Opinion: End of the Windsor Line?; with a New Report Proposing Major Changes to the British Monarchy, Mario Basini Asks How Long the Institution Can Survive after Radical Reforms

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), July 16, 2003 | Go to article overview

Opinion: End of the Windsor Line?; with a New Report Proposing Major Changes to the British Monarchy, Mario Basini Asks How Long the Institution Can Survive after Radical Reforms


Byline: Mario Basini

This week Sky Television screened the results of a poll which should have delighted monarchists. Around 80% of those questioned said they thought the Queen should remain the head of the British state.

As usual, the simpler the statistics, the less accurate the conclusions. For in its details the poll turned out to be a lot less reassuring for the Royal Family and its supporters.

Half of those who supported the monarchy said there should be significant changes in the way it is run. And when, given the choice of calling themselves subjects or citizens, the overwhelming majority opted for citizens.

The more pedantic among us will be wondering how it is possible to have a monarch without subjects.

Historically the word ``citizen'' is hardly one you would associate with fervent royalists. It has been a rallying call for those fanatically opposed to monarchies down the centuries.

Calling each other ``citizen'' was, you will remember, the proud badge of the regicides who initiated the French Revolution.

The Sky poll is indicative of a growing public ambivalence towards the monarchy.

At the very least, we now expect the monarchy to modernise, to fit into the more democratic and egalitarian pat-terns that apply to the rest of us. But can the Royal Family survive in any meaningful form without the privileges of wealth and status enjoyed by its predecessors?

Yesterday, the left-wing think tank, the Fabian Society, joined in the debate by calling for widespread reforms of the monarchy. It advocated the rationalisation of the Royal Family's finances, clarifying and separating its members' private and public lives.

Its various arcane forms of public income should be replaced by one clear payment, comprehensible to everyone. That would make it easier to subject its members to the same taxes we all have to pay.

And that single payment would be subject to the vote of the Westminster Parliament. In other words, the Royal Family should be on a salary like the rest of us. In their case, their employers happen to be the British state. And just like the rest of us, the monarch should be allowed to retire.

What the report seems to be saying is that the monarchy here should occupy the position that is filled by presidents in most democratic countries of the world. The only difference would be that the monarchy would cling to the hereditary principle instead of having to subject itself to the will of the people every four years or so.

The solution seems to me to be the sort of compromise guaranteed to provide the worst of all worlds. Britain would have a Presidency but without the power to choose the person best suited to the job. And once they were in power, the poor ``citizen'', deluded by the fantasy that they live in a democratic society, would be powerless to get rid of them until they entered their dotage. …

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