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The Role Of The Monarchy In The Great Britain

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The role of the monarchy in the Great Britain

The monarchy of the United Kingdom (commonly referred to as the British monarchy) is a constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. Though the king or queen may be regarded as the government's symbolic head, it is the Prime Minister who actually governs the country. Thus, in Britain the Queen reigns, whereas the Prime Minister rules.

I would like to mention the great Oscar-winning film directed by Tom Hooper – “King’s speech”, which tells the true story of how Britain's King George VI overcame a debilitating stammer to inspire his nation during World War II. I permit myself to quote the phrase of King George VI, which is, in my opinion, a quintessence of the role of the british monarch: “If I am King, where is my power? Can I form a government? Levy a tax? Declare a war? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them”.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, almost entire authority had passed to the Parliament. However, the Parliament and the Government exercise their powers under the "royal prerogative" which means ruling on behalf of the Monarch and through powers still formally possessed by the Monarch.

The oath required of 21st century Members of Parliament:

"I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

Members of Parliament are required to swear an oath of loyalty to the queen, not to the people who elected them and not to a constitution. Those who have refused have been barred from taking their seats in the legislature. Bishops of the Church of England also swear their allegiance to the monarch, rather than to their god or their church. Police officers and soldiers likewise swear loyalty to the Queen, not to the government or their country.

The monarch has the power to:

- Choose the Prime Minister

- Dismiss ministers and governments

- Dissolve Parliament

- Refuse to agree to legislation passed by Parliament

- Dismiss the governments of other countries of which she is monarch

- Pardon convicted criminals

- Declare a state of emergency

- Issue proclamations

- Command the army and raise a personal militia

In 2014 former prime minister John Major admitted to the BBC that he had "changed policies" as a result of discussions with the hereditary head of state.

Besides the constitutional role, the monarch also has a non-constitutional role. For instance, the Queen Elizabeth II acts as a focus for national unity, presiding at ceremonial occasions, visiting local communities and representing Britain around the world. The majority of the Queen’s workload consists of representing the state at home and abroad. As for me, this helps raise the profile of the nation, and attracts the interest of the foreign public and media. British journalist Walter Bagehot describes the monarchy as the ‘dignified part of the constitution, which excites and preserves the reverence of the population’.

In my opinion, the role of monarchy in Great Britain remains significant. Being a national symbol that unites four historical provinces, it also provides strong endured national idea and valuable political tradition. It is the tradition that shapes the mentality and serves as a base for legislative system. British monarchy is complex and fairly conservative but there is no doubt that it is what makes the Great Britain greater and stronger country rather than weak and venerable one.

The core question that this debate will examine is whether Monarchies should be abolished in favour of a Republic. This is an issue which is hotly debated within the United Kingdom, with the Republic supporters actively campaigning for a democratic alternative to the Monarchy. During William and Kate’s royal wedding the media picked up on the 'Not a Royal Wedding' street parties which took place in London. The focus of this debate will be to discuss whether these Head of State is an anachronism, that is to say out-dated, or whether they in fact have much to commend them at a time when the leaders of many new republics still struggle to find popular legitimacy.

- Monarchies, no matter how vestigal, are undemocratic

Point : The concept of Monarchy is undemocratic. If the monarch retains any significant political powers, as they do in Belgium and the U.K. for example, these are unjustifiable. Why should the opinion of just one person, in office purely by accident of birth, be able to influence the outcome of elections or call a government. Legally, in the UK the Monarch has the power to; choose the Prime Minister, dismiss ministers and governments, dissolve parliament, refuse to agree to legislation passed by parliament, pardon convicted criminals, declare a state of emergency and raise a personal militia.[1] And in some countries like Saudi Arabia they have much more absolute power. A recent example where the Monarch had a role in the United Kingdom was within the 2010 elections where no party achieved an overall majority, the Queen therefore had to sign her approval for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.

Counterpoint: While the Monarchy has legal rights, the real powers of European Monarchs are negligible. For example, while the Monarch legally has the power to dissolve parliament, no Monarch has done this since William IV in 1834. Technically the Monarchy also has the power to veto any legislation that comes through Parliament, however, this power has not been exercised since Queen Anne in 1708[1]. To the point of the concept of the Monarchy, Canadian historian Jacques Monet has suggested that ''in choosing to leave the selection of their head of state to this most common denominator in the world -- the accident of birth -- Canadians implicitly proclaim their faith in human equality; their hope for the triumph of nature over political manoeuvre, over social and financial interest; for the victory of the human person.

- Supervising and protecting a monarchy is an unjustifiable public expense

Point: The costs of monarchy are unjustifiable. Typically monarchs and their immediate family receive substantial amounts of money from the state to maintain luxurious lifestyles, complete with servants, expensive holidays and hobbies. The state also spends a great deal to maintain and run palaces and other royal residences, which are seldom accessible to the general public who support them through their taxes. In the UK what is officially termed as 'Head of State Expenditure' amounted to £40 million in the 2007-8 financial year. However, this excludes the cost of security for the numerous family members and residences. Although the security costs have not been confirmed, it is estimated that it exceeds £50 million a year

Counterpoint: There are three counter-points that can be used to challenge the proposition. Firstly, the opposition maintain that the Monarchy is highly cost-effective when compared to the expense of maintaining a Presidency with a large staff and equally stringent security requirements. Secondly, Royal residences are held in trust for the nation, and would require the same upkeep costs whether they were inhabited by a monarch or not. Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, the Monarchy more than pays its way through its generation of tourist revenue as millions visit sites associated with royalty, and through its role in promoting trade and industry abroad on royal visits. There is also evidence to suggest that the nation actually benefits financially from the Crown Estate. Figures suggested by Professor David Flint[1] are that in 2009/10 all payments to the Crown came to about £30 million. But the British government received £211 million from the Crown Estate. So the government made a very substantial profit from The Queen – about £181 million.

- There is no divine right to leadership or privilege

Point: Monarchs no longer have divine right to rule. For centuries the main justification of royal authority was a religious one. Catholic rulers had their legitimacy supported by the Papacy, Protestants rulers often headed their own state churches; in both the monarch’s rightful authority was preached in church every Sunday, while the ruler in turn protected a single national church. Currently, the Monarch is termed 'the defender of the Protestant faith'. She or he is required to be a member of the Church of England and is not allowed to marry a Catholic. Today societies are increasingly multi-faith, indeed, fewer than 5% of adults in the United Kingdom are practising Anglicans, and many people have no religion at all; hardly anyone believes the monarch has a spiritual right to exercise authority. Indeed, those whose religion differs from that of the monarch (often ethnic minorities) may be actively alienated by the way in which a particular faith seems to be privileged.

Counterpoint: On the other hand, the Monarchy could instead be seen as an institution that retains an important symbolic role as a focus for national unity. The Monarch has a less formal role as 'Head of Nation'. The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognises success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service.[1] Since they are unelected figures which are above political conflict and can therefore help countries to avoid the political gridlock that can result from conflict between two differently elected bodies, for example within the U.S.A. between the Republicans and the Democrats. Not only does the Monarch provide a symbol of National unity but also a symbol of world-wide unity. Queen Elizabeth II is the Monarch of 16 independent countries and the Head of the Commonwealth of 54 nations across the globe.

- A presidential position enable the democratic selection of a head-of-state

Point: The alternative to the monarch is obvious. Many states around the world have Presidential systems, either like the United States where the President fulfils both the role of the Head of State and the Head of Government combining the two roles. Or as in Italy or Germany where there is both a head of state (usually president) and a head of government (usually Prime Minister, although Germany’s is Chancellor) where the head of state is respected but is mostly a ceremonial role. Finally there may be both a head of state and head of government where both are powerful as in France. Therefore the head of state can still be in whatever role the state requires. Most importantly in all these cases the head of state is elected rather than simply gaining the position on account of birth.

Counterpoint: The head of government will already be elected. There is no need to create a competing centre of power that has the same popular legitimacy. Just as there are worries that an elected house of lords would want more powers due to its new found legitimacy an elected head of state could demand the same. Such a change would be disruptive and is not necessary.

"From divells and Kings Good Lord deliver me. Its now high time, up and be doing, I desire any government rather than that of the King"

Thomas Wroth, 17th century MP

Read the others here

A Brief Guide: How Long Can They Survive?

Dissatisfaction with the monarchy has been increasingly apparent in Britain. In part that has been because of the antics of family members. Criticism is no longer as taboo as it was when the taxpayer funded BBC refused to allow discussion of republicanism.

However, the family has been willing to adapt if necessary in order to hold on to its privileges. When public criticism reached a new high in the 1990s the family set up the "Way Ahead" committee, composed of leading family members and their advisers. Its mission was to reform the monarchy just enough to put off its abolition.

One of its first ideas was to take the tax payers' eyes off their picking of our pockets. They would give up their income support handouts in return for the much greater income from the property portfolio known as the Crown Estates. That kind offer was made although since 1760 the Crown Estate income has belonged to the Treasury!

A more realistic reform was to reduce the number of members of the family who would have official status as the existing members died. The committee also agreed on the idea that the family link to the Church of England should be ended and that female members of the family should have an equal right with males to become monarch. Only the latter reform has been implemented.


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