With the Royal wedding fresh in our minds, now seems like a good time to assess the role and position of the Royal family. There is a frequent conflict between what are perceived to be ‘royalists’ and ‘republicans’ with the republicans’ arguments being well-trodden, and frequently opposed. However, the arguments that royalists make in favour of the monarchy are rarely exposed to any critical analysis, at least not in a public forum. Before I begin, I will be referring to the Royal family as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, because the name Windsor was only adopted on 17th July, 1917, in order to deflect attention from the Bavarian roots and ancestry of the family, during the First World War.
Three common claims are made in support of the monarchy. Firstly, the idea that in some vague way, usually related to tourism, that they bring money into the country. Secondly, the notion that Britain needs a Head of State, and the Queen is preferable to a bureaucratic politician. Thirdly, probably the most oft-assumed statement that you are ever likely to encounter in relation to this subject is that the reigning monarch only has ceremonial power, and the Crown carries no actual influence. This article will briefly address the first two of those claims, before giving a lengthier response to the third.
Can it reasonably be stated that the monarchy pays off in financial terms, through tourism? Firstly, according to Visit London, nothing related to pageantry or monarchy is in the top ten tourist attractions in London, never mind the UK as a whole. Secondly, none of the architecture or pageantry associated with the Royal family would cease to exist if they ceased to exist. People that view Buckingham Palace from a distance, do not meet the Queen. People that visit the Tower of London do not get a guided tour from Prince Charles. There is a strong argument that if Buckingham Palace were treated like a National Trust asset, and opened up to the public, then it would become a considerably more potent tourist attraction.
Does Britain need the Queen as a ceremonial Head of State? Let us accept this for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that a ceremonial Head of State is a necessity, and that it is better for it to be a monarch, than an elected politician. Let me pose this rhetorical question, does the Head of State need to live in a vast palace, surrounded by huge grounds? Not to mention that the Royal family also have access to the Windsor and Balmoral castles, where the Queen spends a considerable amount of time, as well as the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, Sandringham House in Norfolk, where the Queen spends Christmas, Kensington Palace, which was the residence of Princess Diana during her life, and Clarence House, which is the current official residence of Prince Charles. This seems to be an excessive amount of luxury, considering the demonisation of people that are in receipt of benefit, as being ‘scroungers’. The Local Housing Allowance rate for the Buckingham Palace area is £250 per week, would it not be more cost-effective and reasonable to ask an apparently ceremonial Head of State to find a residence within that figure? Even if double that were allowed, I’m quite sure it would represent a considerable saving in comparison to the multiple palaces and stately homes to which they currently have exclusive access. Perhaps the singer Morrissey hit the nail on the head, when he described the Royal family as benefit scroungers.
Now to the main focus of this article, the perennial claim that the Crown only holds ceremonial power, and has no real influence. I would like to assess this by drawing a parallel with the United States of America.
In America, they often talk of the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. In America, the House of Representatives, commonly known as Congress, is the legislative arm of government, and, as the name would suggest, has the sole power to legislate for the federal government. In the UK, the supreme legislative power is held by the Queen, or King if the reigning monarch is male, although this is often claimed to be ceremonial.
In the US, the executive power is held by the president, in effect, the president is answerable to Congress. In the UK, the executive power is held by the government, which is called ‘Her Majesty’s Government’; in effect the government is answerable to the legislative power; ie. the Queen, and if any doubt need be raised, whenever she speaks of it, she refers to it as ‘my government’.
In the United States, the judicial power is held by the Supreme Court, in the UK, the two most significant courts are the Crown Court and the High Court of Justice, which is located in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The power of the High Court is authorised by the Queen, under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act of 1873. The Crown Court is, as the name would suggest, the court of the Crown. The Queen is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The Queen is the world’s biggest feudal landowner, controlling 6.6 billion acres of land. According to this book, and this recent article in the New Statesman, the Queen owns one-sixth of all the land in the world. In a sense, this is hardly surprising, considering the bloody history associated with the Crown; to give one example the English Civil War.
So, the Queen is the Head of State and has legislative power, the government is directly answerable to the Head of State, which is the Queen, and the Queen opens parliament and sets out the agenda of ‘her government’ every year in a speech. Not to mention that the Prime Minister has to travel to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen permission to form a government. The Queen authorises the court system, and the Royal insignia is plastered all over everything related to the court system, all of the currency in the UK is printed at the Royal Mint and always has the reigning monarch’s image printed on it, the Queen is the head of the dominant church in the UK, and the English parliament developed in 1707 from the council that advised the English monarch in medieval times. Virtually all police swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, and all Civil Servants, sign the Official Secrets Act, in which one swears to be ‘politically neutral’, but to serve the Crown. The Queen has access to a vast array of hugely valuable property and owns one-sixth of the land in the world. The royal lineage has a bloody history of wars, crusades and battles of conquest, in order to maintain and expand their power and influence. And the whole basis of the monarchy is the genetic right to rule, and the European Royal families have been so committed to this, that they have interbred for centuries, to the extent that it has been widely acknowledged that now all European Royalty is genetically related, and the Independent published an article acknowledging that interbreeding destroyed the Habsburg dynasty.
But the Crown only carries ceremonial power? I’m reminded of the George Carlin joke ‘it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it’. Yet people are still willing to queue up to wave a little flag – which is in itself a symbol of aristocratic, monarchic union – and think that somehow a Royal wedding is ‘their’ day. Not only have the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas obtained monumental wealth and influence, they’ve also managed to not only con people into thinking they don’t have any power, but also managed to get people of modest means to queue up to peer and wave at them from behind a metal barrier, while they enjoy an opulent ceremony that cost the taxpayer £20 million, and the economy £5 billion (admittedly, the economy is shafted beyond repair, anyway!).
If you are in favour of this system, if you wish to be placed openly beneath some inbred, greedy Bavarians, then you have no right to complain about anything in your life; council tax being raised, local services being decimated, your bins not being collected, heavy-handed police tactics, speed cameras, anything at all that you deem has a negative effect on your life, because what you’re seeing is the outcome of living in a Kingdom. An American citizen has inalienable constitutional rights, a Swiss citizen gets a direct say in the rules that govern their society, a Briton has none, no voice, no rights, no sovereignty, they have privileges granted to them by the Crown through ‘Her Majesty’s Government’. The Queen is Sovereign, by definition.
One final distinction between America and the UK, is in the realm of free speech. Firstly, there were multiple arrests in relation to the Royal wedding, the most notable of which being the activist, Charlie Veitch. It would be speculative to state precisely why this happened, but also equally naïve to think that this wasn’t an attempt to silence dissenting voices, in an example of political targeting.
Secondly, I would like to cite the example of the infamous Phelps family in the United States, as featured in Louis Theroux documentaries, that are attached to the Westboro Baptist Chuch. This is a Christian sect, that preaches a very fundamental message, that the majority of people, including most Christians, would consider vile, not to mention the fact that they frequently picket funerals. I view their opinions and behaviour as abhorrent. Nevertheless, to their credit, they always engage in peaceful protest, and assert their First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech. Most Americans are completely opposed to the activities of the Phelps family, and they receive voluble condemnation wherever they go. Nevertheless, when they were put before the Supreme Court in the case Snyder v Phelps, the court ruled in their favour 8-1, as to do otherwise would have been unconstitutional. By contrast, when one of the Phelps family attempted to travel to the United Kingdom, they were denied access. As was Michael Savage.
This is simply because in the United Kingdom, emphasis on Kingdom, we don’t have freedom of speech. We have laws that are put in place by ‘Her Majesty’s Government’, laws such as ‘incitement to ethnic or racial hatred’, ’Breach of the Queen’s Peace’, and the prohibition of protesting within a mile of Westminster. There may have been a systematic attack on American’s constitutional rights, but at least they can point to a physical document that in principle should be upheld. American federal governmental power may have run riot, but at least this is an executive power, that always has to be answerable to the Congress. Our system of checks and balances involves Her Majesty’s Parliament being the executive power, which is directly answerable to the Crown. Yet, if we encounter problems with our society, and confront politicians in public fora, they invariably tell us to put it right by voting at the next election, rarely mentioning that they swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and the Crown, not their electorate.
The harsh reality is that, frankly, as long as we remain apologists for them, and continue to allow the wool to be pulled over our collective eyes, then the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family deserves everything that it gets. And as long as we queue up to cheerlead for them and revel in our serfdom, then we deserve no more than the crumbs they sweep from their table. And that’s all we’ll ever be allowed to have.