Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Countering Republican Arguments - Part Two

Part One:  Part One may be read HERE

President vs Monarch

A Monarch remains above party politics and can therefore truly represent the entire nation. Removed from the political fray the Crown remains untainted by the machinations of the political class. The election of a Head of State, by contrast, will always be divisive, with the winner unable to fully represent the totality of the nation. A portion of those who did not vote for the winner will understandably be upset or angry with the election result – recent examples include the election of George Bush and Barack Obama in the United States of America. 

Moreover, once elected, the involvement of a Head of State in the political affairs of a nation will inevitably be controversial, the Head of State representing only the segment of the nation that agrees with his actions. Both the Bush and Obama presidencies have revealed deep divisions within American society, with the angry protests they received clearly illustrating the difficulties faced by an elected president in achieving national unity or attempting to appear as representative of “the people”.

Of course, there are many republics whose heads of state do not play a role in government (Germany and Italy for example) but all presidents, be they German, Italian or Irish,  are invariably ex-politicians, have a political history or are selected by a political party.  The simple fact that the head of state has a political past will always make it far more difficult to represent all citizens and truly symbolise the nation. 

There are other concerns:

·        The election of a head of state may also cause that individual to believe he has an electoral mandate from the people to oppose the government or advance an agenda of his own. 

·         The desire for re-election and to defeat political opponents also affords opportunities to bring the executive office (and the country) in to disrepute (Richard Nixon’s presidency tainted the office, and by extension the state).

·         A limited-term president keen to secure his financial future after leaving office could be tempted to engage in activities which might bring the office into disrepute

In addition, with some exceptions, it should be noted that European presidents tend to be dull and boring.  Angela Merkel and Sylvio Berlusconi are respectively the heads of government in Germany and Italy but who knows who these countries' presidents are?   Is that what we want in Britain? Do we want to abolish 1,000 years of tradition and replace it with a forgettable, tired old political hack?   

Cost of the Monarchy

The Monarchy has been extremely open about its finances in recent years with reports freely available. The cost of the monarchy is £38 million per year, or 62 pence per person, which is down from 67 pence per person last year. That seems a fair price to pay for the world’s oldest democratic constitution and for centuries of stability and continuity. It certainly costs a lot less than the maintenance of the presidents of the United States or of France. If Britain were to abolish the monarchy, we would still need to pay for an elected/appointed head of state.

The Royal Household has implemented dramatic cutbacks over the past several years and has not had a pay increase since 1992 despite being due an increase in 2002 and 2012. The Sovereign has been forced to dip into the Royal Household’s private reserve, but it is believed that this will be exhausted by 2012. Buckingham Palace is among various royal buildings in dire need of repair (fairly recently the Princess Royal was almost hit by a piece of falling masonry) and the royal household is cutting back on both staff and salaries.

In reality, however, the Crown costs nothing because the source of The Queen’s income, the Civil List, is provided to the Sovereign in exchange for the revenue from the Crown Estate, lands held by the Sovereign in right of the Crown, which was originally surrendered to the Government by King George III in 1760.  Generating £210 million for the treasury annually, the Crown Estate contributes far more to state coffers than it takes away.  

Most importantly, during the recent Spending Review the Chancellor made an historic announcement, declaring that the Civil List will be abolished in 2013, to be replaced by a Sovereign Support Grant taken directly from the Crown Estate (and equivalent to the amount the Sovereign currently receives) – in other words, from 2013 the Monarchy will cost taxpayers absolutely nothing.


Anti-Monarchists have a very real problem with the concept of bowing to another individual.  As part of the wider trend of cultural and national iconoclasm, and general contempt for authority and institutions, deference to the Monarchy is increasingly treated with disdain.

By bowing to the Monarch we are not bowing to a person but to the mighty symbol that person personifies. Deference arises from an appreciation of the importance of something. As a lawyer will bow and show deference to a judge and a professor to a university chancellor, so we show deference to the Crown, the fount of all authority and honour. To be able to show deference is a sign of both maturity and humility, as one acknowledges symbolic significance and value; an individual’s failure to show deference is more revealing of his/her sense of ego/self-importance.

Popularity of the Monarchy

In 2009 an ICM poll commissioned by the BBC found that 76% of those asked wanted the monarchy to continue after the Queen’s reign, against 18% of people who said they would favour Britain becoming a republic and 6% who said they did not know

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