This article is from the April issue of Total Politics
Ronnie Campbell says YES
Every socialist bone in my body tells me that we should abolish the monarchy as an outdated institution that nurtures a class system based on birth, not worth. Why should we be ruled over by families descended from robber barons, bandits and illegitimate heirs? Or, in the case of the current lot, fifth-generation Germans who changed their name from Battenberg to Windsor during the First World War. By what right do they lord it over us? Why should me and mine, who bend knees to no one, be regarded as ‘subjects’ rather than ‘citizens’?
Without a monarchy there would be no aristocrats owning vast swathes of our green and pleasant land simply because their ancestors stole it from the previous occupants. Without a monarchy at the tip of a pyramid of privilege we might move more quickly towards a genuinely classless society, based on merit and work rather than inherited wealth. Don’t let anyone tell you that the monarchy as an institution treats its subjects equally under the law of the land. Did we hear a peep of protest from Buckingham Palace when Margaret Thatcher turned the police into a military force, closed county borders and encouraged illegal arrests and searches in her attempt to crush the spirit of mining communities during the Great Strike? Not a bit of it.
The Queen can trace her family back several hundred years. The reason she is on the throne is because of the 1688 invasion when William of Orange deposed King James because the latter was showing dangerously pro-Catholic sympathies. Protestant spin doctors later described it as the “Glorious Revolution” and the name has stuck. In fact, it was the second invasion of Britain after the Norman Conquest. William landed an invasion fleet of 260 transports carrying 21,000 men, 21 cannon and 3,660 cavalry. His force was made up of half the Dutch army plus German, Swiss and Swedish mercenaries bankrolled by European bankers. Although the country was taken without much bloodshed – there were a few minor clashes in the West Country – that does not make it any less of an invasion. I can trace my family back to the Stone Age – three generations – most importantly via boys and men who risked their lives daily deep underground. We invaded no territories; we simply made them profitable for aristocratic and royal land-grabbers, kept the country warm and powered the industries that made others rich. A better legacy than waving from cars and opening Parliament while wearing a heavy crown, you may think.
Therefore, all my brain, brawn, instincts and sense of natural justice tell me that we should abolish the monarchy. However, the crunch question is, would I do so if I had that power? The answer is no, not at this time. The Queen, by all accounts, is quite a nice lady who has done her best over the last 60 years to balance privileged inheritance with a strong sense of public duty. That is not the reason why I say no to abolition.
She remains hugely popular among working-class communities that have not enjoyed her lifestyle. She brings in a lot of revenue from tourists who flock to see the pomp and ceremony of royal traditions, even though most of them date only from Victorian times. Economically, she is worth more than she costs. However, that is not why I say no.
To remove her would involve an expensive referendum which, given the establishment bias of our mass media, would result in an overwhelming pro-monarchy vote (during her lifetime at least – I’m not sure that would last during the reign of King Charles and Queen Camilla). However, finally, that is not why I would say no. The reason I would not abolish the monarchy now is the question of what sort of presidential system would replace it. With a presidential system, people have a vote, which is good, but look what we might end up with. The idea of a President Maggie Thatcher a decade or two ago would have filled me with horror. The idea of a President Tony Blair or David Cameron now is something I could stomach even less.
But let’s keep the Queen where she is. And I say that, Ma’am, with no wish for reward. Although ‘Lord Ronnie of Blyth Valley’ does have a certain ring to it.
Ronnie Campbell is the Labour MP for Blyth Valley
Andrew Rosindell says NO
Aristotle once wrote: “Monarchy is the one system of government where power is exercised for the good of all.” Almost 2,500 years later this still bears true. This year, we celebrate 60 years of Queen Elizabeth being on the throne and, despite some ups and downs, she remains as popular as ever. Time and again we see in polls that an overwhelming majority of the country wishes to retain this system. The reason why the oldest form of government is still prevalent is that it is constantly updating to stay relevant. Alternatives are frequently promulgated, only to fall by the wayside. Countries such as Spain and Britain have tried to abolish the monarchical system, only to revert to them a short while later.
The monarchy is an exquisite, prominent aspect of our society, in our 16 Overseas Territories, five Crown Dependencies and in all 16 Realms. During her reign she has seen 12 British prime ministers and over 140 others worldwide. This wealth of experience and knowledge allows her to guide the country through any eventuality.
As our head of state she is also head of the armed forces and the Church of England, all of which plays a great part in how our country runs. Conversely, presidential systems are often fraught with problems. Only recently the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has had to come to deal with the resignation amid scandal of her second president. Only once in over a thousand years has a monarch ceded the throne. Even when Edward VIII abdicated, there was a clear line of succession. This stability allows for effective government.
Elected heads of state are often concerned more with their own political futures and power. Monarchs are not subject to these influences; however, they know that in the 21st century they are only in power by the will of the people. If they step out of line they can be deposed. A monarch represents centuries of history, where elected politicians often undo the achievements of their predecessors and lay booby traps for their successors.
Monarchs, with their secure tenure, think only of the good of the country. A long-reigning, experienced monarch can put enormous experience at the disposal of transient political leaders. The royal family incorporates a number of trained people who have acquired knowledge and interest, through performing ceremonial and charitable duties, in our country. The Queen can never be corrupted, bribed or bullied. While an elected head of state or politician can be tarred with real or alleged corruption, monarchs are generally above this.
The monarchy is particularly relevant in these hard economic times. Contrary to popular opinion, the monarchy doesn’t cost very much at all. The Queen is only the 50th richest person in the United Kingdom, and costs each taxpayer only 69p a year. The prime minister and other parts of the government cost the taxpayer far more.
The royal family’s wealth originally came from their ownership and taxation of all the land in England; now the civil list is voted on in Parliament every year. This list basically agrees that the nation will support the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip. Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales, is supported by the proceeds of agricultural rents in the Duchy of Cornwall.
In the financial year to 31 March 2009 the revenue surplus from the Crown Estate paid to the Treasury amounted to £211m. On top of this, the monarchy brings in a huge amount of money as a well-loved ‘tourist attraction’, and is often used to promote British business abroad.
As I started this piece with a quote from one of the world’s most famous philosophers, it’s only right to end with a quote from one the most famous politicians, Margaret Thatcher, who said: “Those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians.”
Andrew Rosindell is the Conservative MP for Romford