Arguments in favour of abolishing the monarchy
Over the recent years there have been many debates as to whether the monarchy should be abolished. The monarchy has been part of the British constitution for centuries and it symbolises the unity and traditional standards of the nation. However, having a monarchy merely hinders the modernisation of the society and the traditional values are seen to be outdated. This essay will look at the arguments which are in favour of abolishing the monarchy. These include the fact that the monarchy is very costly, the monarch does not exercise formal powers herself, but it is exercised by ministers. Having a monarch creates social and class divisions. The hereditary privilege which the royals are ultimately born in to is no guarantee that the person in office is fit by birth to be head of state.
To begin with one of the criticisms against the monarchy is that it is incredibly expensive. It costs far too much for the royal family to live their lifestyle. Much but not all costs of the monarchy is met by the civil list. The civil list pays for the running of the royal household. (Jones et al, 2006) This includes the cost of staffs, catering and hospitality, executive admin and any ceremonial functions. Any other costs of the monarchy such as royal trips and the upkeep of royal castles are met by government departments through grants-in-aid from parliament. (Rogers, 2009) The argument here is why should the average tax payer be paying out of their hard earned money for the royals up keeping and their lavish lifestyles? Currently the civil list stands at £7.9 million a year and it is due for review in 2010, but parliament is unable to reduce the £7.9 million a year because of a 1972 Civil list Act which refuses any reductions to be made to the queen’s civil list. This means that the monarch is exempt from cuts in public spending next year. (Travis, 2009) It isn’t just the civil list; the monarch in total has cost the public around £183 million last year, (Gray, 2009) and the way things are going it is looking very likely that it will increase next year. There have been informal talks between the palace and the treasury about increasing the civil list payment and at a time of cuts in public expenditure and cuts in departmental budgets the queen should not be asking for a rise. The queen ought to be aware of financial pressures facing the country and she should be ensuring that costs are kept under control. The monarchy takes good money from the country which she essentially receives from taxpayers. Therefore arguing that the monarchy should be removed makes sense since she is extremely expensive to maintain.
Moving on to another reason why the monarchy should be abolished is that even though the queen is head of state she does not exercise any formal power herself, but most prerogative powers are exercised by ministers on behalf of the crown, who are not accountable to parliament for the executive decisions they make. (Democratic Audit, 2008) These powers include sending troops abroad and signing of treaties without consulting parliament before hand. An example of this is when John Major sent troops to take part in the first gulf war. (Barnett, 1994) The crown prerogative is exploited by ministers, and parliament cannot do anything to take away or reduce these powers as they have been derived from the royal prerogative. The queen is powerless and pointless and all her powers are invested in the prime minister. However, officials hide the real nature of this truth by saying the queen “acts on the advice of the prime minister”, meaning she does what she is told. (Republic, 2009) Politically the monarch serves little purpose. There are some powers which she can and has used, in occasions when there is a hung parliament. In an event of a hung parliament the queen will have to choose who to appoint if the incumbent prime minister resigns straight away or is defeated in the commons. (Kalitowski, 2008) At this point the question arises, should the queen consider dissolving parliament again? It is for this reason some have called for a reform of the sovereign’s personal prerogative. The call for this reform is one of the arguments for getting rid of the monarchy as many people do not agree with why an unelected and unaccountable monarch should have the right to play any part in the political process. This brings us again to why the monarchy should be eradicated; she plays no political role for the UK and she gives the government enormous amount of political power which the government take full advantage of because they are not accountable to parliament. There is little the queen can do to limit the powers of prime ministers as they have become more dominant and they are fundamentally the decision makers. It is debatable to say that the “Royal Prerogative” can be described more accurately as “prime ministerial powers” due to the huge amount of power the government exercises.
Furthermore, the monarchy to a large extent promotes social division. The British monarchy represents a feudal society of medieval England in a modern democratic state. (Bagdanor, 1997) Having a monarch breeds excessive deference and living in a modern society she is seen as being out of touch with the rest of the country. “In a Mori poll an 2003 68 per cent of those who were questioned thought that the royal family was “out of touch with ordinary people”; 28 per cent thought that it was not”. (Jones et al, 2006, p 397) The monarchy is still continuing to live in outdated traditions and beliefs where they expect to be greeted by respect and deference from everyone. Such outdated practices perpetuate the delusion of their inherent superiority to the rest of us, which are both insulting in principle and manifestly untrue in reality. Living in a modern democratic society and having a constitutional monarchy underlines a string of values which hinder the modernisation of the country. (Fabian Society) “As an institution whose roots lie firmly in the past, it reminds us too much of our history while failing us to help anticipate the future”. (Bagdanor, 2007, p 300) The monarchy has outlived its usefulness and because it symbolises deference and hierarchy, it forms a dominant barrier against any reform whether it be constitutional or social. If Britain is to ever change and take place as an efficient industrial and democratic society, which does not breed deference, the monarchy needs to be taken out of the British constitution.
Finally, the last argument in support of abolishing the monarchy is one which many people will concur with in that the monarchists are not fit by birth to be head of state. It is a fair point to make; why should someone be given the opportunity to be head of the nation according to birth and not ability? Just because they are born in to a family where they have inherited the privilege to be king or queen is unreasonable because how is anyone expected to compete with something that they have no chance of even coming close to achieving if it has been automatically been given to someone according to their family heritage. In the recent years there has been a growing number of support for radical changes to be made in the nature of the monarchy and proposals for reform such as having an elected representative as of head of state. A MORI poll in 1998, suggests that 49 per cent of people support this proposal and 45 per cent oppose to the idea. (Jones et al, 2006) These results demonstrate that the people of this country want changes to be made in the way the royals are conducted to represent the country, but there are still some people who object to this proposal because they believe the royals should represent the country due the historical background. The notion of “accident of birth” does not make them fit to hold office and in defence of this point from the monarchists is”the monarch is trained from birth, yet they never explain what sort of training they get, what it is they are suppose to be trained in and why must an infant royal be denied the choice about their future”. (Smith, 2009) The royals should have a choice about this matter and not have it be encumbered upon them because they are born in to it. Reward and respect should be earned, not received as of right.
In conclusion, all the arguments in favour of abolishing are valid and it makes clear sense for Britain to not have a monarchy. The reasons are as mentioned before; it is overly expensive to contain a monarch, especially with the request of an increase on the civil list which parliament is unable to refuse. Majority of the time the monarch does not exercise powers herself, but instead the ministers exercise these powers and they are not accountable to parliament. So why do we need a monarchy? The people in favour of keeping the monarchy will say the monarchy symbolises the unity, history and traditional values of this country and taking it away will demolish everything that represents Britain. But this feudal system is now outdated and Britain needs change in order to revolutionalise the country and live in a more modern and democratic society. The monarch serves no political purpose for us and she is just a figure head for the country. Abolishing the monarchy will be no easy task and it might take years to actually make this change take place but Britain is better off without a monarchy and if Britain claims to be a democracy then no one family should be put above others because democracy is based on equality, not class hierarchy.