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Making the case for the Monarchy

James Clay sets out how the monarchy can remain relevant in 21st Century Britain.

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As much as it pains me to admit it, the royal family has had another rather embarrassing public relations blunder. On their recent tour to Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were hoping to come home having reaffirmed the principles of the Commonwealth and helped stem the increasingly-growing republican rumblings across the Caribbean. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Perhaps worst of all, Prince William, along with the Duchess, decided to don his military uniform standing in the back of a Land Rover. This image was criticised by republican campaigns who believed that he was evoking images of the colonial past. Along with this, protests over land rights and slavery reparations, helped turn the tour into a trip worth forgetting.

In light of this recent controversy, I think it is only appropriate that somebody continues to make the case for Britain retaining an apolitical monarch as head of state, even if some of the courtiers appear to have misjudged the republican feeling across the Caribbean. Although rare, some would argue that anything short of absolute monarchy is an abomination that defies the divine right of kings and is thus an offence against God. You will be reassured to know that I do not hold such views.

Despite the recent gaffe in the Caribbean, the royal family continue to play a significant and positive role in Britain’s status as a leading diplomatic and soft power country. The royals have a long history of keeping alive the good feeling that so often characterises the Commonwealth. We should maintain the institution that people, all over the world, immediately identify with Britain. As much as some people might hate to admit it, in the 21st century, it is our top USP. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth shook the hand of former IRA terrorist Martin McGuinness, which exemplified how important reconciliation and forgiveness are as British values. Imagine shaking the hands of a man whose compatriots had assassinated a close family member.

For me, the preservation of the monarchy is about tradition and upholding the remnants of a world that has ceased to exist. That being said, I’m writing for a publication whose audience is composed largely of students who are, according to statistics, much more likely to be of a left-wing political persuasion. Without doubt there is a much more pragmatic, rather than dogmatic argument for retaining a constitutional monarchy. All the necessary ceremonial glamour that the monarch embodies is much better suited for individuals who are not tarred by the general sleaziness of politicians. Do you really want Boris Johnson living in a palace and taking the military salute? The man’s head is swollen enough as it is.

Is it really a coincidence that the only time in Britain’s modern history when we had a tyrannical government was also when the monarchy was temporarily abolished? I’m not saying that if we kick Lizzie out, Christmas will be cancelled, much like what Oliver Cromwell did in 1644, but what I am saying is that the monarchy provides constitutional stability, even in times of great social upheaval. Even today, abolition would set a trend in which politicians  would not appreciate the significance of constitutional reform, encouraging them to rip up age-old practices without a sufficiently thought-through alternative. The transfer of power remains a smooth process and the head of state remains apolitical- something the current sovereign achieves with remarkable success.

Monarchies only survive if they adapt to the present times. Even if you believe the monarchy is an archaic and crumbling institution, I would urge you to look to the future. Prince Andrew has slipped out of public life and Prince Phillip is no longer with us. Prince Phillip, although unfairly criticised in my opinion, had a reputation of putting his foot in his mouth when interacting with members of the public. Instead, we have the golden couple- Wills and Kate. They manage to champion progressive causes, such as climate action and mental health support, without the party political point scoring of politicians. Even the slightest hint of sobriety and restraint is a welcome change to the cultural vandalism and Americanised celebrity that so often characterises British public life.

Although I’m in no such position to do so, if I could advise the royal family to change anything it would be to significantly ramp up accountability and transparency. Prince Andrew’s recent allegations and behaviour have disgraced the House of Windsor and in doing so may have contributed to the eventual abolition of the monarchy. Such actions can be prevented though if there are systems and precautions put in place to prevent royals from befriending paedophiles and other such ‘’unbecoming’’ characters. It should be noted how decisively Prince Charles intervened after Prince Andrew’s disastrous Newsnight interview. The heir to the throne was clearly aware of what the monarchy has to do in order to keep its good name.

Perhaps the most common criticism levelled at the monarchy is that it retains a class- based society preventing proper equality and meritocracy. Regardless of abolition, the barriers that prevent meritocracy have nothing to do with the fact that we live in a constitutional monarchy. Political action is what drives egalitarianism, not constitutional butchery. If we were to abolish the monarchy and divide the saved tax revenue up equally across public services, the result would be so unapparent that it is essentially not worth doing at all. Presuming that British republicans have realised this, it appears they care more about sticking their middle finger up at the establishment than seriously improving the lives of the less well-off.

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