Britain’s constitutional monarchy developed over a long period of time. Until the end of the seventeenth century, British monarchs had the right to make and pass legislation. Over time, the powers of the monarch were limited, both by laws enacted by Parliament and by changing political practices and customs. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the day-to-day exercise of political power was gradually taken over by Parliament, the Prime Minister and the cabinet eventually developing into a modern constitutional monarchy.
It is a form of government in which an elected or hereditary monarch acts as Head of State. Unlike an absolute monarchy, where the king or queen is the sole source of power, in a constitutional monarchy the monarch’s power is limited and shared with other parts of the government. People say that nowadays the power of the monarch in the modern British system is mostly symbolic and ceremonial, summed up by the saying, “the Queen reigns but she does not rule. ” In other words, as a constitutional monarch, the Queen plays an important role in the government, but does not have any real power. She cannot make or pass legislation and must remain politically neutral.
As Head of State, Elizabeth II performs many official duties but almost always acts on the advice of her elected ministers. Thus, let us the problem of the role of the monarchy in modern Britain. It will be understood to be the role of the monarchy both constitutionally and non-constitutionally. Defining what the ‘modern monarchy’ is and when it came into existence is a debate in itself. However, for the purposes of this course paper it will be understood to mean the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne in 1953, because as Tony Blair described during the Jubilee Celebrations, the Queen “adapted the monarchy successfully to the modern world. ”1 THE ROLE OF THE MONARCHY IN MODERN BRITAIN 1 Tony Blair, 2002 3 Until the end of the 17th Century, British monarchs were executive monarchs giving them the power to make and pass legislation.
Since the beginning of the 18th Century, the monarch became a constitutional monarch, binding them with rules and conventions and ensuring their political impartiality. Since the reign of Queen Victoria the monarchy’s direct and effective constitutional power has remain limited and Monarch’s act largely on the advice of ministers.
Britain’s constitutional monarchy means that through the Royal Prerogative, the monarchy has transferred much of their real power to the executive. Constitutionally, the prerogative powers delegated to the executive are officially retained by the monarchy. These include the powers to make war, peace, and treaties, dissolve parliament, remove and replace the Prime Minister as well as appoint Judges, Civil Servants, Magistrates, Councillors and Commanders in the Armed Forces. The monarch is Head of State and the Commonwealth. The Monarch has power to confer peerages, knighthoods and other honours.
The Monarch has powers to enact legislation as well as to summon and dissolve parliament. The Monarch appoints the prime minister and has the right to be consulted, ‘advise and warn’. The Monarch plays important constitutional roles in other organisations, including the Armed Forces and the Church of England. The monarch is commander of the armed forces; soldiers will swear allegiance to the crown rather than to the state. In this sense, the monarchy is “intelligible” as she is the personification of the British State. People can swear loyalty to the state, a social construction, via the monarchy.
The Monarch is also Governor of the Church of England. As well as the constitutional role, the monarch also has a non constitutional role. “As well as carrying out significant constitutional functions, the Queen acts as a focus for national unity, presiding at ceremonial occasions, visiting local communities and representing Britain around the world. ”2 2 http://www. royal. gov. uk 4 The majority of the Queen’s workload consists of representing the state at home and abroad. This helps raise the profile of the nation, and attracts the interest of the foreign public and media.
“They provide a focus, and a great deal of apolitical continuity. They are a figurehead for the country and foreigners are fascinated by them. ”3 One of the key defences of the monarchy is that she attracts tourism, and without her role, raising the profile of the nation overseas, and representing the UK in an apolitical role, tourism would suffer. The effect of this is of course intangible. Although there are ‘figures’, the value of these are negligible. It would be impossible and ridiculous to ask all tourists into the country whether or not they were attracted to the country because of the monarchy.
An important intangible and non-constitutional role of the monarchy is acting as a symbolic figurehead for the country. In his seminal work Bagehot describes the monarchy as the ‘dignified part of the constitution’. He suggests it ‘excites and preserves the reverence of the population’. The monarchy is the symbolic head of Britain representing the ‘intelligible part of the constitution’ for the average Briton. A survey showed 50% of people said they felt the monarchy made them feel more British and 48% of people saw the most important role of the monarchy as a figurehead for the country. (See Appendix I).
It is important to examine the role of the monarchy through the ‘eyes’ of various theories of the state. The monarchy provides an interesting case study of modern pluralist interaction. For many, the former ‘magic’ of the monarchy has disappeared, the Royal Family proving to be fallible. They are merely another group attempting to maximize their interests through the state. Neo-pluralism would note the constant change of modern society, and how the Royal family has coped with staying relevant to the public. Despite their diminishing powers, the monarchy has remained an influential and relatively strong institution.
This is in part due to the steady public support for the 3 Interview with Lord Janner 2003 5 monarchy. The abolishment of the crown is only sought by a minority; change is not in the interests of British society at large. If there was a majority that wanted to remove the crown, it would undoubtedly happen. However, the role of the modern monarchy also affects the position of the state as the ‘arbiter’ between interest groups. There has been recent concern over the increasingly ‘presidential’ role of the British PM, and this is primarily tied in with the lack of clarity regarding the role of the head of state.
In pluralist terms, this presents a danger to the capacity of the state to maximize the interests of different groups in society. In many ways, the executive is becoming a new ‘monarch’. Short facts: ?The monarch is the official head of state and an integral part of Parliament in her constitutional role; has mostly representative functions; gives the royal assent to the bills passed by the House of Commons (общин) and the House of Lords; is the head of the Commonwealth of Nations. ?As far back as 1215 when barons forced King John to recognize in the Magna Carta that they had certain rights.
The constitutional monarchy we know today developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, as day-to-day power came to be exercised by Minister in Cabinet. ?Queen Elizabeth II . She was born on 21 April, 1926; was married to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on 20 November, 1947; ascended the throne on 6 February 1952; and was crowned on 2 June, 1953. In law, the Queen is the head of the executive, legislature, judiciary, the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Crown and the head of the Established Church of England. In practice, she has little direct power. She is one of the longest-reigning monarchs
in British history She is widely respected for the way in which she performs her duties and is generally popular. The Queen and the royal family continue to take part in many traditional ceremonies. 6 ?The Queen, however, has powers that can surprise many. She can choose a Prime Minister, dissolve the Parliament and declare war like an absolute monarch. But these days the Queen’s influence is mainly informal. She has a right and a duty to express her views on government matters to the Prime Minister at their weekly audience. But these meetings and all communications between the Monarch and
her Government remain strictly confidential. Having expressed her views, the Queen follows the advice of her Ministers. SUMMARY 7 In conclusion, empirically it might seem that the British monarchy is unjustified because the same role as a figurehead and head of state is probably achieved elsewhere for less. However, the problem with this is that the figures do not take into account tourism, which might not balance the expenditure, but is still a factor. Making valid comparisons between countries’ systems is problematic because of lack of data and the nature of the question; because each system is different they are hard to compare.
Quantifying the symbolic role of the monarchy as a figurehead for Britain is also impossible. Theoretically, real concern for the monarchy is deceptive. The monarchy is not a burning issue for the British and is not a priority for them. If it were, it would appear on the political agenda. Inevitably, if you ask most people for an opinion they will give it but for most people, the existence and continuance of the monarchy is much less important than say, the state of the health system. The monarchy could be regarded as justified because of lack of demand for change, especially consensus to transform into a republic.
Whilst the current system undoubtedly ‘works’ it is by no means a paradigm which one would use to create a new head of state and a figurehead. While there is concern about the cost of the monarchy, abolishing it for an alternative system is not a viable outcome. It’s important to retain some pragmatism and put the ‘issue’ in the wider context of Britain. Legislative time is precious, and the public would prefer money and time were spent improving public services and reducing change rather than making big changes. There is however, support for more gradual and natural reform. More concerning is the increasing power of the
executive through the Royal Prerogative who now seem to work without the checks and balances of Parliament. SOURCES 8 1. Ben Aston What is the role of the monarchy in modern Britain? Can it be justified empirically and theoretically? Essay -2003, 16p. 2. Monarchy. The Royal Family at Work. Teachers` resources – http://www. pbs. org/opb/monarchy/educators. html 3. The British Monarchy: Relevant or Relic? Q&A with UAlbany Professor of History Ron Berger – h? p://www. albany. edu/news/12895. php 4. The official website of the British Monarchy – http://www. royal. gov. uk/MonarchUK Appendix I