Advantages Britishness, Constitutional Function & Tradition
Disadvantages Some unsuitable family members - no names mentioned!
A few years ago I was queuing to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. I think at the time myself and a friend were shooting looks of disapproval at some tourists who had the audacity to queue jump – I then realised that whether we like it or not respect for queuing is perhaps unique to the British! Behind us a film of the Queen’s coronation (which I am no where near old enough to remember) was playing. I didn’t pay a great deal of attention until the enormous crown was placed on her head and the crowds outside surged forward cheering wildly. This was the first time I’d ever seen the coronation and the magnitude and ceremony of it all bought tears to my eyes. I remember thinking that I would definitely go to William’s coronation. Nowadays I truly hope that day will come.There are many reasons I support the monarchy and as I am young and generally liberal minded they are not based on either a love of the class system or plain old-fashionedness. Instead my reasons are as follows:
1) Tradition: I will freely admit I am biased on this issue. As a student of British history I have spent years studying the British constitution and the various Kings and Queens of our realm. Some have been great, others good and a few useless! To see hundreds and hundreds of years of tradition swept away without good reason would be a travesty. Yes the Queen and her family does cost us a tiny amount each. But it is a price I am willing to pay and I’m sure the ceremony, comfort and protection American presidents receive comes at a similar cost.2) Unique Quality: I think the British are a people fiercely defensive of their uniqueness. Our reluctance to embrace Europe is ample testimony to this fact. We are very protective of our distinctive traditions and ways of doing things. Having a monarchy fits British character and acts as our most important distinguishing feature.
Tourism is of course also a factor here. One of the major reasons people travel to Britain (regardless of the awful weather) is because we the most famous kingdom. This portrays an image of tradition, ceremony and splendour. Many of London’s top tourist attractions relate to the British monarchy: Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court, the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. And if that monarchy were not still around these places would loose a lot of their poignancy. For example there is something sad and unsatisfying about visiting Versailles despite its undeniable splendour.3) Important Function: I believe that the way our constitution works – i.e. having an elected government headed by a prime minister and then a hereditary head of state is a very sensible system.
When a country has no monarchy at best the elected president takes on many additional roles. In America the president and first lady (who can herself take on iconic status, for example Jackie Kennedy) are responsible for public ceremonies, meeting and greeting the people and welcoming foreign dignitaries. In Britain these responsibilities are shared. I personally would much rather meet the Queen than Tony Blair or the late Princess Diana than Cherie!At worst an absence of monarchy can encourage much darker developments. I firmly believe the reason Hitler was able to gain such absolute power in Germany was that he could become both the political and ideological head of state. Germany had lost its monarchy after World War I (House of Hohenzollern headed by the Kaiser) and the shaky Weimar Republic replaced it. Of course there are many reasons for Hitler’s rise to prominence most of which are irrelevant here. Hitler became chancellor in 1933 but was also able to become president when Hindenburg died in 1934. Thus Hitler had absolute power both as Germany’s head of state and as its political leader. Had a hereditary monarchy remained in place this would have been almost impossible. Hitler may still have become chancellor but a hereditary head of state, importantly with an automatic replacement, would have been very hard to push aside. Had it remained there would always have been qualifications on Hitler’s power, someone who could technically have got rid of him or refused to take the country to war. And just as important it would have been impossible for Hitler to build up such an extensive cult.
None of the most renowned dictators in history have co-existed alongside a monarchy. Not Hitler, not Mussolini, not Stalin, not Napoleon, or more recently Saddam. I do not deny that some kings and queens have acted in a dictatorial fashion themselves. But this has not been the case in Britain for a long time. I am not saying that all countries without a monarchy will at some point develop into a dictatorship. America is clearly in no danger as things stand. But if the economic and political circumstances are right, i.e. there is instability, it is more likely. I don’t believe that Britain is in any danger of becoming a dictatorship because Britons are not fundamentally a revolutionary peoples (back to the queuing!) but I am comforted by the fact our monarchy provides an important defence against it.4) Focus Point: The monarchy also provides a useful focus point for the nation, for example during times of celebration or grief. When World War II was won the people instinctively gathered around Buckingham Palace shouting ‘Thank God for a Good King’ to which George VI deeply moved replied ‘Thank God for a Good People’. On Remembrance Day his daughter now provides the focus for our sorrow and respect. And especially when political tensions run high it is useful to have a neutral figure to perform such functions. If something awful has happened to you, for example you have lost your home or even a relative to war, you do not necessary want to be confronted with the political figure you may feel is responsible.
5) Role: Finally I believe that the Queen does an excellent job. Her devotion to her country and duty has been tireless. All the royal family raise large amounts of money for charity, represent us abroad, entertain foreign dignitaries and head ceremonial occasions. Although I am not overly keen on the idea of Charles III it has always been the way with monarchy that you have to take the rough with the smooth. And I do believe William will make an excellent king.In conclusion perhaps we do not NEED a monarchy. Clearly we could manage without as we have done in the past (Commonwealth) and many other countries do so today with great success. But these I the reasons I WANT a monarchy and why I feel it performs a useful function. I’m sure many will disagree but in my opinion bring on King William V!
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