In this article, Aaron, a badge-wearing humanist, wrestles with the dilemma of whether to marry republicanism to his humanist ideals, or to defend our status as a United Kingdom on account of the benefits which a monarchy may provide. On social media, he has been an advocate of abolishing the monarchy. Has he changed his mind?
I've thought about this topic quite extensively this month as our theme has developed. In previous years, my belief regarding the Royal Family was that they generate more revenue than they cost. However, this is mainly due to a biased land ownership system, where the profits gained from the Crown Estate are now allocated to the government, which then provides a payout to sustain the monarchy. Alternatively, it is argued that the Royal Family is beneficial for tourism. But is this really the case? How many tourists have actually seen the late Queen or the current King? It is more likely that they visit Buckingham Palace, take a selfie in front of it (as I have done), and then move on. If we did not have a Royal Family, I'm confident that Buckingham Palace would still stand. Tourists take photos in front of the White House, the Taj Mahal, and the Sydney Opera House just the same. Perhaps we have been mistaken for all these years, and tourists have no interest in the Royals; it is all about the architecture. Then again, there are the Palace guards. Maybe we should keep them on!
Crown and country
One of the fundamental differences between the monarchy and government is that the monarchy is rooted in tradition and extremely slow to change. On the other hand, government operates as a continuous tag team of improvement, taking what exists and updating it to align with modern life. While King Charles and his princes have tried to modernize the monarchy in recent years to stay relevant, their efforts often seem to be in the interests of self-preservation. The monarchy appears to be stagnant, incapable of meaningful modernisation and unable to provide any tangible benefits for everyday people. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years and 214 days but she changed nothing. She was only accepted by the British people because she was non-interfering. What value does this bring to the table? Nonetheless, a significant majority of people in Britain like and want to keep the monarchy, perhaps because she did not upset anyone. Any Royal who attempts to stand out has faced constant criticism, from Andrew or Charles to the Harry and William dramas. However, the fact remains that regardless of who the monarch is, the institution is deeply rooted in religion, which taints it, and its history and ceremony limit its ability to modernize. Governments, at least, can be changed every five years, are elected by the people, and are based on British values that represent all of us, not just a privileged few. Yikes – this sounds like a Labour Party campaign!
But it's not humanist is it?
There is no doubt that the monarchy falls short of humanist values. Humanism emphasises equality, fairness, and merit-based advancement, rather than inheritance by birth. The fact that a single family is born into a life of privileged captivity is horrendous for them as figureheads and belittling to us as subjects. If I were ever invited to the palace for a knighthood, I don't think I could bring myself to kneel in front of a king. They are just human beings, no better than anyone else, and perhaps even worse. They haven't lived a real life, experienced an equal education system, or struggled to find employment or navigate society in any meaningful way. As humanists, we cannot view royalty as a positive influence, let alone kneel before them and place them on a pedestal as some kind of superior being.
When considering a future UK without the monarchy, some people look to the United States as an example of what we might become. In his talk to Dorset Humanists in 2019, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson spoke about secular states, including the USA, but I don't think that's necessarily the way for us to go. Personally, I think we should simply continue as we are, but without the Royal Family. We could move the government into a renovated Buckingham Palace, which would give us more prestige than the current dingy backstreet location of Downing Street. Although there may be arguments as to why we need a royal figurehead to 'advise and warn' the prime minister, open Parliament every year, give Royal Assent to Parliamentary bills, and host foreign heads of state, I would resist adopting the US presidential system which often seems ineffective. The German model of having a Chancellor as the executive leader, with a president as a figurehead, is equally unappealing to me, as few people outside Germany actually know who their president is. Without the monarchy, we could keep our prime minister and the Cabinet as the core of government, with the opposition doing their bit, and an elected second house as a revising chamber. So, do we really need the monarchy?
As a humanist - my preferred system for the UK
In the following excerpt from Wikipedia, one can see highlighted in green that parliamentary systems where the head of government is also the head of state are entirely possible. As a humanist, I am adopting and proposing that this is our best way forward, although there are some, in fact many, humanists who would disagree.
'A parliamentary system, or parliamentarian democracy, is a system of democratic governance of a state (or subordinate entity) where the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the support ('confidence') of the legislature, typically a parliament, to which it is accountable. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is usually a person distinct from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, where the executive does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature. Countries with parliamentary systems may be constitutional monarchies, where a monarch is the head of state while the head of government is almost always a member of parliament, or parliamentary republics, where a mostly ceremonial president is the head of state while the head of government is regularly from the legislature. In a few parliamentary republics, among some others, the head of government is also head of state, but is elected by and is answerable to parliament. In bicameral parliaments, the head of government is generally, though not always, a member of the lower house.'
Andrew Copson's talk on secularism at Dorset Humanists is here
Wikipedia entry on the Parliamentary system is here