering). It could be said, that in French politics, the absence of a monarch during the creation of the fifth republic enabled De Gaulle to manipulate the role of head of state . By consolidating executive power, the French system was transformed from the more stable and less gridlock prone parliamentarianism into a system which closely resembles American Presidentialism.
It has been frequently argued that the Queen wields an unnecessary amount of power and influence for an unelected official. It is important to remember that royal prerogatives are not powers held or exercised by the Queen, but are instead powers that are only accessible to the government; the monarchy merely provides legitimacy. As the monarch, the Queen undoubtedly has a small amount of influence, which she exercises with restraint and sensitivity.
Remember Rhodesia? Of course you don’t. And that’s mostly because of pressure exerted on Foriegn Secretary George Callaghan by the Queen. How about apartheid? Well maybe a little… Remember to give the Queen some credit for that one, who refused to let Thatcher back down on sanctions in South Africa in 1986 .
A common cause for disproval of the Royal Family is its expense. Although undoubtedly an expensive institution, there are vast amounts of misleading information about the amount contributed by the tax-payer for the monarchy’s upkeep. While the Queen is undoubtedly frock deep in royal palaces and estates, all revenues are directly provided to the government. In 2010 those revenues totalled over £210 million, paling in comparison to the £33.9 million in royal expenditures. So while it can be seen that the queen pays her dues too, she pays ours as well. While accounting for the 69 pence she costs each tax payer, if her contributed revenues are accounted for, she saves each of us about £1.50 a year.
The institution of the British monarchy effectively carries out the role of head of state in the United Kingdom. Not only does the Queen preserve our historical legacy but she also unifies our nation. Those who believe the monarchy to be a liability and call for its removal should carefully consider the consequences of this. What would replace this system? And how would we alter our constitution to encompass these changes? These are questions all republicans should ask themselves, before attempting to doom Britain to a future of deified presidents with political motives and closed expenses accounts.
Article by Tilly Peterken. Edited by George Richards.
 Suleiman, E. (1994) ‘Presidentialism and political stability in france’ from Linz, J. and Valenzuela, A. (eds.) ‘The failure of presidential democracy’