Social Affairs

Is it time to abolish the monarchy?

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Barbados has decided to remove the Queen as its head of state and become a republic by the end of 2021. No revolution, just a declaration from Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, as a step towards sovereignty to celebrate their 55th year of independence.

This now poses the question of whether Britain is next. After all, if Brexit was about sovereignty, then throwing off the shackles of a costly and increasingly irrelevant monarchy is the logical next step.

Historically, the British establishment dislikes countries abolishing monarchies – because they worry people will get ideas. Let’s not forget the failure of George V to help the Romanovs, leaving them to their bloody fate in case it led to a socialist uprising in Britain.

To be spurned by the Commonwealth, the last vestige of the Empire is even more troubling to the British Royal Family. Who’s next? Other Caribbean countries? Canada? Australia’s most recent polling on the matter found that 62% of Australians wanted the next head of state after Queen Elizabeth II to be an Australian, which is a reasonable enough request.

With the argument for Scottish independence very much alive and looming, and questions hanging over Northern Ireland post-Brexit, Britain is devolving, yet also, evolving. Reforming the monarchy is, therefore, a natural progression.

Do you believe inequality? Democracy? Do you believe in reform? If you answered yes to these, then it’s time we reformed the monarchy.

The question remains as to whether individuals believe that clinging to the past can bring progress, and whether 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 the majority of people are against this reality, then naturally it’s time to reform the monarchy. Labels of republican or monarchist are unnecessary, just a desire to live in a fairer, more effectively run country.

In a post-COVID world, we will be required to ask difficult questions, and one of those is what’s the Royal Family for? In times of crisis, some enjoy the continuity and reassurance which the Queen offers, as she’s undoubtedly the epitome of grace and duty. However, plenty of individuals in her family are simply famous faces who are given titles, platforms and funding.

Polling often misinterprets the difference between the monarch as a person and the monarchy as an institution. Most people attach the idea of the monarchy to her, but when she dies or abdicates then the institution must die with her also. It is important to remember that if we pave the way for reform now, we can create the kind of country we want.

Constitutional reform reimagines a Britain fit for purpose, which puts people at the forefront. Republican movements use dogmatic arguments about the undemocratic nature of hereditary heads of state, criticise individual Royals or use statistics on the cost to the taxpayer, but they miss the point. The Royal Family are just people doing what we keep expecting, allowing and rewarding them to do. For that to change, our expectations must change, our needs must be met and reform implemented.

A Henry David Thoreau once said in his essay Civil Disobedience: “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 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.”

Scandinavia has monarchies similar to Britain, so how do they manage to have a monarchy in an egalitarian way? The much-loved King Olav V of Norway was said to be of the people not just for the people – an important distinction which cannot be said of British monarchs. The ceremony, wealth and decadence bestowed in Britain is not a factor in Scandinavian countries where royals live a more low-key existence.

Monarchists cite The Netherlands where the monarchy costs more than the British one and yet they’re happy to retain it. Is this that childlike logic of saying if someone is doing something worse than us, then we must somehow, by comparison, be better?

Maybe this difference is that many of the Dutch royal family have jobs. Or is it simply, that The Netherlands, like Scandinavia, is more egalitarian, and a less class-based society with more co-operative people-led political structures than Britain?

The answer lies in reform, rather than abolition. Reimagining the political landscape for the people, not necessarily exiling a single land-owning privileged family. Bertrand Russell used monarchy as an example of how something survives simply because it does not harm. By this same logic, nothing would change; paralysis of indecision or status quo would forever impede progress.

If we retain the monarchy because we don’t like the alternatives then we must reimagine better ones. A lack of imagination is nothing to be proud of and restricted views have no place in a world of infinite possibilities.

If the monarchy as head of state is kept because we don’t like the government or system we have, then it’s time for sweeping constitutional reform. The Queen has never blocked legislation the public didn’t like, she doesn’t exercise the role that the people want. If we want a representative upper house or individual to be the backstop, then create one based on democratic principles.

The national anthem could be amended to represent the country and its people, and a constitution could be written to involve everyone. When our politicians are considered the lowliest of people, royals will always look like faultless role models. If people want decent representatives then let’s all start being them and electing them. Brexit was sold as regaining sovereignty, why should we give it away to unelected celebrities?

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to the future and changed lives forever. Now may seem the worst time to get rid of something which offers a sense of stability, but life is anything but stable and to gain that stability we have to rip up the old rules and start again.

Given the pace of change, the monarchy is diminishing anyway, so we can either wait it out and let the old ways wear us down, or we can all actively shape the future and the country we want and consign monarchy to the history books. Britain too can become an independent modern nation which belongs to the people.

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