In the democracies of the western world, we like to think that each of us is born into a society that treats us all as equals. When there are cases where some of us are treated unequally we, more often than not, come together in order to fight against that discrimination; whether it is on the grounds of gender, sexuality, or colour. We believe that any one of us, from any background, has access to all and any opportunities to lead our country and to develop a progressive and peaceful society. Whilst the United Kingdom is a democracy with a publicly elected Prime Minister, the Head of State is not, and at present cannot, be any one of the sixty-three million people who live here. The Head of State, who also reigns over a further seventy-one million people around the world in the Commonwealth Realm, is an unelected symbol of status, privilege, and religion. One would think that at a time of worldwide austerity and social restrictions, the public would find a greater concern with the way in which the Monarchy conducts itself. Instead, we see a blanket of adoration for the Royal Family, and the preservation of a society which upholds a prominent social hierarchy.
The United Kingdom’s system of rule is defined as a constitutional monarchy; we recognise that our Head of State can only be a member born into the Royal household, but that their presence in social and political life is symbolic, impartial, and not one of any significant authority. The Queen does not have any power over the laws that we create, nor is she allowed to have a political opinion. In principle, she has no control over the running of our country at all. It is however, misguided to suggest that the Royal Family has no political influence. Prince Andrew, for example, is a UK Trade Envoy and has traded, most notably, arms to governments such as Yemen during the waves of protests for democracy in the Middle East, as well as holding meetings about arms deals with leaders from Jordan, Malaysia, and Azerbaijan. The argument that we should retain the Monarchy because it has no real power is also invalid, because to put it simply, why keep something that does nothing?
At first glance it could be argued that actually, the symbolism of having the Royal Family brings great economic benefits, particularly through tourism. The Monarchy is the most valuable of all British ‘brands’. The Royal Family also does a lot of work for charity, raising funds and spreading awareness of particular issues. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how this is a valid argument for keeping the Monarchy, however constitutional it may be. The Monarchy has access to eight state-owned castles and palaces, and an added nine privately-owned residences. The Crown Estate is valued by the company Brand Financeat £18 billion. At same time as the taxpayer funding the upkeep of these eight residences, besides other living costs and security for the Royals, cuts are being made to the NHS of up to £20 billion, to the education system of £6 billion, and the police force of over twenty per cent, food banks have tripled in the last year alone, and there remains over two and a half million people unemployed. How can our government afford the upkeep of such an establishment, but not the upkeep of our health and education systems? Why is there a sense that we would rather fund the lives of the Monarchy than fund the lives of the poor, the old, and the disabled?
As an open-minded society we find the bigotry of public figures uncomfortable and mostly disgraceful; MEP Godfrey Bloom recently lost the UKIP whip due to the uproar caused because of comments he made about a group of female activists being “sluts”. When Prince Philip makes comments such as “If you stay here much longer, you will come home with slitty eyes” to a British student in China, “What exotic part of the world are you from?” to black politician Lord Taylor of Warwick, (who gracefully replied with “Birmingham”), and “Do you still throw spears at each other?” to an Australian Aborigine, we cringe and then excuse it as a funny gaffe, with hardly any public or media opposition. Does the status of being a Royal really mean that one is allowed to be so publically bigoted and face no consequences?
The United Kingdom is regarded as one of the leading worldwide democracies. We are constantly debating and pushing for a more democratic country, whether it be extending the franchise to sixteen and seventeen year olds and prisoners, or looking to change the nature of the system of how we elect our government. The head of our public office is unelected and unaccountable to ‘her servants’. Maybe, when Prince Philip said to the then dictator General Stroessner of Paraguay, “It’s a pleasure to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people”, we should have taken his comments more seriously. The ruler of our country cannot truly be the people until we remove the system of inherited authority which obstructs the true meaning of democracy.
By Soila Apparicio