Last weekend I enjoyed ‘Our Queen At Ninety’ on ITV, and in a time when many are calling a constitutional Monarchy ‘out of date,’ I think it’s worth exploring what value the Monarchy still holds.
I would argue that the Monarchy has survived and continues to be useful because having a politically neutral, ceremonial head of State, who is not simultaneously the head of the executive branch of Government, is a stabilising and healthy part of our constitution as it subordinates the role of elected politicians.
The Monarch is above the Prime Minister. It is right and good that the Prime Minister is not the head of the British state. It makes the office of Prime Minister more obviously one of public servitude in a way that the office of the American President does not seem to be.
In the UK, because the Queen and her extended family cut ribbons, elected politicians don’t. In the United States, executive decisions are made by unelected members of the President’s Administration whilst the President carries out ceremonial commitments. Aside from the democratic deficit that creates, it is important that politicians don’t forget that they are public servants. Taking politicians away from their service and making them cut ribbons turns them into VIPs. This seems to advance a sense of grandiosity and hubris in politicians who already need no encouragement.
There is a cult-like reverence around anyone who holds power. People like powerful people for no reason other than because they have power. I’m glad the UK focuses most of that energy on a politically neutral head of state rather than any politician. Wrapping the ceremonial trappings of a head of state with the powers of the executive branch removes a check of executive power.
In 2008, Cato Institute scholar, Gene Healy, wrote a book called ‘The Cult of The Presidency’ documenting the serious abuses of executive power by the Presidency. If the USA did not have a written document specifically limiting government power, the Constitution, this aggrandisement of the head of executive power could have made the American government bigger and the office of President more autocratic. All the worst ever politicians have tried to make themselves cult leaders because it makes them untouchable.
In the ‘Our Queen at Ninety’ programme it mentioned that the Queen had seen no less than twelve American Presidents come and go. Whether you like her or loathe her, it feels like the Queen has been around for an age. It is healthy for politicians to have a reminder that they are transient, public servants just around to do a job, and can be replaced easily whilst the show goes on without them.
Politicians are divisive and usually, the more effective they are, the more divisive they are. The Monarchy has undeniably been a unifying and stabilising influence on the United Kingdom and has helped shape the British identity. This is useful because it means divisive politicians can only divide up to a point, with the Monarchy acting as a rallying point for healing division and emphasising a common status as British subjects.
For these reasons, merging the head of state with the head of the executive branch of government would be unwise. I can easily see how this role being carried out by a celebrity family is considered anachronistic. If the Monarchy is ever replaced, however, it should be replaced with an elected, ceremonial, and politically neutral head of state for the sake of the subordination of overarching elected politicians.