British Monarchy: Where are we Now?

Juliette Perrot, translated by Rodolphe Leclerc
23 Février 2015

Although several British citizens turn their backs on politicians, many are still fond of the Monarchy. As Prince Andrew’s name has recently been mentioned in a sexual assault case involving an under-age girl, here is an overview of the power of the Royal Family and the battle its opponents are leading against it.

Crédit Reuters
Crédit Reuters
Prince Andrew recently made the headlines in Great Britain, when he was accused of sexual assaulting an under-age girl. This scandal emerges at a bad time for the Royal Family, who benefits from a high popularity rating in the country, as was perceptible at Prince William’s wedding in 2011 or at Queen Elisabeth II’s Jubilee in 2012. Although Buckingham Palace described the allegations against the Prince as « untrue and unfounded », some British citizens denounced the defense, claiming a case involving a politician would force the latter to resign. However, Prince Andrew cannot be removed from his function, which is mostly representative. This outrages some British persons, who wish to see a reduction of the influence and power of the Royal Family.

An All-mighty Royal Family?

What with freedom of speech and expression being an important value to which the British are attached, the power of the Monarchy is coming more frequently under question. As proof that this power is very real, the Royal Family was recently successful in preventing the broadcast of a documentary about itself on BBC. This documentary notably revealed that, after the death of Princess Diana, some communication specialists were employed in Buckingham Palace to regain the sympathy of the British. When the BBC was confronted by the excellence of the Royal Family’s lawyers—who were ready for anything in order to defend the interest of the Monarchy— it had little choice but to back down. 

What’s more is that the Royal Family lacks certain transparency concerning the money it receives, the taxes it pays, or the way it intervenes in public affairs. This opacity is related to the fact that the Monarchy is not concerned by the law on the freedom of information, created in 2000 by Tony Blair’s government in order to allow citizens to consult the administrative documents of a great number of public bodies. In 2010, the Freedom of Information Act was amended, offering greater protection to the Royal Family. Thus, every document concerning the Monarchy is now unreachable for 20 years following its creation. Therefore, it is impossible to know how public money is spent and how the Monarchy influences government policy. Of all members of the Royal Family, Prince Charles in particular is accused of interfering politically and trespassing on his constitutional role.

This was one of the main affirmations of the former Secretary of State for Education David Blunkett in June 2014. He revealed that the Prince of Wales tried, under Tony Blair’s government, to persuade the latter to increase the number of Grammar Schools, the schools that select pupils by submitting them to entry tests. 

The Struggle of the Anti-monarchists

Republic is the main anti-monarchist organization in the United Kingdom. On its website, it claims to be « in favor of a democratic alternative to the Monarchy ». The organization wants to abolish the Monarchy and replace the Queen by an individual elected by the people, who would represent the nation and be politically independent (so, he would be a different person than the Prime Minister). Although its struggle is, before all, motivated by political reasons, and not economic ones, Republic also insists on the cost of the Monarchy, which it estimates at more than 200 million pounds by year. The organization also denounces popular beliefs regarding the Monarchy, for example, that it would allow for the unity of the county and the attraction of foreign tourists. As for the ones who accuse it of being anti-patriotic, Republic answers that this is indeed its position, if people think that being patriotic means putting the interests of the Royal Family ahead of the citizens.

In the course of Queen Elisabeth II’s Jubilee in 2012, the anti-monarchists protested on the banks of the Thames, chanting slogans like “Citizen Not Subject”, “People Power”, or “Democracy Not Monarchy ». Led by Republic, this action intended to show the monarchs that they are not approved by the population as a whole. However, some spectators who came to witness the Jubilee booed the anti-monarchists, which proves that a part of the British populace is still very fond of the Royal Family.