Thursday, 31 May 2012

What is the point of the Royal family?

The Diamond Jubilee fest is about to begin.

It is no doubt a remarkable achievement to have served for 60 years as the monarch in a very changing British society.

At the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1952, Britain was a very different place. Just seven years after the end of the Second World War, it was a period of major change with reforms like the NHS and welfare state coming to fruition.

Television was in its infancy in the early 1950s, the internet unheard of. Much has changed over the years, though the monarchy has endured.

There have been rocky times, particularly around the time of the death of Princess Diana.

The Queen and the Royal Family were widely perceived as aloof and detached from the people, their attitude - often seen as hostile to the princess when alive - seemed to continue with her death.

At one point in the lead up to the Princess’s funeral there seemed to be a real turn of hostility toward the Royals but with some spin advice from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, things turned around.

Since those days the monarchy has improved its public relations game and regained popularity.

The question though remains what is the point of the Royal Family? It is an institution that stretches back centuries. Indeed, it is this ancestry that has made it such a major landowner in Britain.

In their book, Who Owns the World, authors Kevin Cahill and Rob McMahon identify the Queen as the biggest landowner in the world. They argue that the Queen’s land ownership extends to entire countries and encompasses one seventh of the globe.

Messrs Cahill and McMahon argue that it is the domination of a small number of monarchs and other landowners that is a prime cause of poverty worldwide. They suggest a redistribution of land would help reduce the gap between rich and poor and address poverty.

It would though come as a surprise if at this time any development agency started calling for the abolition of the monarchy and redistribution of its lands on the basis of the need to address poverty around the world.

Historically, the source of the monarch’s wealth seems to have been simply that they were the biggest bullies on the block. They had the biggest gang, so got others to be subservient to their rule. A certain aurore was created around the idea of the monarch being in some way God’s representative on earth.

The monarchy later became constitutional, whereby the Queen remains the head of state but the powers to govern as such are exercised by elected ministers.

Whilst at face value it has little real power, the monarch does still sit at the head of the British establishment. She heads a class system that sees the most powerful positions in society still taken by those from a privileged background comprising the public schools and Oxbridge. She is also head of the armed forces.

The intransigent ways of monarchy have been on display with the retaining of the likes of the Act of Succession going back 300 years, that stops those marrying a Catholic from succeeding to the throne. Open discrimination, yet only recently has any government moved to change this state of affairs.

In a strange way the Royals have managed to adapt the consumer/celebrity culture for their own purposes. There is far less objection to the monarchy today than there was back at the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1977, when the band the Sex Pistols sang God Save the Queen and her fascist regime. Approval ratings according to recent Mori polls, are at around 80%.

No doubt the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June will once again show much of the great British public at its most supine. Some of the celebration will no doubt border on the idolatrous. The Queen though does deserve some respect for what she has done over the years in keeping the ship of state steady but above all preserving the succession of her own lineage.

Things though could change significantly if a less competent successor came along, then no doubt Parliament would act to curb the power of monarchy and maybe even create a Republic.

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