Saturday, 2 June 2012

Why We Need the Monarchy More Than Ever

by Max Jewell

The abiding motif of ‘Britishness’ throughout a thousand years of history is the monarchy. While the British socio-political system has been in near-perpetual flux, evinced by the break with Rome under Henry VIII, the fundamental transformation of the complexion of British society induced by the Industrial Revolution or the 1960’s ‘Sexual Revolution’, the monarchy has remained constant.

Let us first dispel the hyperbolic vituperation of the monarchy by various disillusioned republicans. Despite the bombastic assertions of Edward Gibbon, the British monarchy is not ‘the fairest scope of ridicule’. It seems there is a general belief on the part of wilfully deluded republicans that the continued existence of the monarchy is an assault on democracy. By contrast, the contemporary monarchy is by no means as stern and unbending as the Romanov autocracy that ruled Russia with an iron fist (aptly demonstrated by the 87th article of the 1906 fundamental law which allowed Nicholas II to rule by decree). The last time a British monarch demonstrated the same disregard for democracy by vetoing an act of parliament was in the reign of Queen Anne, in 1707. The formal powers of the monarch are now virtually extinct; the royal prerogative that invests in a monarch the right to declare war has passed to the prime minister, along with all the other prerogatives, such as the right to call a general election (Tony Blair was able to exercise sufficient despotism normally associated with an ‘autocratic monarch’ to lead the UK into Iraq). The monarchy is thus no enemy of modernity, nor of democracy; on the contrary, the modern monarchy has demonstrated a willingness to defer to parliament and accept an immense diminution in the scope of its power.

No doubt those who seek to denigrate the monarchy will cite the economic arguments that present the House of Windsor as parasites, consuming public finances that could be better spent on EU membership or welfare benefits. In these times of austerity and penny-pinching belt tightening, the continued existence of the monarchy seems to represent nothing more than anachronistic profligacy. Yet, the British court is nowhere near as opulent as Louis XIV's court in Versailles, now synonymous with excess. And, whilst the £184m spent on the monarchy in 2011 greatly exceeds the 8.9m Euros spent on the Spanish Royal Family, this figure fails to take into account the beneficial impact the monarchy has on the UK economy. The British Retail Consortium, for instance, revealed that shops and pubs benefited from a £500 million increase in trade induced by the Royal Wedding[1]. Equally, the view that the hard-working tax-payer is forced to fund a profligate monarchy is simply erroneous. The Sovereign Grant Act of 2011 means that the Civil List and Grants-in-Aid will be replaced by a single Sovereign Grant, which will be 15% of the surplus generated by the Crown Estate[2].

On the day of the Diamond Jubilee, therefore, let us not seek to denigrate the monarchy, but rather collectively laud one of our oldest institutions --- an institution dedicated to assisting the British populace: be it through the charity work of the kind Princess Diana became renowned for; be it through the protection of beautiful architecture for which we must thank Prince Charles; or be it through the simple fact that, in an era of multiculturalism, the one abiding thing this increasingly polyglot nation of various religions and cultures has in common is an undying reverence for the House of Windsor.             

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