A Wager with Her Majesty
In the year of your Diamond Jubilee you are no doubt reflecting upon your incredible sixty-year reign. People have been born, grown old, and died all under the monarchy of Elizabeth II. Your reign, and indeed the reign of the Windsors is by far the most established institution of the United Kingdom.
Of course, calling this nation the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland does sweep a rather enormous issue under the royal rug. In three of the four main subdivisions of the UK, we are witnesses to mass devolution to a disillusioned and disunited people, or peoples. In Scotland, the ruling party are campaigning for independence. In Wales, the Assembly is taking on more responsibilities than ever in its history. In Northern Ireland one of the many factions remains loyal to you, others seek unification with Ireland, and some groups even want you dead.
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are very visibly not happy with the United Kingdom. Or is it England they’re not happy with? England does make up over 80% of the national population, a sway which understandably makes the others feel a little like outposts. Conversely, this does give the United Kingdom a strong defender in that England benefits very well, or at the very least sees no reason to do anything about it.
This is very much the surface of the problem though. The question of independence is really in response to the claim (our nation’s name is more than just a name- it is a claim) that we are united. Where the problem really lies, and where it becomes almost intangible, is with the second word: Kingdom.
There is a great contradiction in this country about the monarchy. Some are in favour of the idea of a royal family and some are opposed. The vast majority of these people (on both sides) contain the views without knowing the duties that a monarch carries.
This isn’t ignorance either. It’s just your position is highly difficult to comprehend to the vast majority of your subjects. Principally people criticise you on three main fronts:
- That you’re a person of extreme tax-funded wealth whilst contributing little in return
- That your duties, whatever they are, are exclusively hereditary and anti-democratic
- That you are the matriarch of a backwards-viewing cruel and irrelevant family
These criticisms are all made worse by the fact that legally there is not a thing we can do about it. You’re the Queen. You are the unelected head of state. You own this country. Admit it or not, you own your kingdom.
So with these catches, we turn to the defence of both you and your position. I can fully appreciate you’re a source of wisdom in your weekly consorts with the Prime Minister. Whatever war is brewing, the head of your government will natter away with you about it over a beverage with the corgis. The Prime Minister then goes off and does the job of Prime Ministering, but what do you do? State visits, tours of primary schools, a quarter-of-an-hour broadcast per year at Christmas. Yearly speeches about what you’re government is going to do at Parliament’s state opening.
Then there’s the tourism and trade you allegedly bring to this nation. This may be a valid point but I would prefer to address this later in the letter.
Generally, you are seen as a figurehead. The public’s perception of the Queen is that woman who wears dresses and waves. Your official position of ‘head of the Commonwealth and defender of the faith’ is, incredibly, even more barmy.
Is it not dangerous to have the head of state also act as the head of religion? Has not the connection between theism and government been an absolute and total oppression through all of human history? Is not your two connecting jobs a mere watered down version of that? True you don’t have any real powers as head of state, just like the Church of England has no powers as any kind of religious force, but these are mere neutered versions of a governing formula that has made miserable the lives of billions over centuries. To deny this formula is to be ignorant, and to adhere to it to any degree is at worst oppressive and at best foolish.
The opposition to royalty, which as you’ve already guessed is where I stand, does seem rather pointless when first examined. I am universally met with people who don’t understand where the fierceness of the argument comes from. The royal family, as they see it, is just there. And true it does act to some degree of humanity. I do not deny the ceremonial roles or the charity. I merely claim that better systems of rule can exist that do not require you.
For one, is there any role you undertake that cannot be carried out by someone democratically elected? What is it about Windsor blood that has this mystical ability to allow Parliaments to happen? Why, for that matter, must a Parliament be allowed to happen? The people vote for their government; they do not need the head of that government to then get the nod from you to get started. They’ve got the keys to 10 Downing Street, they’ve got their hands on the budget- what magic does a Windsor possess to start the government?
The pro-royalists then site the tourism. True the heritage of the royal family is notable, and great ceremonies of royalty do take place every once in a while. This must indeed have some knock-on effect for tourism, but how much? And how often? Even if this is significant, I would like to know the statistics behind the people who holiday in Britain for the constitutional monarchy’s existence. Do people really fly in for you, or for the palaces you own? My suspicion is the latter, and I do not propose we rid ourselves of Buckingham Palace- just its resident.
So what’s your point? Trade? Fine- keep bringing in the trade with your envoys. The public can pay a little bit for that. But why must the people behind the trade, one aspect of Britain’s prosperity, cost over two-hundred times as much as having a Prime Minister? Why not continue with your contributions and rid yourself of a jewelled crown during the times when your subjects are finding it increasingly hard to pay for produce, let alone fund you.
Hark the cry of the pro-royalists who must reply that it costs each Briton less than a pound to fund you each year. But what would cost even less than that is simply not to fund you at all, or to find a rather spacious apartment in Chelsea where you could do the same job- or if we must fund your palaces and entourages, and crown, and furnishings, and state visits, and gold carts, and horses, and whatever else- for you to justify your position.
With that in mind, I ask of you the following, both as Head of State and Defender of the Faith. Consider it a sixty-year-late job interview:
- How would you describe your position?
- What is it about your position that requires a Windsor do it?
- What part of your leadership absolutely cannot be carried out by someone democratically elected and accountable, and why?
- What parts of your position cannot simply be abandoned as being superfluous, and why?
- How can we rate your performance?
- How would you justify your salary, and the salaries of your family?
- What guarantees do you offer the taxpayer that you are providing profit?
- What guarantees do you offer that any profit gained could not have come about by a democratically elected person?
- What guarantees do you offer that it was you, and not the existence of your throne or palaces, that provided the aforementioned profit?
- How does each taxpayer specifically benefit from the aforementioned profits, if at all?
If these questions are answered to the satisfaction of the sceptics then the issue will be resolved. You will also have quashed the debate about how much point a royal family contains in a modern civilisation. Simply abide by these questions, and royalty and Modern Britain will get on famously.
If, however, these questions are not answered to the satisfaction of the sceptics, then it is here where I propose the wager.
For every sceptic who is classed unwillingly as your subject, I propose the following: Declassify us as subjects. For every sceptic, return the notional value it costs to maintain you as Queen.
For the sake of argument, assume the value is 60p (91¢) per year. Return the 60p to the sceptic, or donate it to a registered charity. In return, the sceptic will yield all the benefits of your monarchy. British subjects and British citizens can both exist in this country, some recognising you as their designated head of state and defender of their faith, and some recognising the power and authority resting chiefly with the Prime Minister.
"Practicality shouldn’t get in the way of progress.
Practicality shouldn’t get in the way of progress. I practically propose a method in which this can be achieved- passports. During passport renewal, a simple tick box can be introduced giving the people the chance to have a passport calling them one of your subjects, or a citizen of a coexisting British republic. If the latter, then underneath have a sub-option saying how they would like their 60p rebate- either directly into their bank account, discounted from the price of their passport, or donated straight to a charity of their choice (with the charity registry number filled in on the form). Any problems with that?
This does not include your government. Citizens shall still retain NHS rights, and the rights of law, and everything that they pay for outside of that notional 60p.
Nor does this include the revenue from your land, which admittedly does provide a fair-sized net gain for the economy. This revenue generated, if we’re honest, comes from you being a landowner. As owner of much of the land within the UK, you do make a lot of cash (your son practically owns Cornwall – some prime real estate there Charlie!). All of the money that you, as a landowner, bring to the country is a) the chief argument of the pro-royalists and b) nothing to do with royalty at all. I do not propose that relationship ends. I simply propose that relationship continues without binding Parliament or Britons, or religion.
My sneaking suspicion is that were I to be allowed this option, I would not notice any difference in my life whatsoever, aside from being 60p better off. There is no quantifiable evidence of the direct gain from your being a Queen to tourism revenue. The land you own is not relevant to your monarchy, merely owned by you as landowners. Using land revenue to justify monarchy is at best a stretch. If you don’t think so, and if you think that you exclusively provide such a basic and essential service that I would be denying myself, and if that service comes from this notional 60p, then please do enlighten me.
Perhaps then we’d see your point. Happy anniversary Liz,
I’d say yours, but I’m not.