The future of the British monarchy

August 27, 2010 12:07 pm

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Crown JewelsBy Dan Young

This nation is one of tradition with one of the greatest being the Monarchy. In 1066 William the Conqueror became the earliest undisputed monarch of the UK and in doing so began a long line that, with the exception of a small period between 1649 and 1660, has remained intact thereafter. According to an ipsos MORI poll conducted in 2006, 72% of Britons still favour a monarchy and only 18% a republic. This is significant because the same poll stated that, within the next 100 years, 53% of them believed the Monarchy would no longer exist and that a republic would have replaced it. However a similar poll in 2009, during the MP expenses scandal, was conducted by the Guardian and the Observer to assess how the British public would overhaul the current political system to make it more accountable and democratic. 56% of people surveyed said the solution was to abolish the monarchy.

The leader of the Australian Labor Party and, for the time being, Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has recently called for the Monarchy and Australia to sever ties when the current Queen dies, and that, in its place, Australia should become a Republic, although she did not say what system of Republic would operate. This sense of republicanism is not new to Australia either and, as recent as 1999, the country had a referendum on whether to become a republic with a President elected by the Parliament. The result was that 55% saying no and 45% saying yes.

So, the question I pose is whether or not the monarchy has served its purpose and whether or not it is the system of state we need for the 21st century?

The problem a monarchy will always have is that it is the opposite of democracy and denies its citizens the most basic right of electing their head of state, but also being eligible to hold that office themselves. This ensures the head of state is more accountable to the people and it also stops the devaluation of the parliamentary system that currently occurs due to the lack of accountability of the current monarch.

The monarchy also discriminates on the basis of gender, religion and ethnicity. The law of Britain states only a member of the Church of England can inherit the throne on the basis that they will become the new head of this church in doing so. The British royal family is gender discriminative due to following the role of male primogeniture which means the eldest son inherits the throne rather than the eldest child as would occur under absolute primogeniture. Due to narrow breeding patterns, the ethnicity of a monarch will very rarely change, and, so members of other ethnic groups are unable to become the head of state within Britain. This is a travesty for such a multicultural country and will ensure we never achieve our Obama moment, in which an ethnic minority may reach the highest office of the land.

The final argument against the monarchy is that it is not cost effective: the figure of 62p cost per year for each adult is far from the true figure. This does not take into account many hidden fees such as royal security or the money paid by regional councils to fund a visit by a member of the royal family. This would amount to more than £100 million pound per annum as opposed to the £34m assumed by The Daily Telegraph. It could be far more for all we know, as the costs of the Monarchy are exempt from Freedom of Information requests.

These are the reasons I am in favour of abolishing the Monarchy, but, also in the process, I would like to see a wave of constitutional reform which would include the following:

* A fully elected house of Lords on a 15 year basis with multi-member constituencies elected in the same way as the European elections
* The PM to continue as normal and to be elected in the same way rather than the introduction of a presidential system
* The greater introduction of elected mayors

The electoral system could be subject to reform, but, at this time, I am unsure as to which system I would prefer, and it would have to be implemented without gerrymandering the constituency borders to ensure favoritism to any one political party.

This reform, in reality, would not make a noticeable change on a daily basis as the Monarchy only has a ceremonial role at best. However, it would lead to a far superior system of government based on democracy and accountability, rather than one of needless tradition and image. Our nation would finally be able to remove this albatross from around its neck and be able to truly triumph itself as a nation of modern times in which we look to reform rather than revolution as a means of improving our constitution and the system of the people.

This is an issue I do not expect the next Labour leader to attempt to tackle as I realise it is not a vote winner, but can very easily become a vote loser. However I would like to see greater emphasis put on this issue within the Labour party and hopefully it will result in a true outcome, which will eventually lead to a national debate on the issue of the Monarchy and its future, if it has one at all.

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