On the whole Royalist / Republican debate, I find myself sitting on the fence – or more accurately, leaping from one side to the other, writes Hannah Chapman. I think it’s a bit of a head versus heart thing.
I felt bewildered when the Queen died. Some part of me (more heart than head) childishly assumed she would live forever. In a world of political upheaval, division and fear, the benefit of someone always being there is huge.
My head says there is no place in a modern democracy for a tiny group of unelected people to reside in gilded palaces, to assume deference and to live in luxury’s own lap, while thousands are homeless and millions live in desperate poverty.
Kings and queens (mostly kings) in the past have frequently taken the throne by force – British history is thick with power-grabbing wannabe monarchs and contests of the kind that inspired the hit series Game of Thrones. This leads us to the thorny question of how much power is even up for grabs. Times have changed since being monarch gave you licence to roll the heads of any individual for backing the wrong version of Christianity, or because they looked at you funny last time you saw them in court.
The monarch may no longer have the power to make laws, but that doesn’t mean they have no sway. In weekly meetings with the PM, they are able to ‘advise and warn’. Based on my own rigorous research (all four seasons of The Crown), Queen Elizabeth II with her gentle guidance was able to curb the worst excesses of 15 governments; this is influence indeed. King Charles III will no doubt continue where his mother left off.
What then of the symbolic value of our monarchy? Symbols are important. The British monarchy symbolises history, tradition, imperial gain, and – however you might spin it – the fundamental idea that some select few are born to be set way above the rest. That’s my head talking again.
Less spectacle, Charles – and more reform
The Coronation will prove once again that the British royal family are very good at pageantry (at considerable cost to the public purse). But, Terry Walker asks, what is their actual function?
The King’s role as head of state is surrounded by secrecy and mystery: few of us understand how it really works, and the extent of his powers. That is deliberate. The royal spectacle – tradition, pomp and scandals, all dutifully amplified by a sycophantic press – is distraction on a grand scale. It provides a figleaf for the power wielded by the privileged and wealthy.
There can be no justification in a mature democracy for the role of head of state being awarded to someone by accident of birth. The best we can hope is that Charles III will be a reforming monarch. That reform needs to be extensive. It would be healthier for our democracy if the mystery were swept away, the role of the monarch clarified and codified, and the pomp reduced.
Why should we maintain the current utterly disproportionate scale of support for the monarchy from the public finances? With the mystery gone and the grandeur tamed, let’s see a scaled-down European-style royal family, living more like their ‘subjects’. While President of a United Republic of Britain, with a written constitution may be some way off, I’d like to see the King with effective duties in protecting our constitution so that never again can a prime minister prorogue parliament on a whim.
With a more democratic system, we’d learn to live without the royal spectacle.
Royals don’t deserve to be top of the pile
I am an unrepentant republican, writes Tom Serpell: so much so that I shall at some expense, but with much pleasure, be spending the Coronation weekend in La Republique Francaise, to minimise exposure to the fawning jingoism and risk to my blood pressure.
To me, the royal family embodies so much that is wrong with this country: inequality; class; entitlement; privilege; bloated wealth; arrogance, greed, all with impunity but without accountability, supported by obsequious politicians and media. They offer a CV featuring neither intellectual nor empirical merit. They regard property acquired by conquest or position as their own yet always want more. They sport honours, titles and rank as their right, though entirely unearned.
They sit atop a pyramid of social status from where they cannot be removed, no matter how egregious their behaviour – and some of it is beyond egregious. Despite their lack of admirable qualities, they perpetuate medieval inequalities in the society to which they claim to owe a duty.
As a family on a pedestal they are a dreadful example to others, displaying adultery, hypocrisy, greed, disfunction, abuse – and tax avoidance. And we the people are supposed to look up to them and pay for their extravagance.
It is high time that our supposedly democratic norms included the appointment – and removal – of heads of state and of a second chamber just as we elect our MPs and councillors.