I like to think of myself as a full advocate of democracy. I want to vote to leave the EU because I feel it is a sphere that the people of this nation have little ability to affect. I want to disaffiliate from the NUS because it has extremely low turnouts at elections and still claims to speak on behalf of us all. So I should hate the British monarchy. The fact that our head of state is unelected should drive me up the wall. Yet I can’t help but feel extremely grateful that our nation is ruled by Elizabeth Windsor.
As we celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, she has ruled for 63 years: no mean feat when you consider that it is probably one of the world’s toughest and most demanding jobs. Every day, except for Christmas Day, she has ploughed through the material in her dispatch box and attended just about every formal event you could imagine. What has all of this given her? Most importantly, it has given her experience. We occasionally read accounts in former Prime Ministers’ memoirs of how they would go to their weekly meeting with her, tell them whatever issue the nation was facing or whatever problem they’re trying to grapple with that week, and how she would respond, “well we had a similar issue in (insert date here) and we solved it by (insert solution here)”. Her level of knowledge about British politics in the last few decades is unparalleled, and the monarch can always help overcome the problems that arise from the short term nature of democratic governments ultimately have to deal with. A change of leadership for a country can bring relatively inexperienced figures into the seat of power, but having a monarch there to help guide them and help maintain the stability of the nation, without implementing their own views, continues to prove its worth to this day.
Of course, you might argue that it is the job of civil servants to fulfil this role. It is the job of the civil service to act as that foundation of knowledge for how a government can be run and its decisions be implemented. Yet, in my opinion, that’s essentially what the monarch is; the nation’s finest and most important civil servant. Granted, she may get a substantially higher pay than some other civil servants, but whilst they might devote 30 years of their life – and only from 9-5 on Mondays to Fridays – the monarch devotes their whole life, whether it be long (as it has fortunately turned out to be) or short, to our service, as Elizabeth famously said in a speech when she was just 21. I don’t think any other civil servant in the land would be willing to make this commitment, and by golly has she kept her promise. Before actually taking the throne, monarchs dedicate their lives in other ways, through promoting our interests abroad or joining the armed forces to show their dedication to the nation, as William has. The British monarch is not there for political point scoring or opponent bashing, nowadays they just want what is best for the nation. They see the electorate as always being right in who they elect to govern. They are devoted to our cause and nobody else’s.
Still, you might claim that we should have an elected head of state because it would be more democratic. And I agree that it would certainly be more democratic, but as the lead of Donald Trump in the US shows, democracy ain’t always perfect. We already have enough people complaining about Cameron representing us in various global forums: people shouting at the TV when the BBC news at 10 comes on: “that man doesn’t represent me”, in true Leon of Gogglebox style. Yet the monarch is unelected. Of course some might say that she therefore represents no one. I, however, argue that this means that they can represent everyone, regardless of political views, age, gender, race or other distinguishing factors. They are impartial but will always act in our best interests, seeking to promote our needs everywhere they go. Of course you could argue that this is just a glass half-full, glass half-empty kind of argument but I think it’s more than that. Even if you want to say that it’s an undemocratic institution, roughly 68% of people would vote to keep the monarchy if there was a vote today. This seems enough of a mandate to me.
This brings me onto my next point: our monarchy now gives us increased standing, far above where we should be, in the political arena. Who else can make the President of the United States and their significant other fly in to wish them a happy birthday? I doubt there are many parts of the world where you could find large groups of people who wouldn’t recognise our major royals. Few world leaders would dare speak out against such a respected institution. Natalie Bennett was shunned for saying that if they abolished the monarchy they could find her a council house to live in.
Of course, I do not deny that Queen’s reign has seen low points where the monarchy has been democratically questionable. In both 1992 (the Queen’s annus horribilis), as the monarchy was embroiled in scandal after scandal and in 1997, where the royal family failed to judge the public mood towards Diana, they failed to understand the shift in public opinion and undermined the idea that they represent us all. However, both these occasions have resulted in the monarchy learning from its mistakes in a way few governments do. In 1992, the Royal Family started paying income tax, and in 1997 – a few days after Diana’s death – the Queen went to pay her respects and outlined Diana’s contributions to society in a televised speech. Governments the world over could learn much from the Royals’ resolve to adapt to the changing world.
You might also claim that the Queen may be strong, but the inevitably short reign of her successor means this institution will be less useful in future. But Charles has become increasingly involved in helping to run the monarchy in recent years. Prince Harry said in a recent documentary that the Queen was “boss first, granny second”. She sees it as her job to imbue her family with her sense of public responsibility and has brought them into the fold of government, imparting upon them the troves of knowledge she has amassed over the years. No doubt Charles and William will be perfectly capable of filling her shoes.
So I do not deny that it is counterintuitive that I hold both democracy and the monarchy on a pedestal. However, I believe they both truly deserve this. Democracy does have flaws – I’d be a fool to deny that and, in my opinion, the current monarchy is a perfect solution to these. No elected politician gets their egos inflated by also being head of state. The monarchy will always act as a check on our leaders, protecting our democracy from harm. They are the finest and most noble of civil servants.