Removed from the experience of ordinary Britons, and having made no gesture to show her empathy with the nation’s difficulties, this is a monarch thumbing her nose at her subjects, writes Andrew Child. The monarchy is damaging to foreign policy, undermines the concept of aspiration in social mobility and is used as a puppet of our politicians
As “the nation” apparently celebrates 60 years of the same unelected head of state – aka the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – there’s every reason to argue that it’s time to abolish the monarchy. And there was every reason to protest at Elizabeth Windsor’s Thames Pageant on Sunday. We – the British people – can do so much better.
The easiest way to think about why we’d be better off without the monarchy is to ask a simple question: what has it ever done for us? To answer it I’m going to turn to the supporters of monarchy for assistance (It’s only fair in the interests of balance). I want to consider each of their arguments in turn and see what we’re left with.
The most-cited reason for supporting the monarchy is that they sum up who the British people are. They’re Britishness itself. This is an argument that was often deployed by the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne during last year’s royal wedding “celebrations”. Really Peter? Because I went to a state comprehensive school and I rely on the National Health Service for my care. That’s a big part of who I am – and that’s a big part of the experience of the nation at large. The Windsors are however completely removed from that experience. I also live in multi-cultural Brixton in south-west London. And such diversity is now a big part of the British character. It’s often said that curry is as British as fish and chips or a Sunday roast. Few would disagree. The hereditary principle denies us the possibility that our head of state can ever reflect the experience of the many.
So how then is the Queen supposed to meaningfully speak for and represent the nation? Another prominent argument. Her background and lack of democratic legitimacy make this extremely difficult. This otherness is sometimes mistaken for impartiality. But she is anything but impartial. The queen is a monarchist, she is aristocrat-in-chief. She has a position and a narrow interest to defend. It’s hard to see how she can act in the interests of the nation.
But try she might. She might try to understand the current economic plight of the nation – a nation which is in the grip of a double dip recession and all that goes with it: cuts in public services, mass unemployment, depressed wages, a reduced standard of living, increasing inequality. But no words like recession and austerity have passed the lips of our head of state. We essentially hear from our head of state twice a year. Once is when she reads from a piece of paper which tells her and us what the government intends to legislate on. And again in the Queen’s Christmas message, when we are served up bland, platitudinous nonsense from which it’s hard to discern what century we’re living in.
Some would argue the position neither allows her to speak for herself or the nation. This is something to be debated. But the Queen could and should make a gesture to show that she understands the nation’s difficulties. That we are truly “all in this together”. But such as acknowledgement is painfully lacking. No offer to pay the same taxes as the rest of us. No offer to accept less money from the taxpayer for her official duties. Instead the Queen has struck a deal with parliament to replace the Civil List with the Sovereign Support Grant. A deal which massively boosts her official income. This is a monarch instead thumbing her nose at her subjects.