By William Rees
I’d like to start by setting a scene. Imagine over in the states if Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, amongst others, ceased campaigning to be the next president of the US. Instead, its announced that in the interests of stability, the next president and all future ones will be chosen using the ‘British’ model (No, not that kind of model, Donald). Trump will remain in office until he dies, at which point Americans will welcome their next head of state: his daughter, Ivanka Trump. I’d hope that Americans would not stand for this. Which begs the question, why do we in the UK?
The recent media interest in Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex has sparked a debate about the nature and purpose of the monarchy. Some argue that the couple can be a driving force in helping the monarchy ‘evolve’, making the age-old institution more relevant to the world we live in today. In my opinion, however, the monarchy is undemocratic, outdated and out of touch. It must be abolished and replaced with a directly elected Head of State.
Having a directly elected Head of State would mean the people choose someone to represent our nations, defend our democracy, act as a referee in the political process, and offer a non-political voice at times of crisis and celebration. And the best thing is, their actions will be open to public scrutiny and accountability. This means that unlike Prince Charles, who ignores the unwritten rule that he shouldn’t become political, an elected head of state could be challenged by the people at the ballot box at the next election.
In an age of austerity, where an estimated 14.3 million people are in poverty across the UK, is it morally acceptable that the Queen will receive over £80 million over the next year? This is a sum she has received and will continue to receive annually, which due to an archaic law can’t be reduced at all.
Supporters may argue that the monarchy is a vital part of our national identity, and necessary to attract visitors to support our tourist industry. But what is our national identity? Across all four nations of the British Isles we are seeing a rise in support for Scottish and Welsh independence, and Irish reunification. With the UK Government spending a quarter of a million pounds on renaming the Severn Bridge to the ‘Prince of Wales’ bridge, are they celebrating a joint national culture, or simply trying to paper over the cracks of a fracturing union?
When it comes to tourism, the argument that the monarchy is necessary for good tourism is unsubstantiated and that there is no detailed evidence showing that if Britain abolished the monarchy fewer people would visit. We must remember that this debate is about our democracy and how we govern ourselves, and therefore shouldn’t be influenced on what may or may not get us more money from tourists from abroad.
Whether the monarchy is abolished in the future or not, it’s clear that it has a lot of work to do if it wishes to remain a relevant part of our democratic system and lives.