April 21, 2006

The job of the monarch

Of course today is the Queen's 80th birthday, and I wish her a very happy one. On the Today programme this morning a debate was had about the accession of Prince Charles to the throne. It was pointed out that whilst we knew very little about the Queen's personal opinions when she was crowned, in contrast we know much about Charles's, sometimes controversial, views. Indeed, we still know very little about the Queen's affiliations and opinions: she has successfully maintained a very neutral stance.

Should a monarch, bearing in mind that they have very little political sway, actively air political or other important views? Is it in their interest not to? Has our current Queen's neutrality contributed significantly to her popularity? And the much-reiterated question… what role does the monarchy really serve bearing in mind their limited power to do anything?

- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. The main job of the monarch and the monarchy is to represent Britain as head of state, and as such I think it's worthwhile them not getting overly entangled in highly contentious and controversial political issues. On the other hand, I think as the monarch and other Royals are in most influential positions, we should view their influence as a positive thing. Of all the major figures I would suggest that they are far less open to corruption and commercial influence, and as such offer a good way of voicing under-represented views. Diana did a huge amount in the area of landmines, and many other Royals have done much beneficial work, such as the Prince's Trust, which offers training to young people to help them "get their lives working". I am pleased and encouraged by much of Prince Charles' work, even if I don't agree with his views on some subjects I think it's great that he takes an interest in working with things that he cares about, and I wish we saw more of it.

    21 Apr 2006, 15:35

  2. to address the title of your blog: surely it's an oxymoron?


    21 Apr 2006, 17:54

  3. The only problem with an active monarch rather than a passive one is what happens if they say something which contradicts the government's work? How good would it look to have the head of state telling the elected government that they're doing something wrong?

    Ok, I don't agree with everything the government do but to have the head of state (who, I think, can technically dismiss the government at any time) at loggerheads with the government would be a worrying development, casting shades of monarchical interference which Elizabeth II has done quite a good job of removing. I have no problem with Charles being outspoken now but as soon as he ascends I honestly, think for the sake of the country, he should keep quiet.

    The chances of him doing so are another matter.

    Also I sort of agree with Zoe on the basis that I don't think we should have the Civil List. The monarchy can either fund itself or go and get proper jobs.

    21 Apr 2006, 19:12

  4. Holly, I thought the monarchy did, in essence, fund themselves. The income generated from their many properties goes straight to the government, and then they are given an allowance (or salary, if you will) to live on (and to pay for all functions etc). I don't know what the figures are, but I'd expect that the allowance pales into relative insignificance in comparison with the income.

    24 Apr 2006, 16:43

  5. James


    It's a lot more complex than that I'm afraid, and I don't have the full answer off the top of my head. The Monarchy is not self-financing entirely, it receives money known as the 'civil list' as well as its private income. Charles as Prince of Wales has a privately owned trust income from the Duchy of Cornwall, and the Windsors own a lot of their properties including, for example, Sandringham and Balmoral themselves (not sure about Buck House, I think not). On the other hand one reason that they've been able to accrue such large wealth is exemption from inheritance tax and death duties, the sort that have lead to many other great estates being broken up or sold to the National Trust. The tax position generally regarding the monarchy has changed considerably over the Queen's lifetime, if I remember rightly (I'm doing all this from memory), lessening the burden on the taxpayer. I am sure that it would be possible for it to be virtually self-funding. You also have to take into account, to be fair, the fact that the Royal Family is a great tourist attraction and earns the country large sums that way.

    Now to answer your questions. Yes the Queen has been far more discreet than Charles, but she does give the PM a weekly audience (the little climber Blair described it as being the other way around on the No. 10 website, so I read in the Spectator) and no doubt passes on some views then, though I've no doubt in a good deal less confrontational and controversial manner than Charles. It certainly is in her interest to be discreet and never be seen to air any political views. You could not defend an unelected head of state otherwise.

    The role is normally that of a figurehead except if we ever had a hung Parliament. It is the Queen who chooses the PM under our constitutional arrangements – she does so on the basis of whichever minister can command a majority in the house. Usually that's obvious, but it would not be in a hung parliament. Such would be more likely if we ever moved to proportional representation. And the Queen also has residual powers to refuse to give royal assent to bills and to dismiss the PM of the day. You might say it would never happen, but the latter happened to the Australian PM, Gough Whitlam, in the 1970s (dismissed by the Queen's representative, the Governor General). Whether those powers should vest in an unelected person is another matter, but as with much of the British Constitution, it works alright if those involved remember what they're supposed to be about, and don't get inflated ideas. It has been characteristic of the Blair gvt that people forget their normal constitutional restraints – Lord Irvine and his soliticitations for funds, Lord Goldsmith and his shirking of the Attorney-General's role in favour of his party's interest, etc. Ironically Charles has been busily doing the same on his part, by writing those angry missives which get leaked to the press.

    24 Apr 2006, 18:16

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