Why the Monarchy Must Stay

Article excerpt

Winston churchill often described parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy as being imperfect--but the best that man had yet devised.

It is human nature to require a leader at the helm. In our century we have looked to our heads of state for this role. Apart from carrying out ceremonial duties, a head of state should foster the notion of political accountability, while remaining above politics. That, of course, can't be true in places where the head of state is an ex-politician -- or in America, where the head of state is the political leader. The British system of constitutional monarchy, like the more than half-dozen monarchies still in existence in Europe, aptly shows why a monarch is a more successful figurehead than a president.

"In Great Britain things that are conventional become habitual, and things that are habitual become constitutional," wrote American historian George Brinton Cooper 40 years ago. In Britain the monarch remains very much at the heart of its Constitution. As constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II holds powers that may surprise many. She can choose a prime minister, dissolve Parliament and declare war. In reality, she waives these powers and is bound by tradition to accept the advice of Parliament. This system prevents politicians from too easily usurping power and, it may be argued, has prevented a dictator from dominating Great Britain since Oliver Cromwell's short rule in the 17th century.

It is one of the great strengths of monarchy that it has never taken sides in any political debate, that it shows itself, as an institution, to be evenhanded. This apolitical stance has made it possible for the political culture of Great Britain to assimilate, with relative ease, theories that would appear on the face of things to be radically at odds with a system of monarchical government--for example, socialism. Monarchy in this century has worked with socialist governments as effectively as with those whose politics one might choose to think were more sympathetic to the institution.

If one were to jettison the monarchy, government, Parliament, the nation and the commonwealth would be turned upside down. Every nut and bolt of every one of Britain's major institutions would have to be altered to make way for change. Bear in mind that every organ from the post office to the armed services acts with authority from the monarch. The troops that are sent to Bosnia and the letters that arrive in one's letter box are all effectively Her Majesty's. This is a system that has shown itself to work -- and it's generally agreed that if something works, it should be retained. …