Clash Of Comments: The Queen at 90: should Britain still care about its monarch?

Niall Whitehead: YES Full disclosure – I don’t have the best track record when it comes to supporting royalty

Image: Northern Ireland Office

Niall Whitehead: YES

Full disclosure – I don’t have the best track record when it comes to supporting royalty. The Stannis Baratheon t-shirt currently gathering dust in the back of my wardrobe is probably the best evidence of that. But, since the Queen recently turned 90, I decided my belated present should be a few arguments as to why the monarchy isn’t so bad.
For one, the monarchy is a rare and special thing – a branch of the Establishment that the majority of the British public actually likes. Ipsos Mori have been tracking opinion polls for around 20 years, and on average, there’s been a 3-to-1 ratio saying royalty should stay. While every politician is derided from one corner or another, the Queen provides a stabilising influence.

Affection for the royals is also visible on an international level. An estimated two billion people watched reports and photos on the Royal Wedding. And there was the Lion King-esque gathering of the world’s press at Buckingham’s gates when baby Simba – well, George – was finally born.

All that adds up to hundreds of millions from tourist revenue (the UK’s third-largest industry) and enough merchandise sold that its mass could form a singularity for Brenda herself to step through to punch Oliver Cromwell in the face. Though we’d still have the buildings if they left, the magic would be lost, and tourist income would likely dip to reflect that. Buckingham Palace would ultimately become Uglier Versailles.
Right now, the British tourism board estimates that the monarchy brings in £500 million a year on average, with spikes of a few hundred million for every major royal event. That offsets the cost of keeping them, which is calculated at £200 million by anti-monarchy group Republic.

Republicans also frequently claim that the monarchy threatens democracy. But despite the powers that the Queen, or some Joffrey a few generations later, could theoretically wield, the emphasis is firmly on ‘theoretically’. Ultimate power rightfully lies with the elected government. If the monarch ever overstepped their boundaries, then Britain should – and, indeed, would – force a republic.

Some also argue that gaining supreme power on the basis of your family tree being particularly pale and chinless flies in the face of that “meritocracy” that we’re meant to have. But anyone can theoretically be Prime Minister, and the monarchy at least tries to highlight our meritocracy through the honours system. Plus removing royalty doesn’t necessarily mean an end to elitism or the rich getting richer – look at America.

Overall, a 2000-year old institution providing historical continuity that few other countries possess shouldn’t be cast aside lightly. At the very least, a credible alternative should be put forward that could offer the same international prestige, political impartiality and popularity among the nation. And, well, say what you will about Elizabeth, but she’ll be pretty hard to replace.

Dan Sweeney: NO

Last week half the country made Kim Jong-un green with envy by getting worked up over the Queen’s birthday. Unlike Kim, Queen Elizabeth is not an abusive dictator, but like him, she was born into her position as head of state, which I believe is fundamentally at odds with the idea of democracy.

Most monarchy apologists nowadays argue that the queen has no power, and so the royal family is fine so long as they’re politically neutral, it’s really about what they represent. Well, what does the monarch represent? The Queen is by far the biggest landowner in the world, owning 6.6 billion acres, distantly followed by the king of Saudi Arabia, who has a measly 0.55. Every time you look at our currency, you see the face of someone far wealthier than everyone you’ll ever meet put together, representing the peak of the class system. If not that, then maybe it’s oligarchy, the rule of a country by a small few, as opposed to democracy. If it’s truly necessary for this country to have a monarch (it isn’t), then how can you argue that they should be born into their role rather than elected by the people?

Another popular argument is that the royal family bring in a lot to the economy through tourism, more than the £12.9 million per year that they sponge off the state as the biggest benefit scroungers in the country. The truth is, it’s impossible to say how our tourism would be affected by dissolving the monarchy and electing the head of state, because we’ve never tried it. Looking to other countries isn’t a totally scientific way to judge the impact that a monarch has on tourism as there are many other variables, but with no monarch, somewhere like France brings in more than its fair share of tourists for its cities and culture. Spain, meanwhile, a country with a royal family, has plenty of tourism for its beaches and resorts, with very few tourists visiting to see the King. Tourism can flourish perfectly well independent of a royal family.

According to the apologists,  what’s really important is that the Queen is just really good at representing our country, especially to dodgy dictators who can associate with her position. If the flaws in this reasoning do not present themselves immediately, then it’s hard to say what can. The truth is that, if our queen is such a good diplomat and head of state, her successor is a nutter who believes that the NHS use bogus medicine like homeopathy. Charles has already tried to use his position to influence the government by writing to government ministers. After the coalition government tried to veto the publishing of these letters (and more in which Charles tried to influence policy), they then brought in new legislation that exempts the royal family from freedom of information requests. Sounds like a perfect remedy for corruption to me.
As many republicans say, getting rid of the monarchy isn’t our highest priority right now.

But not doing away with an archaic, anti-democratic institution is surely indefensible in this day and age.

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