Though the royals do cost too much they own us in much more insidious ways- the royal cult of personality is not irrelevant. Humans should not be worshipped tout court, and certainly not ones who are at the head of churches as well as states. This cultish infatuation with royalty is a veil for all sorts of misdemeanour and scandal and the sooner we tear it aside the better.
Take the royal prerogative, the vast powers of which are exercised by the ‘Crown in Parliament’ rather than the monarch herself; given that our monarchical system grants such sweeping powers to its ministers, it is at fault for an uncomfortable lack of transparency and overweening, unaccountable government power.
The claim that the weakness of constitutional monarchy promotes the ‘stability of the British democracy’ is self-contradictory; it is often the case in defences of the monarchy that we see claims of its abilities to cement the national identity, protect our democracy, and keep us ‘unified’ to name but three- while at the same time its weakness is asserted! I cannot think of any weak institution which could exercise these symbolic powers. To put these outside the realm of ‘politics’ is special pleading (what’s more, these monarchical gifts to the nation are spoken of in terms of conservative and establishment values- how impartial!).
Does our system prevent the ‘undermining of democracy’? The Glorious Revolution subjected Ireland to Protestant rule, the faith sworn to be upheld by the monarch. Has Ireland and the rest of the ‘United’ kingdom been the beneficiary of this much-vaunted ‘stability’ in the past few centuries? The monarchy is defined as sectarian, the incumbent is the head of a church as well as the state, and this legacy of the 1688 settlement has done untold harm. Whence secularism?
That Prince Charles wishes to be ‘defender of faith’ rather than ‘the faith’ is beside the point, and his flirtation with Islam and pseudoscience should give pause to those who extol the benefits of the ‘irrational’. Secular republicanism over religious royalty may also shield us from the growth of divisive and prejudiced faith schools. Does having bishops in the unelected Lords promote secular democracy?
What of the conflicts, from the American War of Independence to the First World War, justified and celebrated by the monarchical system (‘For King and Country’!)? The endless succession of monarchical wars from the Conqueror’s invasion to the Jacobite rebellion? The constitutional crises, from Edward VIII to the one a future Charles III may cause?
A mature democracy could face its history squarely. Yet we continue to ignore the fact that without Cromwell there may well have been no Parliament for the Queen to open and forget the blood spilled at the Boyne because of 1688.
Think of the Honours List, peerages, and patronage which are rooted in monarchy and are used by governments to keep politicians, generals, civil servants and businesspeople cosy. Charles has used his (lack of?) power to shield paedophile clerics (and the royal birth overshadows this in the news- not such a gallant display of monarchy as the ‘antidote to media manipulation’). ‘We must not let daylight in upon magic,’ Bagehot embarrassingly said. But if we did we would see there is no magic- just rotten corruption.
Does our system protect us from ideological buffoons? What else can we call Charles, whose opinions compel him to interfere? What of Victoria, George V, even Elizabeth II, whose ‘opinions’ on Commonwealth matters have oft been expressed to ministers? The ‘silent’ monarch masks his or her interference and is far from ‘harmless’. If the Second World War had gone another way Edward VIII would have given a very different political system ‘continuity’. Our history is littered with recklessness and demagoguery which our system has failed to check, and sometimes outright encouraged (WWI again, and George V’s tangible political interference during that conflict).
The alternative? A better tradition represented by Milton and Paine. A written constitution and an accountable republic, in which we could get rid of awful heads of state as the Americans did with Nixon and are not beholden to a ritualistic fetishism which obscures ugly truths. Republican systems have a sounder basis and do not require the sacrifice of a laughably bourgeois family on the altar of public love and envy.To be a citizen of a republic with guaranteed rights, rather than the subject of a capricious system based on a greasy, bloody, and sectarian 17th-century compromise is to be an adult rather than a child. Time enough for the monarchy, I say.