The Queen’s recent visit to the school began with a burgundy helicopter descending onto Chesham fields, a swift transfer of the Queen into a sleek dark Bentley, and a slow parade down the road to wave at well-wishers. If the vehicles and security were not enough, the lack of number plates stood to remind us that we were separated from the Queen by more than just metal barriers.
Not only is the Queen the only person in the UK who is not required to have number plates, she is also one of the remaining 27 unelected heads of state in the world. Out of the 196 countries in the world, 42 are monarchies. There are 27 monarchs, with our Queen ruling over 16 countries (the lingering effect of British imperialism). This means just 21% of the countries in the world have unelected heads of state, one of which is us. Is this acceptable in the modern era?
Having an unelected head of state jars with the idea of democracy. To some, the fact that the UK - one of the most prestigious and powerful countries in the world - is still under the reign of a monarch seems contradictory.
The Queen, by coming into power through hereditary means, is not representative of the people. This conflicts directly with the idea of a democracy, the central tenet of which is that any person wielding power must be chosen by the people to represent the people.
The UK monarchy lost absolute power many years ago, however the Queen still remains constitutionally significant. The Queen has the right to delay, veto or grant royal assent to any bill passed through parliament. Conventionally, she would never withhold assent, and is guided by advisors, who would carefully control such a situation. However, convention has no legality, and the Queen therefore has vast power over our legislature.
The reigning Monarch also has the authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, though whether they come to exercise this power is dependent on the situation. This may not necessarily be a negative thing, but the idea may be seen to be at odds with modern democracy.
Incredibly, the Monarch also has the ability to declare war, despite not being an elected official. This points towards her holding significant power with regards to important decisions of state. This is not to say that Her Majesty The Queen could take on North Korea and start a nuclear war at any minute, but when given the go-ahead by various other officials, such a decision is within the Monarch’s power.
However, it should be noted that on a day to day basis these powers are exercised by the Prime Minister, an elected official. Therefore, the chances of rogue decision-making are slashed by the sheer numbers involved in the passing of each bill through Parliament and the fact that they can be removed from power, which arguably provides the country with safeguards that were not always present prior to democracy. It also limits the power of an elected head of state.
Our Queen is dedicated to her work, she spends hours greeting diplomats, doing charity work, representing the United Kingdom at home and abroad. It would be hard to deny that her work is not important. However, some may argue that it could be carried out by an elected representative. Someone elected by the people to represent them and so holding democratic legitimacy.
Is an undemocratic ruler, albeit one who is fabulous at what they do, really what the UK wants to stand for? We are unarguably a democracy, that has never been disputed, yet factors such as an unelected head of state contribute to the idea of the United Kingdom having a 'democratic deficit'. In an economically unstable time, the cost and pomp and circumstance also seem unsuited to the idea of a modern democracy. Arcane conventions and hereditary privileges seem extraordinary in a modern fast-moving world.
I will end by saying that this is all coming from a girl who loves the royal family. The royal wedding was watched avidly in our household, and numerous cakes were devoured at the village party. We celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday and her visit to the school was a highlight for everyone. I for one think the country would be much poorer without the Queen, and she poses no threat to our democracy. Obviously I still dream of marrying Prince Harry, but as the Queen was escorted away that Friday afternoon, it provided a moment to stop and reflect on the role and powers of the monarchy in today’s world.
Original image by Matt Tam.