Aside from its own inherent merits, abolishing the monarchy could also prove to be a catalyst for renewing our whole democracy; reforming our entire system to enable a new level of engagement from the electorate and heal the rift between people and politics.
I write this article during my ‘summer’ holidays (despite it being overcast outside), drinking tea, and pointedly not complaining about the noise emanating from next-door (so that I do not defy social etiquette). I open with this unusual context to assure you of something - I’m British and love being so - it is precisely because of this love for my country that I believe we need to rid ourselves of the monarchy once and for all.
Supportive arguments of the monarchy broadly fall into three camps. First off, inevitably, is the money aspect. A lot of proponents of monarchy would have you believe that we actually benefit financially from having the Royals. The problem with this argument though is that on both sides of the debate figures are manipulated ruthlessly, making a clear picture very hard to emerge, and I have absolutely no intention here of trying to clear this up. All that need be said is that we should be very careful about the sort of message an economic argument sends out. Namely, that we are prepared to sell our democracy, and for a cheap price at that. Call me old-fashioned, but that doesn’t sit right with me.
The next set of arguments centre around the Royals giving Britain some sort of uniqueness; a proper sense of being ‘British’ that sets us apart from the rest of the world. This assertion is simply untrue - almost 30 countries still have a functioning monarchy that isn’t Old Liz (not to mention all the Commonwealth nations we share her with). As for the unifying part? What does it say about your own self-esteem that you need an unelected pensioner in a mansion (who you will almost certainly never meet) to give you a coherent sense of identity? Plenty of other countries manage to take pride in their national identities without an undemocratic institution providing it for them.
The final line of defence lies in some sort of imagined international standing/power balance that we garner from Her Majesty - usually mentioned by a red-faced royalist who will paradoxically then tell you that the Royals have no real power anymore (more on that later). Our international standing is down to being one of the largest economies in the world, that has a relationship with both the U.S. and the E.U., and was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and parliamentary democracy - not because other countries (a large amount of which fought tooth and nail to free themselves from the grasping hands of the British monarchy) are star-struck with Liz or cooing over Kate Middleton’s latest baby bump.
The ‘don’t have any real power anymore’ argument, aside from begging the obvious question of ‘well what’s the point of them then?’ is again, sadly untrue. The Royals still maintain a disturbing level of influence over British politics, not least the ability to veto Bills passed through Parliament. A fascinating but highly concerning read on when they have recently used this power can be found here.
One of the issues with republicanism is that it is quite often cast in negative terms. It is only usually seen as against something, rather than promoting something better. But it is precisely the hope of something better that urges me to write this.
It isn’t just about removing an archaic and undemocratic institution. It’s about overhauling a political system that has been dry and complacent for far too long - and then replacing it with something new. To coin a phrase from Anthony Giddens; we need a second wave of democracy, one in which removing the least democratic system we have would be an excellent way to start.
Fighting for a republic isn’t a negative or cynical stance to take at all. Central to its philosophy is the belief in the intrinsic right and natural ability of citizens to rule themselves. And this is exactly what this ‘second wave’ would be about. The arguments in favour of retaining the monarchy rely on faulty reasoning and outright lies - the case for abolishing the monarchy is inspiringly simple.
We are seeing a wave of disillusionment with formal politics because our hunger for change has outgrown the system’s capacity for it. Whilst abolishing the monarchy is not sufficient to solve this, it is necessary. It could be the first in a series of ‘revolutionary reforms' (to borrow a phrase from political theorist Roberto Unger), that begins to submerge a tired old form of politics under a tidal wave of engagement. Replacing archaic and unjust institutions, reforming corrupt systems, and empowering a nation - this is the true, optimistic and hopeful face of republicanism, one which demands an answer. Abolishing the monarchy is not the end of something, but merely the start.
If we engage in a meaningful debate around the monarchy, the review of our democracy wouldn’t stop there. The debate and associated renewal would naturally lead onto discussing the House of Lords, the electoral system, the accountability of MP’s and the role of the Prime Minister. These are all debates we desperately need to have if we are to begin combatting increasing disillusionment.
Much the same way Scottish independence is being seen as the beginning of Scotland’s regeneration as a fairer, more democratic society, so too ridding ourselves of the monarchy could be seen as the start of us reviewing and overhauling our complacent political system. Where better place to start this new wave than abolishing the least democratic institution of the lot?
By Bradley Allsop