From William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth II, the monarchy has enjoyed membership of the British constitution for centuries, one which even the best efforts of Oliver Cromwell could not break. For many people, the question “should we abolish the monarchy in Britain” seems an inconsequential one. They regard the influence of the Royal Family in our day-to-day lives as minimal and unobtrusive, and they accept the economic benefits that the monarchy brings to the UK economy in exchange for occasional exposure to the Royal Family’s latest movements and updates in the news. We didn’t ask for a constitutional monarchy and it goes without saying that we probably wouldn’t have chosen one had we been consulted, but the effort to uproot it from our current political structure and install a republican presidential model similar to that of France just wouldn’t be worth the effort. But there are a number of people who regard the existence of a constitutional monarchy alongside a parliamentary democracy as at best outdated and at worst pernicious, justifying the need for its removal from the British constitution. Below I have elaborated on three of the most commonly referenced arguments for why the monarchy should be abolished in Britain, including responses to these charges by those who support the monarchy.
The monarchy is incompatible with democracy
In 2016, campaigners advocating for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union extolled the virtues of democracy and talked about taking back control from the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. But what about the unelected head of state in our own country? If we really believe in democracy, equality, and the ability to hold our elected officials to account, where does this leave the Royal Family whose titles are immune to the ballot box and which they have inherited by the mere chance of their birth? Apologists for the monarchy would point out that this is irrelevant because the monarch’s role has evolved to become largely symbolic, they have limited executive powers, and they are obligated to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters. However, whilst this is certainly true of Queen Elizabeth II who is unlikely to start throwing her weight around, there is no guarantee that future heirs to the throne will follow suit. What could the electorate do then? With an elected president, people would at least have the power to remove the head of state if they are not performing to the standards expected, whereas under a hereditary monarchy we are at the mercy of a genetic lottery that voters have no power to change. If we are to regard the United Kingdom as a modern democratic society which values equality over hierarchy, this necessarily involves the removal of the outdated hereditary monarchy, and if you were to start from scratch and redesign the United Kingdom’s democratic political structure, it’s highly unlikely that a constitutional monarchy would feature.
The monarchy is an expensive institution
A common criticism of the monarchy, which by far elicits the most outrage and calls for its abolition from sections of the general public, is that it is an expensive institution to run and taxpayers should not be compelled to subsidise the Royal Family’s lavish lifestyle. This criticism usually reaches its zenith around the time of royal weddings, when mainstream media outlets reveal the extortionate costs to the taxpayer of policing, security, traffic management, and stewarding for these events. According to the Sunday Express, the total cost of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding is believed to be £32 million, £30 million of which was spent on security alone. Figures also showed that £1.5 million was spent by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on flags, banners, big screens, control barriers and rubbish disposal. According to a YouGov survey conducted a few days prior to this Royal Wedding, 57% of British adult respondents think that the Royal Family should have paid for the policing and security in addition to the wedding itself. Royalists would argue however that the amount the Royal Family contributes towards the UK economy through tourism revenues is overwhelmingly greater than any costs to the public purse, and at a current cost of approximately 69p per person per year, the monarchy represents excellent value for money.
The monarchy reinforces social and class divisions
Some anti-monarchists advocate for abolishing the monarchy on the grounds that it perpetuates societal divisions based on wealth, class, and authority. Inherent to the monarchy’s existence is the outdated idea of a social class system that entails dominance and superiority of some people over others, simply because they were lucky enough to be born into upper-class or noble families, and they therefore have a birthright claim to greater privileges and titles, despite doing little to earn them. The fact that the Royal Family, for no other reason than their bloodline and heredity, is given greater power, wealth, and social status than ordinary families, is seen by critics of the monarchy as the embodiment of a society that is based on hierarchy and an impediment to society achieving true equality and meritocracy. Supporters of the monarchy would argue that the Royal Family has undergone considerable modernisation in recent years, lending their names and much of their time to many different charities and public service organisations, many of which work towards greater social mobility such as The Prince’s Trust. Regardless, to anti-monarchists, the mere existence of the monarchy with all of its immense and unearned titles and privileges is regarded as a symbol of hierarchy and superiority, which reinforces class distinctions and acts as a major obstacle towards positive social reform.