Is it terrible etiquette to begin discussions with questions or answer questions with questions? Well, as Freethinkers, let’s do just that, because asking, is what sparks ideas. Do you believe in equality? What about democracy? Do you believe in reform to bring progress to as many as possible? If you answered yes to these, then maybe it’s time we reformed the UK monarchy.
Do you think clinging to the past can bring progress? Do you believe that we should pay to support the lavish lifestyles of well-known celebrities and their children? Should we keep old things that don’t work because we are scared of what new things could be like? If you answered no to these then maybe it’s time to reform the UK monarchy.
Few of us define ourselves with labels of ‘monarchists’ or ‘republicans’ because unless we have to vote on it, why would you? However, as with so many important discussions, people use divisive labels or words like ‘anti’ and ‘pro’ rather than ask wider questions or look to commonality to inspire new ways of thinking and create fresh concepts.
Constitutional Reform or Abolition?
Constitutional reform, not necessarily abolition, is and must be at the very centre of how we move forward and reimagine a Britain fit for purpose and which puts the needs and desires of the people at the forefront. Equality can never truly be achieved while we have the UK monarchy in its current form. I won’t insult your intelligence by discussing the undemocratic nature of hereditary heads of state, or use manipulative statistics on the cost to the taxpayer to back up tired old arguments, and there won’t be insults of the Royal Family because after all, they are just people doing what you keep expecting, allowing and rewarding them to do.
Let’s instead look at the reasons why the UK monarchy is at odds with where we are now, an anachronistic relic of the past we need to shed in order to evolve and progress as a modern nation.
As with all of us we cannot hope to have a new life carrying remnants of the old one.
As Thoreau said:
The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognise the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.
UK Monarchy-Hating Republicans
Even ardent monarchy-hating republicans, can’t fault the tireless effort, classy demeanour and sense of duty demonstrated by Queen Elizabeth II. Polling often misinterprets the difference between the monarch as a person and the monarchy as an institution. Most people attach the idea of a monarchy with her, but when she dies or abdicates then surely the institution, as it exists now must die with her.
Have you ever been in a relationship that seemed one-sided, but you couldn’t end it because the alternative seemed worse? The other person wasn’t bad, it was comfortable to have them, but your needs went unmet and one day it all just seemed so ridiculous and you knew things had to change.
The Queen Is Britain’s Nostalgic Link with the Past
The UK monarchy is this situation. The Queen is Britain’s nostalgic link with the past – a constant for 66 years. She’s safe. Comforting. The UK brand. She is looked after and has rights and privileges that others do not. What, one might ask do the British people get in return? Her family increasingly made up now of ‘non-royal blood’ is that change in circumstances, the catalyst that must now inspire reform. With her gone, Britain can move on.
Of course, some people stay in that kind of one-sided relationship forever and never grow, just settle and inwardly seethe with boredom or resentment. Some wait for the crisis point. Some say enough, break the cycle and move on to better more fulfilling relationships for the good of both parties. Which one do you want Britain to be?
“God Save the Queen!”
During the World Cup, like many, I have enjoyed the often-hilarious spectacle of watching footballers and crowds attempting to remember and sing their national anthems before the match. It got me thinking about what these ‘anthems’ are for, what they say about a country or its people.
So another question for you: What does Britain share in common with Brunei and Japan? They have national anthems that are about one human being superior to everyone else. Surely in an equal society, the people should be sovereign and any head of state the caretaker of that sovereignty.
“God Save the Queen!” Not lyrics about the beauty of the landscape, or the millions of people who inhabit it, but one human who has simply by being born into it, been elevated to superhuman status. Doesn’t tick the equality box somehow does it?
(Image courtesy of @JakubMarian at https://jakubmarian.com/national-anthem-by-country-in-europe/)
Should Royals Live a More Low-Key Existence?
If we look to Scandinavia where there are constitutional monarchies similar to Britain, how do they manage to do it in a more egalitarian way? The much-loved King Olav V of Norway was often said to be of the people not for the people. This is a very important distinction and the same cannot be said of British monarchs. The pomp, ceremony and great wealth and decadence bestowed in Britain is not a factor in Scandinavian countries where royals live a more low-key existence.
Monarchists might cite The Netherlands as an interesting case because there the monarchy costs more than the British one and yet they are happy to retain it. Is this that childlike logic of saying because someone is doing something worse than us, then we must somehow by comparison be better? Is the difference that many of the Dutch royal family have jobs? Or is it simply, that The Netherlands, like Scandinavia, is a far more egalitarian, and less class-based society with more co-operative people led political structures than Britain.
The answer perhaps, therefore, lies in reform, rather than abolition. Reimagining our political landscape for the people is a solution, not necessarily exiling one landowning privileged family. How about using Belgium as a role model for inspiration? (Yes, you read that right)! Belgium has a popular monarchy where the monarch takes an oath to uphold the people’s constitution because sovereignty lies with the people. Not with the monarch. Doesn’t that sound fairer and more in keeping with the current climate?
The Alternative Presidential System
Bertrand Russell used monarchy as an example of how something survives simply because it does no harm. Do we have to wait for catastrophe or civil unrest to inspire reform or could we nurture evolution? By this same logic, nothing would ever alter; paralysis of indecision or status quo would forever impede progress. If we retain the UK monarchy because we do not like the alternative Presidential system, then it is up to us to reimagine better alternatives or coherent reform. Lack of imagination is nothing to sing proudly about at football matches!
If monarchy as head of state is retained for backup because we don’t like the government or parliamentary system we have, then it is time we paved the way for all constitutional reform. The Queen has never blocked any legislation or been the backstop to measures the public didn’t like. She does not exercise the role that clearly the people want so much. So if we want a representative upper house or single representative to be the backstop, then create one based on democratic principles not hereditary birthright with a disproportionate cost to the taxpayer.
This is the age where striving for equality is paramount. A time when the gap between rich and poor is ever widening, people want to take back their power and mourn their apparent loss of it, and the quest for finding what we all have in common rather than what divides is driving our political narrative. How can the monarchy institution as we have now possibly fit in with these ideas?
The ‘Kardashianisation’ of Culture and Politics
If it has simply become another source of celebrity culture, which after the latest royal wedding it clearly has, then it is not the taxpayer who needs to fund it or use it to represent the nation as a whole. The ‘Kardashianisation’ of American culture and politics is not an aspiration but a lesson how not to be. TV actors playing dress up as royalty is entertainment and fantasy, not democracy and certainly not a symbol of an intelligent, forward-looking modern nation.
With reform, the National Anthem could be amended to represent the country and its people. A constitution could be written to involve everyone. Let’s consign outdated UK monarchy, like feudalism to the history books where it belongs. Of course, when our politicians are considered the lowliest of people, royals will always look like faultless role models. If people want decent, hardworking classy representatives then let’s all of us start being them and electing them. Brexit was believed, albeit falsely, to be about regaining sovereignty, so in that case, stop giving it away to unelected celebrities!
We began with questions; so, let’s end with one for you to ponder, ‘What kind of country do you want to live in’? Given the pace of change in society, the UK monarchy is slowly diminishing and altering. So we can wait it out, let the death throes of the old ways wear us down, burden and bore us. Or we can all actively shape the future and the country we want. Restricted views have no place in a word of infinite possibilities.
The opinions in The Freethink Tank’s Opinion category are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owner.
Feature Photo by DAVID ILIFF [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons.