Change of plan…

Two apologies to begin with- first, the now annoyingly regular one for missing a post (again, away and thought they’d have WiFi), and second for lurching on one. Last time out I said I’d make a second post on the subject of justice, but whilst all the ideas for it are there, I feel that I’d just end up writing a piece of total crap (much like that post, in fact). So, instead I’m going to jump sharply in a completely random direction and make a vague attempt to be topical (if quite late).

As I’m sure everybody who has not been wandering in the wilderness for the last month will be aware, last weekend marked Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years as monarch and head of state of the United Kingdom, and 16 countries of the Commonwealth. As usual, such an occasion was marked with much pomp and ceremony, with various street parties, fairs, concerts and other events organised in her honour, most of which were somewhat dampened, in true British style, by the rain. Oh and the Queen’s husband Prince Philip being taken ill and spending the entire proceedings in hospital with a severe bladder complaint at the age of 91. But mostly the weather.

Of course, many of the celebrations were, in many respects, quite sensationally dull. The BBC received many complaints about its coverage of the Jubilee flotilla travelling through London up the river Thames, but in fairness to them a procession of various boats travelling very, very slowly up a very long river for most of a day is quite hard to make exciting, and whilst a street party can be a great event for fostering community spirit and such it is quite hard to make one rivetingly exciting when it is being marshalled over by the kind of formidable personality who generally runs them, without taking into account the demoralising effect of a barrage of rain. As such, I didn’t take part in any celebrations- I didn’t even watch the BBC’s coverage (well, it was on in the background, but that doesn’t really count). So, I thought I’d best give my tribute to the Queen’s reign here, where I can at least do myself a little justice.

A republican will tell you that a monarchy is a relic of a bygone age- a time before the people rose up to claim their own sovereignty and give themselves a voice of democracy, all of which is a very persuasive, and entirely valid argument. They will tell you that the Queen is an immense drain on our resources, and that as a ceremonial figurehead has almost no purpose. A particularly aggressive one will insist to you that she is holding the UK back, preventing it from coming into it’s own as a country and political system.

Well, let’s just analyse that. First of all, let’s start with the financial question. The royal family and monarchy as a whole costs the UK approximately £33 million a year- a whole lot of cash, I most certainly will not deny. By contrast, the official salary of the Prime Minister is a mere £142,000, so in raw terms the role of a PM is significantly less than the royals. The same could, presumably, be said of an elected president who would fill the Queen’s role were she to be replaced. However, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, set his annual budget at around £90 million, and a presidency like his attracts none of the tourist revenue of the Royals. The Crown Estate in fact turns an annual profit of over £200 million, and this cannot take into account the added income that tourists wishing to include the Royals in their trip bring in by staying in hotels, eating in cafes and buying souvenirs outside of official, Royal-owned property. In fact the value of the Civil List, which is basically the Royal Family’s salary, has fallen in value by 76% since its creation 20 years ago, making the Queen the only public sector worker to accept such a slashing (although, admittedly, she can afford to).

Next, let us consider the role of the Queen. In all political systems, the role at the top consists of two parts- the head of state and head of government. In some countries, like the USA, these two roles are fulfilled by the same person. There is no real ceremonial figurehead any more than David Cameron is one, which may be why the Americans love their flag so much. In others, like France or Germany, the two roles are separate- an elected President acts as head of state and is in charge of both being the public face of the country and detailing the general direction and focus of the government, and he in turn elects a Prime Minister to manage and head the government (although interestingly in Germany the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a well-known political figurehead whilst the President, Joachim Guack, is virtually unknown outside Germany). In Britain and several other Commonwealth countries, the Prime Minister fulfils a role much like that of a US President, controlling the government and all real power (although the job is different because whilst the UK is a unitary state, the USA’s political system consists of both federal legislature, where the President has power, and state legislature, where he doesn’t), whilst the Queen and Royal Family fulfils a purely ceremonial and representative role. For the UK this is means that we can have several apolitical, almost spiritual, leaders with whom we can connect our feelings of national pride (well, for most of the Royal Family at least) regardless of whether we support the people in power or not, whilst leaving the PM free to actually get on with the business of running things and making sure that the guy we end up electing actually has direct representative power. For the other Commonwealth countries it means that they can have a head of state who serves and represents them without paying a cent towards her day-to-day running.

To me, this is just evidence- neither of these are actually compelling arguments that either a Queen or President is necessarily better, and I would only bracket myself as a monarchist due to a time-honoured policy of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, and you’re most certainly free to make up your own minds (such a decision could also be made from a Spanish perspective regarding Kind Juan Carlos, although his case is slightly different given that everyone agrees he is a total legend for restoring Spain to democracy following the death of General Franco). But there are some people who are of the opinion that the Queen does nothing for the UK, acting merely as a face on a coin and an empty word, somebody who is totally lazy and does no real work.

The Queen was born into a difficult position. I will not claim her life has been one of hardship, far from it, but to have to adopt such a role, especially from such a young age, with no choice in the matter, and be expected to hold the post for as long as you live is perhaps not the easiest prospect for a woman to face. From her twenties, the Queen has spent her days travelling both the country and the world, never allowed to do anything but smile and be gracious, when most of us feel quite inclined to be crabby little bastards some days of the week (especially Mondays). She has her every action, word and thought analysed to within an inch of its life, and has to live with the knowledge that any blemish upon her reputation will live with her forever. And upon that, she has people telling her she is pointless, redundant, expensive and useless. Upon her ascension to the throne, she was also granted a daunting amount of power that she was pretty much free to use, and as it is often said : “Power corrupts- absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Despite this, she has now spent 60 years steadfastly fulfilling her role without once resorting to using any of it. Much of this is, of course, due to the increasing rise of liberalism during her reign and the public outcry that would arise if she were to wield her power meaningfully, but her family have not even touched the most obscure pieces of what they are entitled to. Not only that, but she has been quite selfless in her adoption of the role- despite Prince Charles consistently knocking on the door, she has refused to step down in an, admittedly rather vain, attempt to draw some of the attention away from the other, especially younger, members of her family, in an effort to let them have some form of a life before the throne.

I am not going to claim that these are any great sacrifices laid down at the altar of freedom, or that Queen Elizabeth is some hero of hard work and humility. But to imagine her solely as a rich slacker with an entire country as her plaything is to do no justice to what work she has put in to try and fulfil her role as best she can. This might break my rule about my Views, but I’ll say it anyway- thank you Elizabeth, for what you have done for us.

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