Opinion: Why I am a royalist

There’s nothing democratic about the royal family. They are the descendants of a thug who defeated another thug to become the despot of these Isles. If that was all there was to them, I would be the first in the queue to get rid of them.

The greatest invention in the history of the world is not the wheel, or fire, or the scientific method: it’s democracy and the rule of law. What’s wonderful about democracy is he principle it establishes, that everyone, no matter their colour or creed, is of equal worth. That each person has the same number of votes: just one. With that principle comes equality before the law and an aspiration that everyone, no matter their background, should have the chance to fulfil their dreams.

Our democracy is a work in progress. We have an electoral system where not every vote is of equal value, where media tycoons have too much power and where money talks. But it’s a whole lot better than what went before.

Equality under the law is a work in progress too. Too often, justice belongs to those who can afford expensive lawyers. As we’ve seen in the Leveson enquiry, if you are an ordinary person, without access to those lawyers, powerful media groups can trample all over you. But the very fact the Leveson enquiry has been established is a triumph of democracy over those media groups.

Maybe we’ll never finish this journey, maybe we’ll always be fighting, step by step, towards a better democracy.  But, for all its flaws, that painful, slow, progress to democracy is something to celebrate.

Some bemoan that glacial progress from the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, through Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights, the Great Reform Act, and extensions of voting to women and to all adults above 18. Maybe a revolution would have been quicker, but maybe not. Too many revolutions carried out in the name of democracy have torn down the laws that went before and replaced them with something worse.

Our history has been far from bloodless, but much of the progress has been achieved, not through violence, but lawful change brought about by the will of the people. That’s something to celebrate.

And we have a symbol to celebrate that history. The descendent of despots like William the Conqueror and Henry VIII is a constitutional monarch. The monarchy is a symbol without power, an enthusiastic champion for democracy and the rule of law whose liberal views would cause those tyrants to turn in their graves.

 

* George Kendall is the acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

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24 Comments

  • Have I missed something?
    Why are you a royalist? Because this monarchy is better, from a liberal democratic sense, than previous monarchies?
    Because something undemocratic acts as a good symbol under which we can celebrate the march of democracy?

    whu?

  • Joshua Dixon 6th Jun '12 - 7:29pm

    “The monarchy is a symbol without power, an enthusiastic champion for democracy…”

    I literally don’t see how that is possible. Also, if you truly see the monarchy as a “symbol without power” then why hold onto such a symbol? I feel these are all part of a series of weak justifications for an institution that people somehow still feel sentimental for. We REALLY need to move on.

  • @ William Summers; by the time the Great Reform Act, and certainly Universal Suffrage came about, the monarchy was already a passive bystander to what was going on in Parliament. The last monarch remotely effective in politics was William IV. And even then, he was interfering on behalf of his Prime Minister by threatening the Tory opposition with the creation of as many new Whig peers as would have been necessary to force reforms through the upper house. If only he’d thought to abolish the place, but never mind.

    The reason why I don’t support the abolition of the monarchy is because I frankly don’t see the point. Any presidency we could create would have to replicate the office of the present monarch in all respects or completely break the country’s constitutional settlement. All we would really be achieving is the introduction of partisan sentiment into a symbol that is supposed to be politically neutral.

    @ Joshua Dixon

    The point of the symbol without power is for there to be a figurehead of the nation existing independent of partisan divisions. For example, ermember how the accusation ‘unpatriotic’ used to get thrown about in the United States if a commentator opposed the policies of the Bush administration? In a system with an apolitical head of state, that charge carries little if any sting. Elected or not, we really should retain that feature of our system. No throwing babies out with the bathwater.

    My favoured solution would be to go with some sort of indirectly elected position, secret ballots, no campaigning, nominations on a postcard to Westminster Palace in the event of the successor being rejected by a free vote in parliament, that sort of thing.

  • Nicola Prigg 6th Jun '12 - 8:29pm

    I have to agree with Frew and William Summers, you gave us no reason as to why the Monarchy should exist, but reasons why the Monarchy shouldn’t.

    Its not so much that they are descended from despots but the fact they should so easily turn into one seeing as the only thing holding back the Monarch is convention and not the law in the form of a constitution.

    The Monarchy is a not a symbol of democracy, in this country or any other country due to the fact they are unelected and have generally resisted democratic change throughout the years as William Summers has pointed out.

    At the end you say “Our history has been far from bloodless, but much of the progress has been achieved, not through violence, but lawful change brought about by the will of the people. That’s something to celebrate.”

    Indeed, it has been lawful change but its been by the “will of the people” not through the Monarchy. If the will of the people can create this democracy, flawed as it is, then surely the “will of the people” can choose a worthy successor.

  • “the monarchy is a symbol of how peaceful, lawful protest has evolved what was a dictatorship into a democracy”

    A stranger view of the last thousand years of British history it would be harder to find.

  • Have to say George, you are one of my favourite bloggers on this site. But I must disagree with your assessment here. You claim, without justification, that it is a good thing to have a symbol. Perhaps. But I don’t believe that symbol needs to be chosen by the hereditary principle alone. And I would also say that the institution is currently enjoying the benefits of what may be it’s best incarnation, HM Queen Elizabeth (if there was a referendum to get rid of this Queen, I would vote against it). But I am of the opinion, and many monarchists share my hunch, that successors may not enjoy the same warm regards as Elizabeth II.

  • As a liberal I’m against having a monarchy.It sums up the way positions and power are ‘inherited’ in the ‘establishment’. Let them keep their titles & even their state property … but get them out of anything to do with our Government. Lifes too short for this show to go as part of Government in a 21st Century world.

  • and another thing!!! This defence of the monarchy is in my opinion another sign of Liberals becoming conservatives……….. then not long after comes the big ‘C’. Where have all the Radicals gone?????Where have all those who want a real democracy gone????????? Perhaps like me they now dispair & no longer members……
    Sorry for the rant – Angry Liberal.

  • George Kendall

    Like others here I read what you say carefully as you always make a reasoned argument

    However, also as others have said I cannot agree with you on this point.

    The current Queen is a model of a constitutional monarch and I doubt many would advocate replacing her. Saying that, however, her most of her respect is built on a sense of longevity and stability

    You read some nonsense about her being the best diplomat and political figure in the world today. I think that is difficult to know but she has clearly not upset many people in the last 60 years.

    The problem with a hereditary monarchy though is you have to separate the incumbent from the role. Not every monarch has been neither been as good as Elizabeth on the diplomacy front nor as an example to the country at large. There have also been monarchs who have not taken such a back seat.

    On that last point we have also to say that in many respects the UK is still a pretty young democracy. Universal suffrage only came about in 1928 and until 1918 a large number of men were also excluded from voting. Since there have only been 4 monarchs during this period it is difficult to say that the British monarchy is well suited to our current way of life, Even in that time you have had the controversy around the calling of the 51 election and the abdication crisis. All this was sorted out behind closed doors and little obvious to the public. We have also seen the debacle of 1992 and the death of Diana where the popular mood changed somewhat.

    The problem to me is twofold – firstly I am sure that the Royal Family exerts an influence that we are not aware of and secondly the future monarchs cannot always be assured to be as competent as Brenda. I have read posts on other sites where members of the Armed Forces state that in the face of a showdown between the monarch and politicians then they would take the side of the monarch – rather worrying, especially with the rumors that abound about the treatment of Wilson in the 70s.

    The link below looks at the popular support for the monarchy in 2011 before all this jubilee hype began. Although people are in favor some of the results are interesting and suggest that public opinion is fickle. Being a republican is an active position as is being a true monarchist,; most people, however, I imagine are passive supporters as they are happy with Brenda but may not be so keen on those that follow – time will tell.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/apr/24/monarchy-still-relevant-say-britons

    If the monarchy is to exist just as a titular HoS then at least we need to change our National Anthem and remove all requirements for giving an oath of allegiance to the monarch. The allegiance should be to the country and not an individual.

    God Save the Queen is an issue if you don’t believe in a God and don’t accept the idea of monarchy

  • Old Codger Chris 7th Jun '12 - 9:50am

    “The allegiance should be to the country and not an individual”. Allegiance to an individual works well provided the individual is worthy of respect – time will tell if the Queen’s successors are worthy, but at least we’re not likely to get Prince Andrew or Edward. Allegiance to a country is nebulous and hasn’t worked out well in every country (think Fatherland or Mother Russia).

    As for God saving the Queen, since most Brits don’t know and don’t care whether there’s a God or not this phrase is just a harmless tradition to most of us. In typical British pragmatism the many embarrassing verses of our national anthem (crushing the Scots etc) are simply forgotten today.

  • Old Codger Chris

    I think you will still find most continental Europeans claiming allegiance to their country, as well as the US which is a strong example of this. I absolutely refuse to defer to anyone in this country just by virtue of their birthparents, especially when one of those was a rabid right-winger like ‘the Nation’s Favourite Granny’. Even when people apply for citizenship they have to take an oath of allegiance tot the monarch as an individual (as well as a pledge to the country) – why do we still need the first? Not to mention MPs – I could not, in all conscience, take a pledge of allegiance to the Queen and her successors.

    I don’t do God, full stop and anyway I don’t actually care if God saves the Queen or not, I would rather he focused on me, my friends and family. I reserve the right to refuse to stand when this dirge is played as it does not mention the country or people at all

    Removing the monarchy is not a short term reality but why not make the oath to uphold democracy in the UK as a first start?

  • George,

    Personally, I’m pro-that-which-our-country-does-right and anti-that-which-it-does-wrong. Just as I am with other countries. The thought of being “pro-British” per se makes me feel as queasy as any other form of nationalist or ethnic tribalism. I’m British because this is where I was born. It’s a matter of pure happenstance and thus has no business being a source of pride or of shame, or any baring on how I view the highs and lows of its history. I feel exactly the same about my Scottishness, and my Europeaness, and my Northern Hemisphericality (!), as I do for that matter about my eye colour and my inside-leg measurement.

    There’s nothing cynical or bitter about that, I just don’t see myself as the property of the culture I happened to be born into, but rather as a voluntary and autonomous participant.

    And without that irrational, emotional attachment to the culture, the monarchy ceases to have any meaning and can be seen for what it is – an absurdity.

  • George,

    I didn’t describe emotional attachment to your country as an absurdity, I described the concept of monarchy as an absurdity. It’s simply a more obvious absurdity in the absence of any sentimental nationalistic feelings. I happen to quite like this country. On balance it’s a nice place to live. I’m fond of much that’s here. But that fondness doesn’t make me blind to the things that are wrong with it, and in my view the monarchy is such a thing, being in principle ethically, socially and democratically unjustifiable, and in practice (and much more importantly) both the foundation and pinnacle of our odious and stubbornly resilient class system.

    You’re right that we republicans have a hard sell on our hands, but I’m not totally pessimistic. However broad support for the royals may be I don’t think it’s particularly deep – it’s simply not an issue that most people think about enough to want to stray from the “default” view, which is the one presented to us by our largely unrepresentative media, in particular our vomit-inducingly obsequious state broadcaster, But that sort of shallow support is vulnerable to events. Something like one of the dominions going republican, or Scottish independence (mark my words, whatever Salmond is saying right now to avoid scaring the horses, in the event of a “yes” vote Scotland will be a republic within its first parliament), or a royal scandal of some sort, or the ascendance of Charlie to the throne when his mum dies, and all royal bets are off, I reckon.

  • @George Kendall

    I think you’re right the republicanism does have an image problem. I also think you are right that republicanism can seem to wish to suppress history and revel in cynicism. Point. But I would argue monarchism has a problem with history too, specifically it is pathologically fixated with it.

    I would class myself as only mildly republican, but one thing that really upsets me about the monarchy is the fact that, because of the hereditary principle, it can never truly represent the Britain of today. I once did a post in the members forum asking if Prince William would have been permitted to marry a British Indian woman and still be in line for the throne, for example. I was amazed how many monarchists accepted the fact that that would be unlikely to be permitted. If we chose the Head of State, by election, every generation, we could have national symbol that truly reflects who we are today: an elected Head of State, a ceremonial figurehead of the nation, who could reflect the positivity of progress.

  • George, I like you, and respect your view much of the time, but I believe you are very, very wrong here. There is little that is ‘constitutional’ about the monarchy. The present monarch APPEARS to have been fairly benign, at least in public. But we have no way of knowing about her private role behind the scenes, because she steadfastly refuses all scrutiny. We also have no way of knowing what use future monarchs will make of their privileged position. Within living memory we have had to effectively depose a monarch who may well have been a Nazi sympathiser.

    As for preserving tradition and history, the most honourable British tradition of all is a radical tradition: the tradition of questioning traditions. Innovation and reform are just as crucial in British history as the monarchy. We should celebrate that. Magna carta, the Glorious revolution, the Great Reform Act. A Democratic Lords, and a Vote for a Republic will be a continuation of this tradition, not it’s abrogation.
    And your view that republicans are ashamed to be British is frankly outrageous! For the record, I am happy to be British (and English, East Anglian, and European, for that matter). I would invite you to take a look at republic.org.uk and point out anything you find which confirms that prejudice.
    Arguably, in fact, it is your view which runs counter to our party constitution: “[we…] oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality”.

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