According to Kensington Palace, “Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 11.01am” on Monday 23 April 2018. The arrival of the little prince is the latest in a run of stories that have caused royal news to take up more space in the British public discussion than normal. This upward trend in royal news shows no sign of ending, with Prince Harry’s wedding, the gradual retirement of the Duke of Edinburgh, and, as sad as it will be, the death of the Queen, all feasibly taking place in the next decade.
With the benefit of foresight, it is also reasonable to imagine that those of us who live in the UK will need to have a conversation about the future of the monarchy; because, while we may be able to avoid it during the arrival of a new prince or the exit from public life of an elder one – we won’t be able to avoid it when Her Majesty does, eventually, pass on. Furthermore, when this conversation does inevitably happen it seems reasonable to expect an uptick in republican sentiment.
Regardless of when this debate happens we can expect that most of the anti-monarchy sentiment will come from the political left while a large part of the pro-monarchy campaigners will come from the more conservative quarters of British political society. However, this should be a false dichotomy because defending the monarchy transcends our conventional political divide because of the values of community, democracy, and social justice that living in a constitutional monarchy entails.
There is not an institution in the United Kingdom, or in any other country in the world, that instils a better sense of community than the British monarchy. All of us, whether we are born here or have chosen to live here, are connected by this institution that is permanent, immovable, and above and beyond the temporary whims of any current political trend. Every British subject, no matter who he, she, or they is, or which level of society they come from, is connected to everyone else through a society which has the monarchy as its stable backdrop. Some may argue that the constitutions of countries like the United States, Russia, or France provides this same context for who their citizens are in relation to one another but none can hold a candle to the immovability, permanence, benevolence, heritage, and pageantry of the British monarchy.
For republicans, the argument is that keeping the monarchy diminishes Britain as one of the world’s ‘true democracies’ – after all, what could be less democratic than having an elderly woman as head of state and who cannot be voted for or against? Well, it depends on how one views democracy really. In terms of having and maintaining one of the world’s oldest Parliaments and being the country that created Magna Carta, giving the world what are now called universal values like free speech, the right to a fair trial, and the linking of tax with representation, Britain has and does do rather well on the democracy scale; and all while being a constitutional monarchy.
Furthermore, in more or less every country in the world it is accepted that the link between wielding power and being directly voted for isn’t always desireable. In Britain, we understand that positions, like Permanent Secretaries of government departments, Chief Constables, or Consultant Surgeons, that wield power do not necessarily have to be directly voted for. If we accept this principle, as we ought to, then its application to the position of our head of state – which ought to be apolitical – should follow naturally.
The monarchy is also a force for social justice in our country and around the world. Its history is replete with examples, from her Majesty’s father, King George VI, becoming a physical manifestation of the fight against fascism and authoritarianism to the present generation of young royals speaking out against homophobia in the Commonwealth, the House of Windsor has continually been either on or quick to join the right side of progress and social justice. Additionally, and especially, by keeping a politicised ‘President of Britain’ (yuck!) out, the monarchy acts as a buffer against the rise of political extremism and keeps it away from the top of government.
The monarchy isn’t perfect.
There are members who get funded by the government who shouldn’t, it can be excessive and crass, and the individual people, occasionally, make fools of themselves. However, on balance, the monarchy is good for this country, for its values of community, democracy, and social justice, and for all of us who live here – we should guard it against all those who would so recklessly abolish it.