When I think of the monarchy, I’m perplexed as to how it’s managed to experience such longevity in an age of otherwise social progression. Should monarchies ever become consigned to history, they’ll surely be studied with intrigue and incredulity. I can see exam questions and dissertations of the future questioning why societies never considered the suitability of a monarch for the position amidst centuries of democracy where leaders that actually ran the country had to be elected. Or the inexplicable rationale for how even in times of great austerity, monarchs and their families continued to live lavish lives that were funded by the public.
Surely the attire of a monarch will add to future commentators’ confusion for how we didn’t see anything wrong with monarchs wearing jewelry-adored crowns and attire where the jewels had been violently pillaged from other countries in the name of their ancestors. If monarchies do come to an end (and I think they eventually will), history will surely ridicule the generations that permitted them to occur.
It’s probably apparent that I’m not a monarchist. However, I must admit that I actually like the Queen. She comes across as a figure who isn’t quite aware of just how out of step her position as a monarch is with modern society but nevertheless, it’s a role she appears to take very seriously.
The maternal connection the Queen has to the UK, and indeed the other colonies and former colonies for which she remains head of state, has been palpable throughout her time as Queen. Indeed, when America invaded Grenada in 1983, I suspect the Queen would have privately been incandescent with rage given her role as head of state of Grenada.
During the global mourning for Princess Diana, whom the Queen was said to not be fond of, the Queen’s tribute to Princess Diana showed a human side. It also displayed her maternal relationship with the nation in acknowledging their grief and seeking to bring comfort as their monarch.
Similarly, I’ve got a lot of time for Prince William and Prince Harry, the latter especially. Prince Harry seems like he’d be good value on a night out and a decent guy to have in your circle. Not to mention, his decision to join the army, and his tours of duty, give him more credibility than most monarchs are afforded in their role as head of the armed forces. Yet both princes seem strained with the realisation of just how outdated the monarchy is despite it being a life they’ve been born into.
And what of the rest of the British monarchy? Prince Charles might be well meaning (if not sometimes misguided on the restraint a member of the monarchy should show in matters for elected representatives) and Prince William’s family do present a warmer side to the monarchy. But beyond the aforementioned, I see nothing but individuals who are living a life of privilege for which they haven’t done anything to deserve. And this is the crux of why I feel the the monarchy is outdated.
We tell children that they can be or do anything they want to as long as they work hard at it. Well what about being part of the monarchy? Unless you marry into the royal family (what a wonderfully modern route to enter an equally modern institution eh?), I’m afraid not. And if you’re an ethnic minority, working class, openly homosexual or of any group that would be frowned upon as being part of the establishment, your chances are practically non-existent. Is that a system that we should be allowing to continue in a time when equality should be championed in what is supposedly (but isn’t) an egalitarian society?
I also can’t remain ignorant to the fact that slavery and colonialism is intertwined not only with the British monarchy but also the riches and pomp that the monarchy enjoy today. Their continued privilege is derived from the brutality, rape, violent theft, dehumanising and psychological destabilising of the black diaspora; an experience that continues to impact black people and the the states and nations from which we originally came.
As a black man, I would be both irresponsible and in denial to ignore this in my perception of the monarchy. I don’t think the Queen is racist or justifies the campaigns waged against the former empire in the name of her ancestors. Nonetheless, I do think said history is put down to a regrettable past that isn’t considered in the context of the impact that it has today. The same goes for other diasporas that were subject to British colonialism. Their past and present woes can be traced back to actions carried out in the name of the British monarchy and this isn’t something we can ignore.
Recently, it was announced that Buckingham Palace is due to undergo ‘essential’ refurbishment to the tune of £369 million. ‘Essential’? Someone is surely having a laugh here. I appreciate that the palace is old and probably does need upgrading but it’s one of several residences the Queen has and at such cost, it’s impossible to justify.
Every aspect of the public sector and public expenditure is subject to sharp austerity but Buckingham Palace is having £369 million spent on refurbishment? We’re in the midst of a housing crisis in the UK with an acute shortage of social housing especially, and the Tory government is willing to spend public funds on the royal household. It tells us what we already know about the Tories. But the fact they felt this was OK reinforces the baffling and archaic inequality represented by the monarchy.
I’m sure the Tories wouldn’t defend the genuinely essential work necessary in many social housing properties with the same passion. Though we already know they don’t care about the proletariat in the way that they protect the interests of the monarchy and the establishment. Spending such an amount on Buckingham Palace against a backdrop of such austere times, and the royal family already being in receipt of public funds (and their own private funds), is ludicrous and you’d need to be incredibly ignorant to think otherwise.
The argument that the monarchy brings in much needed revenue to the UK is one that I’ve always been dubious of too. Certainly, they are a tourist attraction but without the monarchy, the buildings and history would still be there and the tourists will still come.
In contemporary history, the monarchy has modernised in not taking a role in matters that should rightly be reserved for elected representatives. Consequently, the Queen effectively rubber stamps legislation and royal assent (when the Queen agrees to make a Bill into an Act of Parliament) is little more than this. I’m sure the Queen is very au fait with the work of her government and feels a sense of great responsibility in giving royal assent. Although as a figure that is effectively an apolitical observer, the effectiveness of the role she plays in this capacity has to be questioned.
With the Queen’s relationship with other heads of states, her apolitical role also limits her ability to use her position to speak out or in favour of regimes in conversations that she could add her weight and influence to. And as the Queen rows back on her public engagements, her relationships with other governments may become even less relevant.
I don’t want to see the Queen, a seemingly nice woman in the twilight of her life, made to feel unwanted in a role that she’s held for most of her life. That said, when a new monarch assumes the throne, it’d be timely to begin the dialogue around how outdated the monarchy is. We need to ask if it’s an institution we can justify as relevant, necessary and in keeping with what should be a modern society based on meritocracy; not arbitrary claims rooted in an often ugly yet celebrated history.