The monarchy: Relevant or redundant?

2 Jan 2018


Since the glorious revolution, there has been a gradual transition of regal powers to the government, calling into question the relevance of the monarchy in the modern era. Yet the Queen still has both practical and sentimental roles that are important to the country and its citizens.


One of the Queen's primary functions is to carry out the state opening of parliament at the start of every parliamentary year. Conducted with great pomp and circumstance (with the exceptions of 1974 and 2017), the Queen addresses both Houses of Parliament. She reads the Queen’s speech, written by the elected government formed in her name, to outline the legislative agenda for the coming parliamentary session. This annual event is absolutely vital to the continuation of the legislative process and to ensure there is clear structure to the business of the government.


Furthermore, the Queen, as Head of State, has the power of royal assent- the ability to pass a bill into law after it passes through both Houses of Parliament. This gives her the theoretical power to be able to block legislation that she believes detrimental to the realm. However, the last time royal assent was withheld was in 1708, by Queen Anne. The prospect of our current monarch, or any future monarch, blocking legislation voted upon by our democratic institutions is laughable; it would undermine the very foundations of the monarchy.


Being head of state also entails the responsibilities of being commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, head of the Church of England, as well as being patron of many charities and organisations around the commonwealth.


This is not to mention the many sentimental purposes of the crown. Pro-monarchists believe that the Queen and her family represent ‘Britishness’. The values that they represent and their deity-like elusiveness seem to captivate not only the citizens of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but the entire world. State visits with the Queen are highly valued by leaders across the international stage. Indeed, such state visits can even be used as a bargaining chip - as shown by the downgrading of President Trump’s state visit. This gives the government an additional method to express displeasure at a foreign leaders' actions.


Many Britons value the tradition and history of this age-old institution. The richness of history is immense, dating back to Alfred the Great around 890 AD. As democracy in Britain has formed, the monarchy has managed to stay above partisan politics, maintaining a level of stability that politicians cannot replicate. This creates a level of calm and serenity in an area where democracy creates chaos.


Yet public support in the UK is depleting. Many now view the monarchy as an unjust institution, with the royals living a life of luxury at the taxpayers' expense. This sentiment led to outrage at the announcement that Buckingham Palace will undergo renovations at a cost of £369 million to the taxpayer, at a time when direly underfunded services like the NHS or state schools are suffering. 


The Queen's traditional reserved powers, known as royal prerogative - acting as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, dissolving parliament sessions and such like - has transitioned from being solely held by the sovereign to being given to the Prime Minister, even if only de facto. The increased power of the prime minister has only bolstered the view of monarchical redundancy. 


One of the most common arguments made by pro-monarchists is that of economic benefit. Recent research conducted by the anti-monarchist organisation Republic contradicts this, claiming the royal family costs the taxpayer a whopping £334 million per year. Seemingly, tourist revenue is not enough to offset the cost of maintaining a monarchy. 


Ostensibly, it can appear that the Queen has few responsibilities other than adorning our money and affording us 15 minutes of her time each Christmas. Her traditional prerogative powers have depleted somewhat, with many powers now in the hands of the PM. The role she does play, however, is to provide reassurance and continuity, rising above the nitty gritty of politics. As acting head of our armed forces and the Church of England, she maintains her position as the defender of the realm, faith and tradition.


Our monarchy is considered a rarity in the modern age, republics becoming the constitutional norm. As a country, we must celebrate our monarchy, for it is what defines our Britishness and national identity.







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