In favour of the monarchy

I have been challenged to write an argument in favour of the monarchy. I am gong to argue in favour of the monarchy as it is constituted in Britain where the monarchy is largely a figurehead above a broadly democratic government, rather than absolute rulers. I am, on balance, a republican, but think that looking at the British monarchy can be interesting and informative, especially as they continue to play a significant role in British culture.

Their are several possible arguments in favour of a monarchy, some of which have some merit – here I will briefly discuss a few. I will argue that the economic impact of having a royal family is positive, that they play a central role in national identity, that the non-political representative role is important and that their removal has practical concerns.

The first point is that the overall economic impact of having a royal family is beneficial to Britain. Annually, we spend up to £180m on the upkeep of the royal family, their estates and security. The Crown Estate makes a profit of £230m per year, and is worth about £7bn. This is a property portfolio that was originally privately owned, and is currently held in trust. I cannot see how we could legally or justifiably take possession of this Crown Estate without significantly changing how we view ownership and inheritance across the board.

There is also a positive impact on tourism, although this is difficult to quantify meaningfully. While it may well be that not all of this tourist spend would be lost without a monarchy, it seems to make sense that at least some would without the clearly recognisable, long-term figureheads that are internationally recognisable.

This suggests that we all profit financially from the presence of an internationally recognised monarchical figurehead.

I think that the monarchy plays an important role in national identity. Whatever you feel about nationalism, it is true that there is a strong sense of Britishness that is widely valued. People feel a sense of pride in belonging to a society that had been so successful, with some excellent more recent achievements. Britain is a broadly liberal society, and much more advanced than most in terms of gay rights, racial mixing, religious tolerance and gender inequalities, all facts to be celebrated. The achievements of Britain are to be valued, and go into making a total picture of Britishness to which people ascribe. The monarchy is a central part of this view of Britishness. The enjoyment and pride that people draw from having a royal family, and all the associated pomp and ceremony, is worth having as a good in itself.

Perhaps more convincing is the diplomatic and representative role that a monarchy can play. Governments and Prime Ministers are inherently political animals, and are constantly playing to the home audience that they need to keep electing them. This means politicians are often rewarded for nationalistic rhetoric lead by the British media and public perception, rather than taking a conciliatory or cooperative line in international politics. They are therefore in a poor position to fulfil many of the roles of a diplomat and national representative abroad.

If the Wikileaks publications showed anything, it is that international relations rely heavily on petty politics and good relations between a small number of individual diplomats. A royal visit or invite has an impact that no other diplomatic pursuit could hope for, and there is no need for the queen to make the sort of gestures that would be required of a politician. It is also clear that the royal family are seen as much more able to represent Britain than a mere diplomat or politician, as the head of state and ultimate authority, however that is delegated.

Finally, we have an argument from practicality. The British constitution is based on the authority of the monarch and their relationship with the elected parliament. To remove the monarchy would require a total rethink of the structures of governance. I am sure that there are many potential configurations that would be an improvement, but I do not trust the current crop of politicians to implement them properly.

I haven’t here looked at the challenges to each of these points, or the other arguments against the continuation of a royal family. As I suggested at the top I am not entirely convinced by the arguments I have given, but I certainly think each of these is an interesting point, and worth addressing when considering whether to continue with a royal family.

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    • John A Bateson
    • February 14th, 2012

    Arguments in favour of a form of political govt – which it what monarchy is – cannot be primarily economic. All acceptable democratic societies must be accountable and egalitarian. Monarchy is neither, indeed it is the antithesis of both. Over the last few decades we have downplayed equality, the consequences are plain to see.

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