The Queen at 90: Constitutional monarchy
is still the best form of government


As any British person not living under a rock on Mars will no doubt be aware, Queen Elizabeth II turned 90 yesterday.

As usual, a tiny minority of republicans poked their noses out of their holes and complained. The monarchy, they claim, is undemocratic and elitist and should be abolished. As usual the vast majority of British people ignored them.

Britain’s constitutional monarchy is a wonderful thing. For one thing, it provides a focal point for national identity. The British hold their monarchy in the same high regard Americans have for their Constitution.

As long as there is an idea of British nationhood, it will be bound up with the monarchy. It provides us with a link to our distant ancestors. The House of Windsor can trace its lineage back to the Dark Ages.

The story of the kings and queens of England (and after James I, of Scotland too) is the story of our people. The great struggles of their time – Alfred the Great and the Danes, Henry VIII and the Pope, Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada – are our struggles.

The English have never tolerated an absolute monarch. The Anglo-Saxon monarchs were constrained by their Witan. King John was bound by Magna Carta. Charles I lost his head after attempting to rule without Parliament. James II was replaced by William and Mary.

We arrived at our present constitutional settlement by happy accident. Step-by-step, from Runnymede to Naseby, from the rule of the House of Stuart to the reign of Elizabeth II, the power of the kings and queens was limited by the emergence of a parliamentary democracy.

The monarch’s power is limited by the democratic body. In turn the monarchy keeps power out of the hands of politicians. That is the essence of the traditional British constitution. That’s how it’s meant to work. Those who condemn the monarchy for being insufficiently democratic are missing the point.

Were the monarchy (God forbid!) to be abolished, what would replace it?

Would we have an elected President? The history of the United States is full of Presidents – from FDR to Barack Obama – who ignored the Constitution to do what they felt was right.

Or would the royal prerogative powers be vested in Parliament, and ultimately the Prime Minister? Whichever way you slice it, neither option is preferable to a limited monarchy: in which the hereditary and the democratic elements keep each other in balance.

Human beings need a leader, a head of the tribe to look up to. Far better that the head of state be a living symbol with limited powers than an ambitious politician with unlimited power.

The Prime Minister is a servant of the Crown. To paraphrase the great constitutional scholar Walter Bagehot, the Queen has the right to be consulted by, to encourage and to warn the government of the day. In other words, she acts as a constraint on executive power.

Politicians have an agenda. They want to please their voters and be re-elected. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But they can – and often do – go too far. They make promises with other peoples money. They curtail the liberties of their citizens in the name of protecting them from harm or offence.

Hereditary kings and queens have no such worries. In a constitutional monarchy, their role is to reign: to hold power without ever using it, in order to prevent that power from being abused by the political class. That the monarch’s position owes nothing to politics is their greatest strength. It is also the greatest limitation on royal power in the modern age.

Much like the old House of Lords, the monarchy fulfils its role as a check on the power of the elected House. Its very lack of democratic legitimacy ensures the monarch is never powerful enough to become a tyrant.

Of course, just like the House of Lords, the institution has been subjected to the most appalling constitutional vandalism in recent years. Governments increasingly treat the monarchy as an archaic irrelevance and judge it by modern politically-correct standards. The sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament has been renounced and her power to dissolve Parliament removed. This has arguably left it unable to fulfil its constitutional role properly.

That is not an argument against monarchy. It is an argument against the unthinking destruction of the ancient British constitution in the name of “progress”. You mess with ancient traditions at your peril.

The monarchy is an institution that has stood the test of time. It is a living reminder of the glories of our past. It is a check on the powers of unlimited government. It is set apart from party politics. It is part of the fabric of our nation.

God save the Queen.

Chris has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. He believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmanby1989

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty.