"An unelected hereditary monarchy has no justifiable claim to approve bills before they reach a democratically-elected parliament." Jess Burt discusses the process of Queen's Consent, a practice which has been recently been found to have been used on at least 1,062 bills.
For all of our posturing about being one of the world’s oldest democracies, the U.K. undermines its democratic processes with its continued attachment to a hereditary monarchy that is becoming progressively less defensible. The latest scandal involves the controversial process of Queen’s consent in which the monarch is allowed to review bills before they are debated in parliament. Though previously seen as a harmless practice that is rarely employed, it has been uncovered by the Guardian that at least 1,062 bills have been subjected to this process.
The nation of a hereditary monarchy within a modern democracy is confusing in and of itself. As we no longer hold onto bizarre beliefs about the superiority of royal blood or the god-given right of one family to rule a state, it is surprising that the U.K. refuses to let go of an institution that in every way undermined our political process. The extensive power of one family was somewhat defensible when people believed they were fundamentally superior, but as social and political equality has supposedly been embraced, it is baffling that we continue to uphold a system that contradicts our democratic freedom.
Republicanism has been dismissed by anyone who believes the continuation of tradition is an asset rather than a contradiction to political life in the U.K., and that the democratic deficit is a small price to pay for the economic boost through tourism that the royal family generated. However, it seems the price is getting higher and higher as the royal family continues to be embroiled in scandals, both personal and political, revealing them to be more damaging than many assume. From the shady past of Prince Andrew to the abuse of centuries-old conventions, the royal family have revealed that they utilise their constitutional power controversially, but in this new case, completely legally.
This constitutional monarchy is by no means political neutral and the insistence that tradition is preferable to change is undemocratic and unimaginative. It is not simply a question about democratic principles, but a political question with practical implications. In being allowed to approve bills before they appear before Parliament, the Queen has been able to conceal the extent of her private wealth, revealing a key contradiction within the royal family; they want to be human enough to be loved, but royal enough to retain their privileges. Their whole existence rests on a fundamentally indefensible principle: that they are special and deserving of specialised power that the rest of us lack.
An unelected hereditary monarchy has no justifiable claim to approve bills before they reach a democratically-elected parliament. From Prince Charles preventing people on his estate from buying their homes to the Queen’s consultation of the High Speed 2 rail line between London and Birmingham, it reveals a dark reality that our monarchy continues to have influence over a political process that really doesn’t impact them. The royal family will be fine no matter what happens and that is where they simply can’t relate to ordinary people. Queen’s consent exists to give the monarch influence over bills that directly affect them, but where is the public’s equivalent power? The unjustified influence itself is alarming enough, but the concealment and lack of transparency are even more troubling. Though the Freedom of Information Act has allowed the Guardian to reveal which bills were subject to Queen’s consent, they cannot reveal on which occasions the Queen lobbied for them to be changed.
In many ways, it is admirable that the monarchy has continued to survive so long in a country that prides itself on its supposed legacy of democracy (the unelected House of Lords is a debate for another time). However, it has gone unchallenged for so long under the presumption the monarchy ultimately gives more than it takes; in duty, reputation, and finances. What the Guardian’s latest discovery reveals is that, along with ideologically tarnishing democracy, the monarchy is taking advantage of its position to be more politically influential than even constitutional experts previously assumed. It is both a reminder and evidence of the fact that we continue to live under a political system which glorifies and privileges one (very problematic) family by virtue of their birth; the very antithesis of democracy and meritocracy.