For: By Ross Singleton
Given the recent news of the engagement between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the debate about the benefits of the royal family in modern Britain has been reignited with extreme vigour. The figure that has been most quoted is that the last royal wedding cost the British taxpayer £26 million, a hefty amount of money. Further to that point, each year the Queen receives the “sovereign grant”, which for 2017 is a figure of £82.2 million. Further ammunition for those who are anti royal is the massive cost of the 10 year refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, which comes in at a not so insignificant £369 million.
Immediately, I am going to discount any notion of the royal family being a financial drain on the British taxpayer. Even if you take the figures presented at face value, the royal family costs the British taxpayer 62 pence a year, the same price as a first class stamp. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable price to pay, but that is besides the point, given the fact that the royal family actually produces net income for the British economy.
In 2017, 2.7 million people visited the different establishments of the royal estate, and each and every one of those tourists had to pay for travel, food, and potentially accommodation. It is impossible to calculate how much money this generates, but tourism is the 3rd highest grossing industry in Britain, earing £16 billion total and £3 billion for the government. To me, this completely invalidates any anti royal argument of the royal family being a net drain on the taxpayer, and proves quite conclusively that the royal family are quite serious money earners for Britain. Of course, one could make the argument that people would still travel to see Buckingham Palace even if we didn’t have a royal family anymore, but I would argue that part of the appeal of the palace is that the Queen lives there for parts of the year.
Another argument that is made by those who feel the crown is an antiquated idea is that it is an old and anti democratic system, with the Queen still being head of state and having final say on any laws that are passed. To those that believe that, I would suggest they attempt to find examples of the Queen overruling any laws during her time on the throne.
To me, this is such a ridiculous notion that it is almost laughable. At the end of the day, the royal family, and specifically the Queen, is a figurehead of stability for the nation, that wields no actual power. Currently the Queen has the perfect role of being above politics, and therefore away from most dividing issues, and can stand to be a figure of unity for the nation. A person like the Queen is, in my opinion, ideal for uncertain times like we are going through currently as a result of Brexit and anti government sentiment. I cannot personally agree with anyone who believes that any minor downside of the royal family is not massively outweighed by the positives, both fiscally and morally.
Against: By Ryan Jones Matthews
By now, it’s impossible not to have heard the news that Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle are getting married. This is because – despite Britain spiralling deeper into what is probably its most meaningful political crisis since the Iraq War – since its announcement, their engagement and all its juicy details have been one of the mainstream media’s main concerns.
The announcement was immediately met with article after article telling us the sorts of things we should be caring about: who Markle is, what the engagement ring is like, etc. These were followed by yet more articles telling us what important people such as the Prime Minister thought. Because if there’s one thing I care less about than Prince Harry’s engagement, it’s what Theresa May has to say about it.
However, as is the case with most stories involving the royal family, the news did somewhat rekindle a debate that has been left to smoulder on the fringe of British society for some years: whether the country should continue to be a monarchy, or reform into a republic. The main royalist arguments are fairly straight-forward: Britain has a strong royal tradition, the government and parliament are the ones who hold all of the true political power, and it’s a successful selling point for British tourism.
Traditionalism is the most problematic of these arguments. Britain also had a strong tradition of exploitative imperialism, yet the Empire was dissolved decades ago. Today, most people agree that this was a good thing. Just because we’ve had something for a long time doesn’t mean we should continue to have it.
Royalist traditionalism is also part of the reason why Markle being an American divorcee from a mixed-race background is somehow relevant enough to warrant media scrutiny, when such scrutiny over anyone else marrying someone similar would be seen as old-fashioned and racist.
The other arguments are slightly more valid, but demeaning to democracy and to Britain. Monty Python said it best: “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses!” Yet when a British political party receives a democratic mandate, its leader must go to Buckingham Palace to ask the monarch’s permission to form a government.
Finally, the tourism argument suggests Britain has nothing to offer its visitors but its royal family. What about our art galleries, museums, architecture, national parks? Conversely, the main argument for republicanism is, simply, that monarchy is inherently illiberal, so we should get rid of it.
The monarch’s mandate to rule as Britain’s head of state is not given by the people through democratic means, but by the apparent blessing of God. This absurd idea suggests that the layer of inequality that exists in society between ‘commoners’ and ‘royalty’ is fundamentally unchangeable. Therefore, their royal status is totally unjustifiable.
As previously mentioned, Britain has far more pressing issues to worry about at the moment. However, this doesn’t mean that we should simply concede to and continue to normalise living in a country with an unneeded and unelected head of state. We should strive to have a proper public debate on monarchy versus republicanism.