The UK Guardian’s editorial (28th December) about the future of the British monarchy as we approach the 70th anniversary of the queen’s reign and notably following the passing of one of her similarly eminent contemporaries in the anglican communion, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is very welcome. It is welcome particularly at a time when there seems to be a sensation for great change but not yet the emergence of it. There are no doubt many that will argue that monarchy as a form of government has not only had its day but also throughout the course of history utterly discredited itself. Yet there will also be some, if not a majority, a sizeable minority who will insist upon the solid value of the hereditary monarchy, economic effect or none, as a symbol not just of continuity but also social cohesion and solidity for any country. Firstly, though it may very likely have little effect on the succession, The Guardian has launched one of the first ships on a journey to a re-envisioned Britain, for, though it is only half said, to consider remodelling the monarchy – with the people – either directly or via parliament – is to consider remodelling Britain in its entirety; strictly speaking, the United Kingdom is not a constitutional monarchy but more precisely a parliamentary monarchy, one in which as a consequence of war, time, agitation and revolution, the powers of the crown have been increasingly concentrated in parliament, to consider the reform of the monarchy is also to consider the source of where all our rights, powers and priveleges as citizens come from. For the record, we believe that in line with a paper we hope to publish soon, that monarchy as a value is not in and of itself incompatible with democracy, and to a more limited extent, hereditary monarchy is not incompatible with democracy. That said, it is likely that beyond QEII, Charles III and William the IV, that Britain’s cultural memory and social values may not sustain the monarchy as it currently exists; especially if what recent generations of royals can offer to the world is essentially the stuff of reality television. This is not to denigrate the serious work that the younger royals do, but merely to stress how much the world they operate in has changed; in the 1940s, the marriage of a cousin to the king, the then Lord Louis Mountbatten was broadcast to the world and commanded a respect and deference that is not available today, while aristocracy still commands a similar glamour, it no longer has the same monopoly of cultural prestige.
The UK in coming into being has always been more likely to thrive following changes that are subtly revolutionary rather than bloodily radical – though a spot of bloodiness always helped the story along, (Henry VIII, Cromwell) – the gentlemen and ladies agreements always prevailed in the long run. (Glorious revolution, restoration, magna carta, and lest we forget, the union of the houses of York and Lancaster via Elizabeth Wooodville) – and it seems to us that it should be the case here too, except that Britain can and should now look to the example of some of the nations of Africa and beyond for examples of managing the tensions of meritocracy, heredity and monarchy. Firstly, apart from jettisoning the assumption that the first born will be heir, we should side-step the monarchical practices of the ottomans; the practices that are most suited are those respectively of 1.) The Yoruba 2.) Malaysia 3. The Emirates of Qatar and 4. The Netherlands. 5. )The ancient Egyptians 6. ) The Tswana.
It should be said that given the Duke of Cornwall’s long role as heir to the throne, his succession is the only respectable and honourable course of action for the nation, parliament and people, unless Prince Charles himself disavows the role – though he is already ably performing the de facto role of Prince Regent; however, all those who follow him in the line of succession have either directly or indirectly inferred that the crown is a honourable burden to be borne for the country rather than a prize to be gained – in this light, the current succession guaranteed though it is, should be the moment for great change or the preparation for such. The Queen has made clear her intention that she would never abdicate – yet need she abdicate for Prince Charles to assume and be publicly recognised for his role as Prince Regent? It is right that in so far as feminism in the context of heredity goes – everyone wants to see the Queen finish her reign in style and with the authority such longevity and fortitude deserves; yet, the business of linking the monarch’s authority with the death of their predecessor was elegantly done away with by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict with little fuss, why should it be so difficult in Britain? Especially as power emanates from The Crown and not the person or persons reigning directly? The current dispensation aside, the models that Britain can follow from Yoruba practice is the model of rotating the role of monarch between various royal houses; from Malaysia, the culture of elected monarchs, from the Qataris, the practice of multiple monarchs within one territory, already practice in the UK to some degree; from the netherlands – the practice of abdication as a way of succession, and, from the ancient egyptians, the practice of siblings as co-rulers, now we are not suggesting that the heir to the throne get hitched to the Princess Royal, unless they really wish to – but more seriously that the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal could both fulfill the role of King, and Queen consort as constitutional roles rather than maritally linked ones – it would give the monarchy a healthy nod towards gender equality, side step the issue of the Duchess of Cornwall’s status and help along the long overdue reform of inheritance rules for aristocratic titles that discriminate against female heirs – and begin the process of delinking the status of Monarch from a hereditary or entirely hereditary position, which leads to the last potential model to consider, Botswana – the King of Botswana eventually assumed the role of president via a constitutional process – and it is possible that the United Kingdom should the winds of change that are blowing now open the way to a republic – can follow that path – this is in many senses the most intriguing but also generationally important consideration – for it is not only Britain’s monarchy that is in need of change but its entire constitutional and social settlement, particularly in this renewed era of the global civil rights movement – it is striking that the United Kingdom which claims to have the mother of all parliaments has no bill that clearly and straightforwardly articulates the rights as citizens and expresses the hopes for which the ship of state is steered; as said above, to start this necessary process of changing the Monarchy is to begin to reform the very fabric of Britain itself – which this publication believes is in the long run – the future of the monarchy. In the meantime, good on The Guardian, and long live The Queen.
*Nota Bene: Like many aristocratic families, the stuarts and hanoverians profited from the transatlantic slave trade, either directly or indirectly, this is an important historical fact and one respectfully we note Prince Charles has expressed contrition about – but that is a matter to be addressed more fully in another post.
Dele Meiji Fatunla, Founder