Prince Charles always seemed like a walloping great dunderhead to me, and I see that my opinion has been confirmed. His great cause, the philanthropic purpose he’d like to be remembered for, is propping up the quackery of homeopathy and other such nonsensical therapies. And now one of his aides in this misguided impulse has been arrested for fraud. How appropriate. I doubt that Charles has done any embezzling — British royalty are rich enough that it would be superfluous — but it’s a shame that he won’t be arrested for the greater harm he has perpetrated.
Any system of hereditary transfer of leadership is going to be afflicted with the unfortunate vagaries of chance, compounded by the distortion of traditional privilege. Why the British continue to put up with this nonsense is a mystery…maybe one virtue of ninnies like Charles is that when an obvious fool sits on the throne, people will come to their senses.
(Nah, that won’t happen. We had a couple of palpable incompetents running the US for a while — Reagan and Bush the Younger — and we’ve still got people revering them.)
As a Brit and a complete anti-monarchist I have to admit that I want queen Liz to outlive her clown of a son. For the obvious reason.
We keep the monarchy mostly as a salutary warning against giving the monarchy any real power. It’s much easier to visualise how bad hereditary rule would be if you’ve got a bunch of inbred aristocratic ninnies in the public eye to follow. One look at Charles and everyone thinks “thank goodness he doesn’t have any real power – how screwed would we be if he did”.
Rev. BigDumbChimp says
Oh shit. Walton is going to lose it after reading this.
The Royalty don’t actually have much power within the government beyond decoration. We British tend to put up with them for tradition’s sake, and for the more pragmatic reason that they bring more money into the country by means of tourism then they get from our taxes.
We also mostly think that they’re nuttier than a bunch of brownies, and so inbred that they’re mostly teeth by this point. Trust me when I say that Charles’ support of homeopathy cuts zero ice with 99% of the British populace.
I hope they use a homeopathic defence in court over this fraud charge.
“Honest, M’Lud – I didn’t take any money. I just diluted it many, many times until only the memory of money remained”
He’s a great example of the perils of inbreeding. And if his mum lasts a couple more years we get an extra public holiday. On the other hand, we english have a bad enough reputation at it is, but charlie boy is just plain embarassing.
Why don’t they use goats instead?
Completely agree, as an Australian. The governor general doesn’t hold any real power, and the Queen doesn’t hold any power at all.
There was a survey a while back about the number of Australians that knew the name of our GG. It was in the single digits.
broboxley OT says
now be kind to poor olde charley, he has to sleep with mrs potato head but he does promote AGW quite a bit
You know, it seems to me that this statement could be applied with equal reason to religion — and it will point to the same problems.
@linkthewindow: do you mean a single digit percentage, or actually less than 10 people in Australia?
I always kind of liked Charles. He was, literally, born into his situation.
He was forced into a marriage he clearly disliked. He was bullied by his relatives.
And remember how incredibly cool he was when a crazed man with a gun ran at him on stage?
I would have been in a fetal position for a week, with a vodka IV. He brushed it off pretty calmly, like James Bond.
Of course he’s a twit, they all are. But he seems like a generally decent sort. No one required him to be a scholar, and he makes no claims to scholarship, so it’s unfair to judge him on those grounds.
It’s the whole unnecessary royal family system that annoys me about the UK. Imagine the money they could save.
Having a completely ceremonial head of state is a much better system than having the head of state and the head of government be the same person; for one thing, it takes quite a lot of the rockstar glitz off of the head of government, and prevents the kind of swelled heads one often sees in US presidents. Not only that, but having a designated person to do the ribbon-cuttings and other pomp and circumstance leaves the head of government free to actually govern.
Which may not, in fact, be all that it’s cracked up to be, if one’s head of government is Stephen Fucking Harper… :(
He’s a meddling fool.
I’ve read this pro monarchist argument many times but I’ve never seen it properly justified.
It’s a bit like suggesting that if the Louvre or Versailles were closed to tourism and dedicated to the use of the French monarchs, there’d be more tourists in Paris.
Free Lunch says
So, Dennis was wrong. Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is a much better basis for a system of government than one that could make Charles a king, if only in name.
I’m also British and replublican (small r). The people I know are split between people who want to get rid of monarchy and people who don’t care. I don’t know anyone who actively supports the monarchy. The indifference of many seems to be intrinsically linked to the fact that the Queen is a fairly shrewd intelligent woman. Brits are almost universally agreed, however, that Charles is an idiot. I think, should Charles inherit the throne, popularity of royalty will diminish pretty sharply and a republic can’t be far off.
Personally I think we don’t have enough “vagaries of chance” in our political system. Our politicians are all necessarily seekers of power.
I think 20 seats on congress allocated by chance could shake things up in a good way. It would like a 1-year long jury duty system. :)
(and anyways, without a King they would have to have a president, and just look how Israel elected a president indicted of rape to see how even elected ceremonial roles have their own problems).
Practically none. I wish people would check their facts before making knee-jerk comments like this.
Firstly, the Royal Family actually costs the taxpayer nothing at all. The revenues from the Crown Estate – the lands and investments attached to the monarchy – are paid into the Treasury, and these far exceed the amount of money which is spent on the Civil Lists or on royal functions. So the monarchy is not actually a net burden to taxpayers at all.
Secondly, all heads of state, whether hereditary or elected, cost substantial amounts of public money. The US President costs the taxpayer far more than just his salary; there’s the cost of running the White House, full-time Secret Service protection for the President and his family, Air Force One and other transport arrangements, and so on. The same is true of all other heads of state in the world. If we replaced the Queen with an elected President performing the same duties, we would not save any significant amount of money. The costs of protection, transport, state functions and so on would be the same.
(This is all without taking into account the indirect money raised from tourism – which is admittedly difficult to estimate, since we can’t know what the actual effect would be on the tourist trade if the monarchy were abolished. Hence why I wouldn’t rely primarily on that argument.)
So it is complete nonsense to say that the UK would save money if it became a republic. It would not. If you think the monarchy should be abolished on ideological grounds because you oppose the principle of hereditary rule, that’s fine; I personally disagree, but there’s no point in arguing that question. But arguing for the abolition of the monarchy on financial grounds is simply based on incorrect factual assumptions.
This is actually a monarchist canard which needs to be repeatedly and forcefully stamped on. Very, very few – if any – tourists come to the UK to see members of the royal family. Some of them come – amongst other things – to see the royal heritage: the buildings, the historical artefacts of royalty.
None of these things will disappear if we get rid of the institution itself. Seriously: find me one single tourist who would only go to the UK if they could see the royal family rather than, say, Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.
The “they bring the tourists” line is nonsense. No, they do not.
David Marjanović says
See, that’s why the USA is the AFAIK only democracy in the world that doesn’t separate these jobs. All others have, at least in name, a head of state and a head of government that are not the same person.
Peter Ashby says
So the Whitlam Government was dissolved how exactly? I always thought it was the Governor General wielding the Royal Perogative that did it.
Governors General and Constitutional Monarchs are like pet tigers, it isn’t the 99% of the time when they are just big pussycats that is the problem.
Besides, amenable GG’s is how both Aus and NZ have managed Republican (in the sense of anti monarchist) sentiment. IOW it’s spin, plain and simple.
The same as the arguments that deify Liz, here in the UK discussions on the topic always bring out the argument that ‘we can’t do it until the Queen dies’. It’s a principle thing, that the hereditary principle is a bad way of choosing leaders. That applies regardless of how wonderful the present incumbent is.
Pension them all off, the tabloids would still be able to detail their lives in excruciating detail and there would be nothing to stop monarchists getting them in to open things. No need to go all Italian and ban them from the country or anything.
Just a small anecdote. My wife and I were in the UK for several months last year. We went to a concert in Westminster Abbey where some royal or other (I’ve forgotten who, but we looked her up and she was something like 30th in line for the throne) was also in attendance. We had to stand when she entered, stand again and wait as she left for intermission, then repeat the whole rigmarole again for the second half. Not really a huge imposition, I guess, but it got my American egalitarian instincts riled up. I noticed that lots of the Brits around us were grumbling about it, as well (in that very understated, polite British way that can be so devastating).
Not true at all. Lots of Latin American republics have a presidential system where the President is both head of state and head of government. So does the Philippines, and so do several countries in Africa and Asia.
Andreas Johansson says
Without the royals, those revenues could go to hospitals or warships or whatever that are now funded by the taxpayer.
My own opinion on the monarchy is that they are useful for the decorative stuff. It’s kinda nice to be invited to the Palace for a garden party, or to be ‘invested’ with some kind of honour, and we have a set-up where that can be done handily,
We have a head of state who can open hospitals and provide fancy ceremony and all the pretty stuff while our actual government governs. It always strikes me as daft that the President of the USA has to make time in his understandably busy life to pardon turkeys and suchlike—I bet Liz could pardon a the heck out of a turkey, she’s used to doing all sorts of silly things in the name of ceremony. And with All That History behind her, she’s somehow more impressive than, say, Gordon Brown would be.
Josh, Official SpokesGay says
Yes, Walton, there is. You really think there’s no point in arguing the merits of hereditary rule? See, I don’t believe you actually mean that; I think it’s that you don’t want to have to have that discussion.
How many threads are you going to dip into that deal with the monarchy, yet avoid answering in a cogent way why you defend it so vociferously? Many of us have observed that you seem to have an emotional attachment to the monarchy, since your justifications for it become uncharacteristically scattered and disconnected when you’re pressed for a justification.
That’s such a silly argument. Without the monarchythe revenue of the “Crown Estate” wouldn’t be puctured by the Civil List and there’d be more left over for the people.
I guess I’m gonna make a wing of the British Museum my private residence and use some of the proceeds of the visitors fees to the rest of the museum to fund my extravagant lifestyle(yacht, private jet, etc…), caus’ you know, it’s good for the british people, the visitor’s fees far exceed my civil list.
Rev. BigDumbChimp says
See, I told you so.
Cut and pasted from my response on a Royal Family discussion at the Cunning Artificer’s Discworld Forum-
“Dieu et mon droit”, the motto of our monarch. “God and my right”, referring to the divine right to govern. To which I respond with a hearty and irreverent “Thpppppbbbbbtttt!!!”. Divine right my big fat hairy, by right of this large pointy bit of metal I’m holding and the bunch of heavily armed thugs standing behind me more like. At least that’s how it started, Royalty pulled off a huge con trick by getting the majority of the population to accept the whole divine right thing, finally ditched by having a king so crap (I’m looking at you James II) we actually asked someone else to invade us. Still ended up with a king afterwards mind you, and the royals still have it as a motto. Magna Carta 1215, if you don’t mind, and we’ve been whittling away at the powers of the monarchy ever since.
We are a Constitutional Monarchy, which to my mind is a Republic with window dressing. The Queen’s role is purely ceremonial, if she actually tried to exercise the powers she allegedly still retains*, like refusing to pass a law she didn’t particularly like, it would trigger (as my wife is fond of telling me) a constitutional crisis and it would end up with her not having that power any more or the abolition of the monarchy completely. Day to day life, of course, would carry on as if nothing had happened. Which is sort of the point. The monarchy is an irrelevance, a historical remnant, an appendix which occasionally gets inflamed but which could be happily excised without any ill effects other than the operation to do so.
Is it worth keeping the queen? I am a museum curator and hence generally inclined towards our funding of ancient and decrepit piles so that future generations can observe them, but… Today’s monarchy is very different (thankfully) to that, say, of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. If we want to see that we look at history books (or watch Black Adder). We have a modern monarchy, but it’s the historical one that people quite often refer to when discussing whether or not to get rid of it. We already have got rid of it. It’s gone, it’s past, it’s history. It’s like according a surviving modern extension to a now vanished ancient building the same protection we would to that old building. It has no merit in itself, only by association with what it was attached to. So no, I see no point in hanging on to her. Dennis the Constitutional Peasant you may call me, but I’m with Bill Bailey when he said “God save our gracious Queen? Why would we invoke a non-specific deity to bail out these unelected spongers?” And it doesn’t have to send us down the road to President Blair, there are many different routes we can take to restructuring Parliament, the American model is just one.
As it happens I do rather like Charles, he does have some good ideas and a genuine concern for the country (he’s also a Goon Show fan), but his pro-alternative medicine stance, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, does make me want to smack him around the head with a raw chicken.
The question is why you need a head of state to inaugurate hospitals and provide fancy ceremony?
Can’t you have the people who actually worked on creating the hospital inaugurate it, rather than a stupid old fart with a funny hat who had nothing to do with it?
As I explained in the second paragraph of my post above – which no one seems to have bothered reading – replacing the Queen with an elected President would cost just as much public money. All heads of state, whether elected or hereditary, cost taxpayers substantial amounts of money – not just in their personal living costs, but in terms of full-time protection and security, transport, administrative support, and so on. The Queen is no more expensive to the public purse than many Presidents.
The only way to avoid spending money on a head of state would be to have no head of state. I don’t see anyone advocating this, though.
Peter Ashby says
It is true that we would save money on an elected head of state. Because we would only be paying for them, not all their relatives as well like we now do with honourable exceptions. The issue of who would own the Crown Estate on the dissolution of the monarchy is an open one. It could be decided that the lot belongs to the country, not the family, the Duchy of Cornwall included.
Also last I looked the French had no problem attracting tourists to the Palace of Versailles over 300 years after the Sun King was last in residence. Ditto the Winter and Summer Palaces in St. Petersburg, not a Tsar to be seen. I have been and confirmed this fact.
There is also nothing to stop us changing the guard on Buck Palace for the tourists even if there were no royals. It just needs to be ordered. Last we were at Prague Castle there were soldiers in dress uniform on guard on the bits that were Presidential. Very nice and Central European they looked too.
Any more tired old canards to bore us with?
Nah, the estates would be sold off, and the monies would end up in private hands.
I’m in 2 minds over Charlie. He’s like a mad uncle: has says some pretty nutty ideas, but at least it’s something he genuinely believes in, and he wants to do good. It’s a pity he couldn’t be more evidence based.
Oh, and he was also a big fan of Spike Milligan: Spike once described Charles as a “grovelling little bastard” in public when Charles had congratulated him on winning some award. Milligan followed it up with a telegram asking “I suppose a knighthood is out of the question?”.
Wrong. In countries with elected heads of state, the head of state’s immediate family (being potential targets of terrorist attacks) still require full-time security protection and special transport, so they still cost money. And in some countries, the head of state’s spouse performs various functions of public significance, at cost to the taxpayer – the First Lady in the United States, for instance.
Bear in mind that the only members of the Royal Family who receive Civil List money are those who actually perform public duties. More distant Royals (such as Prince Michael of Kent) receive no public money, and have to support themselves like everyone else.
True. The Crown Estate, along with the state residences (Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle) and the Crown Jewels, does not belong to the Queen personally; this property is vested in “the Crown”, a corporation sole with a legal personality distinct from the Queen. So the Queen would have no claim to that property if the monarchy were to be abolished.
(By contrast, there are certain other properties – such as Balmoral and Sandringham – which the Queen owns in her personal capacity as a private individual, and which she would continue to own if the monarchy were abolished.)
But as I noted above, an elected President performing the same duties as the Queen would not be substantially cheaper than the current Civil List.
I would like to echo Josh at #27. I’m extremely curious as to what possible justification there can be for hereditary rule in the 21st (or even 20th) century.
Peter Ashby says
Any Turkeys that need blessing in this country would be the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury, no monarchs required. That is why we have an established church. The Americans have to get their HoS to do it because they have disallowed themselves the benefits of an established church. They now need an amendment disallowing them from bitching about it.
The tradition of having someone from outside open something is a hangover from the culture of deference that said such events had to be ‘graced’ by a ‘person of quality’. We are allowed to grow up and let someone who had something to do with it open something. a Mayor for eg or the head of the Health Trust for hospitals or a commanding officer for something military. The British have become lazy through having royalty (some of it mighty minor) and the Aristocracy to do these things. I rather like the new trend of getting people like Olympic champions opening things, Chris Hoy for eg. Someone who has actually done something to win regard instead of who Daddy was or that an ancestor was one of Charles 2nd’s many bastards (half the aristocracy).
I do. What’s the benefit of a head of state, apart from when it’s chopped off and stuck at the end of a pole?
We don’t need all that ceremonial decorum bullshit, it’s just needless opium for the people, like religion.
We need a government that represents us and maybe an elected head of government. But a head of state is just a silly thing.
If a head of government spends 10% of his time on ceremonial bullshit, it’s allready time and money wasted. But when it’s a monarch that is dedicated to this and adds even more decorum bullshit with a yacht, private jet, fastuous residence, etc… that’s even more tax payer money wasted, plus million more people who remain deluded in thinking that it’s good for them.
frog, Inc. says
Walton: Not true at all. Lots of Latin American republics have a presidential system where the President is both head of state and head of government. So does the Philippines, and so do several countries in Africa and Asia.
Nice dig Walton. Nice — I’m impressed.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
First, alastair.coleman (@5) wins the internet for concocting the homeopathic defense!
I can’t help wondering if Charles is ever going to sit on the throne at all: His mother shows no signs of shuffling off this mortal coil and joining the bleedin’ choir invisible anytime soon, Charles himself is already north of 60, and his own eldest son is approaching 30. Mightn’t he not simply step aside in favor of his son, preferring to live out his life promoting his causes and otherwise living as a tampon inside the trousers of the aforementioned Mrs. PotatoHead?
I’m not really cognizant of royal protocol, but it strikes me that in general, as people live ever longer and the generations overlap more and more, inheritance from grandparent to grandchild, rather than from parent to child, will become more and more the norm.
Andreas Johansson says
Perhaps they would, but there’s no obvious reason it must happen, and even if it does the extra money could be used to cover a tax rebate or acquire some extra goodies without extra cost to the taxpayer.
Matt Penfold says
Walton is likely to be loosing a lot in the near future.
Ht is quite possible the Tories will come first in overall votes, and second in the number of seats. The Lib Dems could come second in the number of votes, but third (and a distant one at that) in the number of seats, and Labour could come third in votes but first in seats.
I have no idea how Walton could spin that as a fair result, but if he is comes to pass he will have to try.
# 37 Peter Ashby
“Any Turkeys that need blessing in this country would be the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury, no monarchs required. That is why we have an established church. The Americans have to get their HoS to do it because they have disallowed themselves the benefits of an established church. They now need an amendment disallowing them from bitching about it.”
Pardon. The president pardons the turkey, he doesn’t bless it. The turkey is no longer sentenced to death. It’s not a religious ceremony, it’s a big, dumb, rather grisly joke.
And precisely what benefits of an established church are we missing out on? I’m pretty sure no one was “bitching” about not having a state religion.
I live in the Netherlands, another constitutional monarchy. We’re lucky in that our royal house has fewer obvious buffoons in the direct line of succession. Probably as a result, I find I kind of like the idea of having an organ of state with a planning horizon that extends past the next election term.
Eamon Knight says
I’ve generally been a (Canadian) monarchist-by-default, ie. the system seems to be Mostly Harmless (and cheap for us!), changing anything at that level in this country requires a lot of screaming, which invariably awakens the Quebec separatists, and some of the alternatives are clearly worse (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, USAians).
But the prospect of someday being (nominally) ruled by His Royal Woo-ness Prince Chuckles may make me into a republican yet.
Stephen Wells says
I would like to see the Civil List trimmed of the hangers-on and genetic detritus, but in principle I’m happy with the UK’s constitutional monarchy ion general. I find it helpful to have this complete separation between the head of state and the head of government. I rather enjoy the effect the whole thing has on the constitution (last month I heard a professor of constitutional law on radio 4 explaining that the queen is like Heineken lager; there are portions of the constitution that only she can reach). The civil list is not exactly the largest expense in the budget (some tens of millions max). I think maintaining the monarchy is a bit like Morris-dancing and civil war reenactments; not strictly necessary, perhaps, but entertaining and a nod to heritage.
#40 Bill Dauphin
Actually, I remember reading after Diana died that there was a push for Charles to step aside in favor of William, and both were adamant that that wouldn’t happen. But it’s not at all out of the question that the Queen could outlive Charles. Her mother lived to be 101, and one would assume that the Queen would have the best medical care available. Charles, on the other hand, is apparently using homeopathy.
That may be true of the British taxpayer, but every time one of those inbred ratbags visits a Commonwealth country, the host country gets hit with the not inconsiderable bill and that comes out of tax revenue.
Peter Ashby @22:
You beat me to saying “Tell that to Gough Whitlam”.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the GG actually does, other than opening fetes, visiting the troops, and sacking the odd PM.
@Stephen Wells: Morris dancing?
Right. That’s it.
Off with their heads! Every bloody monarchical bastard! Kill ’em! Kill the Morrid Dancing-Monarchs!
frog, Inc. says
walton & negentropyeater: I don’t see anyone advocating this, though.
I vote with negen. The whole “function” of the ceremonial BS is to invest the actions of the state with sacredness — to turn a purely business event into a holy event, and thereby make the state an object of veneration beyond it’s utilitarian function.
That is a HUGE cost of these ceremonies, an endless cultural cost that leads to insane wars, chronic abuse of power by those acting in the name of the state, and a general religious insanity (just replace “God” with “State” — how often do I see bumper stickers with a US Flag colored cross??)
We can reduce the religious aspect to a simple ceremony of legitimacy at the opening of parliament/congress/etc (which does have a practical function, just like a magistrate “declaring” a marriage, etc.) Beyond that, it’s the Big State con.
‘Bear in mind that the only members of the Royal Family who receive Civil List money are those who actually perform public duties. More distant Royals (such as Prince Michael of Kent) receive no public money, and have to support themselves like everyone else.’
Below is a list of those who receive a Parliamentary Annuity for the public duties they discharge.
# HRH The Duke of Edinburgh £359,000
# HRH The Duke of York £249,000
# TRH The Duke and Duchess of Kent £236,000
# HRH The Princess Royal £228,000
# HRH Princess Alexandra £225,000
# TRH The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester £175,000
# HRH The Earl of Wessex £141,000
Those ‘public duties’ must be quite invaluable given the remuneration they receive although I am at a loss as to what they are. Perhaps you can enlighten me, Walton? From my searches all they seem to consist of is going on free holidays around the world at our expense.
As for the Presidential Head of State vs. Monarchy costs; why do we have to replace the Monarchy with anything? It is not as if they serve any useful function.
frog, Inc. says
MarianLibrarian: Pardon. The president pardons the turkey, he doesn’t bless it. The turkey is no longer sentenced to death. It’s not a religious ceremony, it’s a big, dumb, rather grisly joke.
Most religious ceremonies are rather grisly jokes. The message of the “pardoning of the turkey” is pretty clear — it’s both political and “religious” in a general sense, restating the power of the president over life & death. There’s a reason why this joke is made, rather than another joke.
You don’t think “Jesus is a cracker” is a much grislier joke repeated for 2000 years now?
Ewan R says
Walton – out of interest do you have any backing to the claim that an elected president would cost the same as the British monarchy? My guess would be it could be done with less although at present this is a completely baseless assertion.
What is particularly distasteful is that based entirely on ancestry the royal family costs well over $100M a year to keep on the go while at the same time being vastly vastly wealthy for essentially having been the royal family – they could essentially fund themselves off the interest of a tiny fraction of their wealth and be entirely a net generator of wealth for the country – something that the majority of elected heads of state would not be able to do – what with them generally not having a massive base of wealth established through the subjugation of the ancestors of the very people they’re asking to continue paying them for the privelidge of being in a position of power and influence.
Well, we’re not really arguing the merits of hereditary rule. The Queen exercises next-to-no political power in any ordinary circumstances, and very few people argue that she should. And we’re not arguing about whether we should institute new monarchies in countries which don’t already have them; we’re simply discussing whether there is any point in abolishing an existing one.
In the end, my argument boils down to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I see no evidence that the British system of hereditary monarchy produces worse heads of state or worse results, on average, than a system of direct or indirect election. It is only necessary to get rid of it if you believe that all inheritance of titles and offices is categorically immoral – which is a purely ideological stance, and one which I don’t personally share but which there is no point in me arguing with.
Stephen Wells says
It has occured to me that there’s an argument for the royal family which works on the difference between the state and the government. The state, ofter all, is an arbitrary and historically contingent entity, and most of those who belong to it do so by inheritance or by the choice of others rather than by their own active decision; most citizens are citizens because of where they were born. Can we argue that the monarchy is in fact a good representation of the state: an arbitrary and historically contingent entity which persists mostly by inheritance plus periodic influxes of foreign blood?
Disclosure- I’m a UK citizen and was not born here, we immigrated when I was four.
No one in the thread has spelled it out yet: a parliamentary system requires a separate head of state to do things like dissolve government and decide who to ask to form a government.
So basically you need someone (who isn’t an MP) to perform this function once every ~5 years, (unless you want to propose radical changes). I agree with Walton that the “it costs money” argument doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. National elections are hardly free, and with the way UK parliament elections are called, there’s no reason to think presidential elections could be synced with parliamentary elections. And presidents aren’t free either, even if their role is ceremonial for 99% of the time.
Yes, I’ve wondered if that wasn’t the case for a while now. I’m an American, and no expert on the monarchy, but from what little I do know, I always kind of figured that that’s what would happen if any modern monarch tried to use her or his power.
Why is a ceremonial head of state even necessary?
Brownian, OM says
Boy, just imagine the wealth that would be generated if we were all made kings and queens.
I don’t understand what is the problem with homeopathy exactly…I too bought such products from a regular drug store and then, after a while, I accidentally learned the principle behind it and what a humongous utter bullshit it is. I was quite embarrassed.
And I changed my mind/became informed in a couple of minutes.
So, why is it so hard for public figures and others to dismiss homeopathy, they must have heard the same information I did?
Who exactly FORCED him to marry anyone especially Diana? He couldn’t marry the woman he wanted AND still gain the crown so HE, himself, CHOSE a pretty virgin to mislead into thinking he loved her to secure his succession. DIANA was the one who was duped by this clownish monster. Yet, somehow, now that Diana is dead, he can marry the same woman he couldn’t marry in the first place and become king but is now married to her as two divorcée’s and still gets to become king? And then they wonder why people think he had Diana murdered? The man is not only incredibly stupid but he is also a cruel, evil man.
Ewan R says
I find it pretty fricking immoral that by virtue of birth, and birth alone, one can fall into a cushy job for life at the expense of the taxpayer. Which in essence is what any hereditary monarchy these days is.
Inheritance of titles – go for it, call yourself whatever you want.
Inheritance of offices? Sure, so long as you serve pro bono.
As soon as you’re pulling a wage based on who your great great grandfather killed – kinda immoral. (particularly when all your wealth is already based on who your ancestors decided to stick pointy pieces of metal in etc)
frog and negentropyeater,
I don’t know how you want the system to work, then. In most Commonwealth republics that have copied the British parliamentary system of government (India, Singapore, Dominica, and so on), there is a ceremonial President who performs the same head-of-state duties that the Queen performs in the UK. As in the UK, actual governmental power is vested in a Prime Minister and Cabinet drawn from the legislature. This is likely what would happen if we abolished the monarchy in the UK; the Queen would be replaced with a President, with no substantial changes to our system of government.
I don’t know what other method you suggest as an alternative.
Brownian, OM says
It’s like fox hunting. Get rid of it, and all the English magically turn into Belgians or something.
Chaos. Satan wins. Can’t have that.
Are gut feelings based on wildly disparate sample sizes valid arguments in political science now?
‘It is only necessary to get rid of it if you believe that all inheritance of titles and offices is categorically immoral – which is a purely ideological stance, and one which I don’t personally share but which there is no point in me arguing with.’
So the fact that the whole institution serves no purpose whatsoever and that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on keeping parasites in luxury are not valid reasons to abolish the Monarchy then?
Can you also elaborate on what you see as the merits of hereditary offices? Your defence of them should be amusing.
It’s funny, I’ve almost never heard anyone say a kind word about Charles until after they find out he supports alternative medicine and organic farming. I don’t know how many people would buy into homeopathy because he supports it, but I know some people who buy into homeopathy who became more sympathetic to him after learning that he supports it.
Out of interest, in nations which do have both a Prime Minister and a President, what’s the difference in roles? Does the President have any power, or is it a ceremonial role, or what?
See, that’s why I’m not a (small r) republican in Australia. Getting rid of the unelected and powerless head of state to replace them with an elected and powerless head of state seems… well, pointless, really. As it is, we’ve outsourced our head of state, so we’re not even paying the costs for maintaining them.
If we’re replacing them with an elected head of state who actually _does_ have power, on the other hand, I’d want to see a lot more in-depth discussion on this issue which never seems to happen, since it’d be a fairly major rewrite of the Constitution.
 Yes, yes, Whitlam, constitutional crisis, etc etc. Read that as “basically powerless” if you like, since _in practice_ the GG pretty much always does whatever the PM and Federal Executive Council tell them to.
 Ok, the governor-general gets Admiralty House plus staff and security. Are those costs really significant compared to the expense of maintaining a President?
Walton sez: ‘In the end, my argument boils down to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.’
But of course, that’s the problem, it is broken. The history of monarchy from the pharaohs to the Hapsburgs to the Hohenzollerns is one of inbreeding and madness. As of right now we have a parasitic class of people BORN INTO THEIR JOBS. Think about that. We are being interpolated as subjects rather than citizens by a bunch of know-nothing goons, the chief of which, Charles, also inflicts his dreadful, backwards looking, twee, pseudo-Hardyesque views of architecture upon the nation. Unlike anyone else, Charles is valorised when he spews forth upon things he knows nothing about, due to his birthright. Pah.
Monarchy: one of the first human tries on human genetic engineering. Always an utter failure but they keep on trying…
broboxley OT says
@jack.rawlinson #28 I wouldnt mind meeting princess Anne again, so yes I might do that
Don’t you already have a Prime Minister? Why on earth would you want to add another elected president to that mix? The choice isn’t replacing the queen with someone else, it’s nixing the duplication of heads of state.
Brownian, OM says
Perhaps he’s interested in homeopathy because he’s sick of being a Royal (despite the clear boon he is to the British economy). You see, once upon a time Prince Charles’ ancestors were peasants. Successive generations of inbreeding produced individuals with smaller and smaller concentrations of commoner blood. However, as we’ve learned from homeopathy, the smaller the concentration the more powerful the concoction. By the time Prince Charles popped out of the Queen, he was practically Joe Bloggs.
He just wants everyone to understand his plight as a common man trapped in the body of a blue blood.
There is one solid argument for retaining the British Monarchy:
They are fucking hilarious. Prince Philip, for example, is a diplomatic genius…
…I never said he was the good kind of genius.
The assorted minor royals, sex scandals and general foppery of the whole situation make it all even funnier. I suppose it never occured to you that we Brits are playing some kind of elaborate joke on you all, right? Come on. The Royal Family is a dead giveaway.
Walton at #54:
Perhaps we should be :D
‘As in the UK, actual governmental power is vested in a Prime Minister and Cabinet drawn from the legislature. This is likely what would happen if we abolished the monarchy in the UK; the Queen would be replaced with a President, with no substantial changes to our system of government.
I don’t know what other method you suggest as an alternative.’
There doesn’t have to be an alternative.
As you should know the basis of our constitutional law is the sovereignty of Parliament. As Dicey put it:
‘If a legislature decided that all blue-eyed babies should be murdered, the preservation of blue-eyed babies would be illegal’
If Parliament decides to abolish the Monarchy there is no constitutional necessity that it creates an institution or office to replace it.
In purely parliamentary republics – such as Germany, Austria, Ireland, and many republics that were formerly British colonies such as India and Singapore – the President performs pretty much the same role that the Queen does in the UK, or that the Governors-General perform in Canada, Australia and NZ. That is, the President mainly performs ceremonial functions as head of state, while actual political power is vested in the Prime Minister (or Chancellor, in some European countries) and Cabinet, who are drawn from the legislature. In general, the President (or Queen or Governor-General) will exercise his or her constitutional powers only on the advice of the Prime Minister.
In parliamentary systems, the only time when the position of President (or Queen or Governor-General) becomes politically powerful is when there is a stand-off between different parties in the legislature, and the head of state has to choose someone to appoint as Prime Minister (or Chancellor) who is capable of forming a coalition government. This obviously happens more often in systems with proportional representation in legislative elections, such as Germany, than in those which use first-past-the-post.
There are some other countries, notably France, which are “semi-presidential republics”, in which political power is divided between a President and Prime Minister who may be from different parties. This system is used sometimes in the developing world as a power-sharing arrangement after a period of internal conflict (this is currently the case in Kenya and Zimbabwe, for instance).
Bill Dauphin, OM says
I take no position on the British monarchy — it’s not my country, after all, and it’s not as if Liz is likely to cast the world into turmoil by, for instance, invading a sovereign noncombatant nation on trumped-up charges — but I think some here (<cough>neg</cough>) may be undervaluing the ceremonial duties of a head of state: The head of state personifies the state, and by so doing, makes the state real for its citizens.
Now, I know there are those anti-nationalists among us who probably think that’s a Bug, Not a Feature™, but my observation of U.S. politics is that one of the key problems we face in trying to craft a more progressive national community is that too many people buy into the notion that “there’s no such thing as society,”¹ and are therefore unwilling to pay for the undeniable (to any honest, rational person) benefits they receive from the actions and protections of the state. Thus, I think anything that reaffirms and reasserts the reality of the state is a good thing. I’m proud to see my president attending state and international functions, and representing me in the ceremonial pageant of life.
To dismiss ceremony as merely “opium” for the people is, IMHO, to ignore the significant part of the human experience that in emotional and aspirational. One of the reasons I think some people find it difficult to give up church, even when they have come to doubt the reality of gods, is that ritual has real value in people’s lives. Civil ritual, which celebrates us as members of a self-governing national community, is surely preferable to mindless worship of an imaginary sky-god?
I also think the combination of head of state and head of government in one person has advantages that haven’t yet been articulated here: For one thing, it filters the ceremony, because a working head of government doesn’t have time for more than a relatively smaller number of higher-value ceremonial duties (i.e., POTUS usually doesn’t do hospital ribbon-cuttings, unless it’s a hospital of exceptional value to the nation). In addition, a working head of government cannot be snarked off as a “powerless figurehead,” meaning that the ceremonial duties s/he does take on have more gravity and social resonance.
FSM knows, we’ve had our share of doofæ who have embarrassed us through their public persona… but we’ve also had figures of great dignity, eloquence, and charisma. I see great value when a nation’s collective persona and its policy direction are jointly personified in a figure like that.
¹ Yes, yes, I know there’s dispute about precisely what Thatcher meant when she said that, but plenty of people believe it just the way it sounds.
This, I think, is the most valid argument for the existence of the royal family. Those Brits with an authoritarian streak in them have a Glorious Leader to swear allegiance to. It leaves the actual governing institutions open to criticism, without, for example, the how-dare-you cries heard when someone dared to criticize Bush II.
#52 frog Inc
I disagree that the pardoning of the turkey is a religious ceremony. Being pardoned by the president is essentially the final legal recourse of someone on death row, and while the decision of life and death seems like a godlike power, it has more to do with the legal system than whether the president is imbued with some sort of supernatural sacredness. Personally, I find it creepy that we select one turkey a year to save in a bizarre little play based on our country’s death penalty.
I guess the way I stated that did come off as a false dichotomy, but I did not mean to say that this tradition is a grisly joke and religious ceremonies (like pretending to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood) are not. Both can be equally true.
Stephen Wells says
I should specify that if the monarchy still had any actual political role I would oppose that. But as a decorative element in the British constitution I favour hanging on to them for much the same reason that I wouldn’t bulldoze historical architecture. They’re born into a “job” which can be done by anybody and which would, absent the monarchy, only be done in exactly the same way by somebody we’d have to go to the expense of choosing for the purpose. Why bother?
frog, Inc. says
Walton: I don’t know how you want the system to work, then.
What is there to work? What does the ceremonial head of state DO? They do diplomatic dinners, and a whole lot of ribbon cutting and “state ceremonies”.
We can hire a butler to run the state dinners and to host the Secretary of State at those meetings. The malls can pay for their own ribbon cuttings. Who needs random State Official showing that the State “feels your pain”? If we find that absolutely necessary — some civil servant can go to funerals on an ad-hoc basis.
The costs would be massively lower — just the security savings on taking away the target and replacing it with “faceless gray bureaucrat” would be a massive saving — and it would desacralize the state.
No magic. Just administrative employees going through the motions with much less fancy shoes and hats. It’s all a con, Walton, like Popes and Ayatollahs — it’s where we learned the trick in the first place.
It’s the 21st century equivalent of the Cult of the Emperor, where the Chinese Ba had to go through fertility rituals to guarantee the crops. If we need the rituals, just hire any old priest on an ad-hoc basis — they’ll do just as well. It’s not that hard.
A number of people have criticized the monarchy as being in-bred. Are they really? They seem genetically sound to me. Look at how old the queen mum was when she died. The current queen seems healthy and smart. So Charles may not be the most educated or the brightest bulb, but every family has variations in abilities.
broboxley OT says
@EvilSooty #51 thats not a lot of money, heck we pay lawyers at the SEC to stare at porn for 8hrs a day that much.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
First, I love your nym: The Music Man is one of my all-time favorite musicals.
Yah, but that was ~13 years ago. Both boys were still teens, and Charles himself was not quite 50. With each passing year, he becomes increasingly long of tooth to be beginning a reign. Esp. given the conversation we’re having here, it seems to me that a young, handsome king would be better for the general prospects of the monarchy than an aging jug-eared doofus… but I have no clue whether Charles is self-aware enough to make that calculation.
Stephen Wells says
@frog: I could also cut my grocery bills massively if I ate nothing but porridge and multivitamins, but I am not going to do that because it would be incredibly boring.
@martha: That’s because many kings and queens are really (hidden) bastards. Look at the Spanish monarchy to see the real, in-breeding, thing.
‘@EvilSooty #51 thats not a lot of money, heck we pay lawyers at the SEC to stare at porn for 8hrs a day that much.’
It is not in the same magnitude of waste as say, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but it is waste nonetheless and cannot be justified.
Matt Penfold says
Skipping a generation in a hereditary monarchy just because the next in line is old and senile seems like cheating to me.
Yeah, they’re pretty inbred. Queen Victoria married her first cousin (Prince Albert, the son of her mother’s brother, I think), and I believe all of the royal spouses who were parents of monarchs or presumed future monarchs since then have been descendants of Victoria and Ablert, except for the late Queen Mother and Diana.
Reminds me of my favorite Prince Charles political cartoon (not that I have done extensive research on the subject); he’s sitting on the side of the road, obviously arguing with another person beside him, and that person says “Well, who died and made you king?” and he forlornly says “Nobody”.
Antiochus Epiphanes says
I have always surmised that the only reason that the Brits retain the monarchy is that it is a money-making enterprise…specifically, a gilded stable of otherwise useless, inbred show-horses*, that act as a magnet for tourist bucks/yen/rubles. But, come to think about it, I don’t know that I’m correct. How much tourist trade a year does the RF generate? This must be the topic of national discussion from time to time in the UK.
*This may sound cruel to the royal family, but I think centuries of inbreeding, politically motivated marriage and childbirth, and a false sense of worth have been far more cruel. I actually kind of feel bad for monarchs. For the record.
Not only that, but I can’t imagine him willingly giving up something he fought so hard for. It took him–what, about 40 years?–to be allowed to marry Camilla and still be in line for the throne. He could have married her and abdicated at any time, but he chose to keep fighting for both, so obviously, it’s important to him.
Isn’t the traditional route to poison the next in line instead? Skipping would be totally cheating.
It’s tolerated because of the slight benefits of tradition to stabilizing the British social structure, outweighing the usually slight costs.
And because, as fallback, there’s also a tradition of revolting and executing the monarch.
Matt Penfold says
I recall a couple of years ago a news story suggesting that the Royal Family actually make very little difference in tourist income. After all it is not as though tourists get to have tea with Liz, Phil or Charlie. Things like the Tower of London, and the Crown Jewels, do bring in income, but that would be the case whether there was a monarch or not. It is the historical monarchy that seems to being in money, not the current bunch.
I’m not against all ceremony per se, but all the useless ceremonial bullshit that’s the predilection and only use of the useless ceremonial heads of state like the monarch, the bundespräsident, etc…
That a certain amount of really limitted decorum comes with the role of the head of government when representing the nation in certain international meetings is maybe necessary.
In France, there is growing discontent with the fact that our president behaves too much like a useless ceremonial head of state reminding us of a king.
And I think your argument that a head of state is necessary to remind people that society exists is ridiculous. It’s very similar to those who say that a God is necessary to give us our morals.
Don’t forget that the monarch is also glorious head of the Church of England! A great tradition dating back to when Henry VIII wanted a new wife. And some Vanuatu islanders worship Prince Philip as a god.
frog, Inc. says
MarianLibrarian: Being pardoned by the president is essentially the final legal recourse of someone on death row, and while the decision of life and death seems like a godlike power, it has more to do with the legal system than whether the president is imbued with some sort of supernatural sacredness.
It’s not supernatural — you’re right. But all these “final appeals” take on a quality of the sacred. They’re generally not like a board of parole or such, which is simply an administrative process. The presidential power, or the power of SCOTUS to determine what the constitution “means” goes beyond administrative & legal, even if it’s couched that way.
These become personal powers, and personal powers that rely on the “genius” of the individuals. They are surrounded with ceremonial jabberwocky precisely because they aren’t mere functions of reason — administrative — but go a bit deeper into the power of definition.
It’s a fine point — but you never see jokes like the Grand Turkey coming out of a parole hearing board (which legally & administratively have the same kind of power).
Whenever I see “ceremony” being used by the powerful — even jokingly — I get nervous. They’re playing on the religious, on the powers of dream and not reason. They can justify it all they want — but the game is a bit deeper than that.
I don’t want no damn poetry in my gubmint.
Matt Penfold says
Poison is always an option. I think in this day and age red hot pokers would be considered a bit OTT, although they do have historical precedent. There is also the option of chopping off of heads. That was the fate of the first King Charles (The second got to fuck Nell Gwynne instead)
There is also the precedent of deciding the current royal line is too stupid and inept to be allowed to carry on, and of inviting a European Royal to take the place of the current monarch.
Not only that, but having a designated person to do the ribbon-cuttings and other pomp and circumstance leaves the head of government free to actually govern.
I can understand some of the visiting leaders type of pomp and circumstance crap needing a head of state to handle, but is America the only place with local nabobs, third-tier celebrities and beauty pageant contestants to do ribbon cuttings?
They have! Many times! At least two-thirds of the British monarchs were ninnies. It’s usually better for the British public when the monarch is not a bumbling halfwit, but they seem to get along fine even if (s)he is.
FWIW, the current queen is neither a ninny nor a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. She is by all accounts an intelligent woman and a shrewd politician. She — not Oprah — is still the most powerful woman in the world.
‘FWIW, the current queen is neither a ninny nor a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. She is by all accounts an intelligent woman and a shrewd politician. She — not Oprah — is still the most powerful woman in the world. ‘
Care to elaborate on why she isn’t a waste of money?
Matt Penfold says
What powers does she actually have ?
In the event of a hung parliament in the UK she can decide who to call on to form a Government but it she is restricted in this by precedent and by political realities.
She also nominally retains the power to take the UK to war, but I seriously doubt the military would take orders direct from the monarch even though the Army and Air Force swear to do so.
broboxley OT says
@MarianLibrarian #88 I thought Phillip was greek?
Matt Penfold says
Well he was born into the Greek Royal Family. But also into the Danish Royal Family. He was educated in Scotland and Germany, and fought in British Royal Navy in the Second World War. He had two brothers-in-law in the German Navy during the war.
The European Royal Families are so intertwined in can be a nightmare working out exactly how one Royal is related to another. Quite often there are multiple ways in which any two are related.
Yes, but he’s also the Queen’s third cousin. He’s a descendant of Victoria and Albert, and so are most of the royals in Europe (although they were all already mostly related before V & A married). The only reason the current queen’s father didn’t have to marry a relative was because he wasn’t supposed to have ever been king.
I should amend what I said before about all of V&A’s descendents who were monarchs other than George VI and Charles marrying other V&A descendants. Their son, Edward VII, obviously didn’t, because that would have been his sister. I think he did marry a distant cousin, though.
Peter Ashby #37
You know, something in me rejoices at the notion of the Archbishop of Canterbury blessing a turkey. Or pardoning it (tho’ what the poor turkey is supposed to have done to deserve capital punishment, I never did understand).
I agree, there’s much more to be said for people doing the ceremonial bit if they’ve earned it rather than been born to it, maybe there’d be a good case for reducing the monarch’s ceremonial duties still further until they’re only working when they represent the state. That said, a lot of people get very excited about having the chance to meet the Queen (or a scion). There’s an odd glamour to royalty, despite their best efforts.
The ones I really feel sorry for are the ones who marry into it.
Sorry, PZ, but this was necessary:
As a British subject I find it laughable that folks are debating the merits or otherwise of the monarchy. The UK is so far from removing the current system for it to be a complete non starter. The monarchy is deeply popular in the UK, not in a sense that people keep speaking out in favour of it, but in a “keep your hands off our history” sense. i.e. any serious attempt at change would be shouted / voted out of consideration very quickly.
I’m not sure if this will get lost in the mire of pro-republic sentiment but here it is:
One of the policies of the previous American president, Larry the cable guy, with which I profoundly disagreed was his veto of embryonic stem cell research. In the UK it is the monarch, as head of state, that reserves the right to veto any law. This power has not been used, and were it to be so it would cause civil war. What right, the people would say, does the progeny of a previous incumbent have to veto the considered conclusion of the democratically elected representatives of the people? Oh… wait… wasn’t larry’s dad?
Err. That wasn’t really my point, my point was that it appears a constitutional monarchy can be just as democratic as a republic, provided that the power is not exercised (by convention or otherwise).
At least it’s possible to imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury pardoning a turkey openly. If the duty fell to the Archbishop of Westminster, he’d quietly move the turkey to a different farm and hush the whole thing up.
One of his sons went to the most expensive school in the country (Eton) and still had to cheat to get an ART A-level (exam taken at 18). How much evidence of genetic damage do you want? Oh, that’s fact rather than speculation, the teacher who did his coursework for him owned up.
Brownian, OM says
And so, I checked all the registered historical facts
And I was shocked into shame to discover
How I’m the eighteenth pale descendant
Of some old queen or other.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
That first statement is arguable — obviously, I disagree, but it’s at least reasonably arguable — but your second assertion is simply wrong: The role I articulated for the president is as a personification — that is, a symbolic representation — of the community that has chosen him to lead them. Now, you may think that such a symbolic role is unnecessary (or even worse), but it is in no way similar to belief in a “real” (i.e., not symbolic) supernatural giver of absolute moral law.
Mind you, the phrase “the community that has chosen him to lead them” uniquely links my analysis to democratically elected heads of state. Monarchs (even in constitutional democracies) are also symbolic representations of their people, but in a different sense: An elected HoS symbolizes a synthesis of the people; a monarch symbolizes the head, and the people (subjects rather than citizens) his/her body.
I think you (and frog, inc.) are conflating civil leadership with religion in a way that’s not really responsive to the points MarionLibrarian and I are making. Perhaps, owing to Europe’s different historical legacy, you instinctively associate head of state with monarch, and therefore with the ideology/theology of divine right? That’s no part of the role I’m celebrating for a HoS such as POTUS.
In addition, perhaps owing to the vastly more communitarian nature of European polity (which I note with distinct envy, not scorn), you’re underestimating the pernicious effects of endemic anti-communitarianism on U.S. politics. IMHO, we really need the symbolic personification of our society, perhaps in a way that European states do not.
frog, inc. (@97):
Then you won’t have no damn stability in your “gubmint,” nor any damn sustainability, either. People’s lives are full of poetry (much of it tragic, but poetry nonetheless); a government devoid of any cannot possibly represent them, and cannot long endure.
It is, admittedly, perhaps simply a matter of me being comfortable with what I’m used to, but I truly believe we in the U.S. have just the right amount of “poetry” in our public life: Not the baroque pagentry of royalty, but not the remorseless facelessness of a pure bureaucracy, either. We do vast numbers of things very badly on this side of the pond; I think we do government ceremony very well.
oh, so that’s what Goldman Sachs did! That explains it all in a nutshell.
@negentropyeater/95 @Dauphin/113: the conversation you two are having is rather silly given that the Queen does perform very necessary non-ceremonial duties. See Walton#75.
but nations are already riddled with symbolic representations, flags, anthems, national sports teams, national animal or whatever. I think we could do with less, nationalism is not something that needs to be encouraged. So a a symbolic representation as a person, a head of state, what for? What benefit?
I’d even say that those who are the most attached to symbolic representations of their nation are often those who are the least attached to the ideas of community, of social justice. It’s as if the symbols take more importance and replace the ideas.
I think the only reason we still have these ceremonial heads of state (be them monarchs or bundespräsident) is an old useless relic of monarchist times.
And as far as anti-communautarism in the US, I think it has more to do with the prevalent dogma of free markets and I don’t think further symbolic representation of society is going to have any impact on this.
Well, it would be foolish to launch into a wholesale endorsement of the British monarchy, but the queen does have more quiet influence on other heads of state than people realize. For example, from what I understand, few military decisions are made by the leaders of the American government without her input. She’s got her fingers in a lot of pies.
I’m not making this shit up, by the way. I am not all that involved in the politics of my own country, let alone those of the UK, but I have a family member whose position in the Royal Navy puts him in frequent contact with British politicians and members of the aristocracy. I’m more inclined to trust his assessment of the queen’s political value than my own assessment, which would otherwise be based only on what I read about her in the paper.
Personally, I think the monarchy in England looks like a holdover from the pre-democracy era.
In that it shows a certain sort of knee-jerk traditionalism.
Now I don’t know about the economic benefits of having a monarch vs. not having a monarch, but at least in theory it strikes me as entirely useless to have a monarch when you can just invest your head of government with the power of a head of state or do away with the head of state duties altogether and relegate those to people you can pay less.
The only thing mentionned by Walton in #75 is appointing the prime minister (or Chancellor in Germany) capable of forming a government. But that’s also a purely useless ceremonial function when the parliament is free to disregard the Head of State’s proposal and elect another individual to the post, who the head of state is then obliged to appoint. In practice the head of state has no political power.
Ah yes, that’s the other thing. The monarchy is not going anywhere because the British public is happy with it (what would they do without the occasional indecorous behaviour of its younger members to gossip about?), so the old “hereditary transfer of leadership is stupid, let’s get rid of the Royal family” argument is pointless.
Also, I’m not convinced that Prince Charles’ interest in homeopathy necessarily means he is going to be a useless king. Plenty of otherwise smart and capable people have a few goofy beliefs.
Oh wait, it’s based on:
I have a family member who is in frequent contact with astrologists and he says astology works. Then it must be true.
But that’s precisely why it needs to be abolished, it keeps people happily focussed on ridiculous things while avoiding the really important discussions about how to make society more just.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
First, what Walton really said @75 was that the Queen only exercises non-ceremonial power in certain limited (and, AFAIK, rare) circumstances.
Second, I have fairly deliberately and explicitly avoided taking a position on the Queen or the British monarchy. The conversation neg and I have been having has been a larger discussion of the roles of heads of state more generally.
Who’s “rather silly” now, eh? ;^)
I suppose the world won’t end if we simply disagree on this point, eh? (BTW, in the U.S., at least, national sports teams are generally not connected to the government at all; dunno how the rest of the world handles that.)
To the extent that nationalism is expressed as an arrogant assertion of cultural superiority, I agree it’s toxic. But to the extent that it means a sense of connection to, and solidarity with, one’s neighbors, I think it definitely does need to be encouraged. It is, admittedly, a complex issue.
I would say that, to a far greater degree than flags and anthems and eagles, the HoS in a democracy represents the polis: not the military; not victory in battle; not expansionist national ambition… but the people. To the extent that a nation is to be a corporate citizen of the international community, a person is a far better representation than the symbols of combat (or, in the case of sports, the imitation of combat). Personally, I think that’s a good thing… but, as I said before, the world won’t cease its rotation if we disagree.
That may account for the persistence of (nearly) purely ceremonial heads of state in the formerly monarchical states of Europe… but here in the U.S. we fairly deliberately established an elected head of state, after trying and failing to do without one, at a time when the public mood was distinctly anti-monarchist.
That’s certainly true as far as it goes, but there’s also a strong streak of philosophical individualism (which overlaps significantly with free-market dogma, but is not really the same impulse), and artifact, I suspect, of our heritage as a frontier culture (and a very young one, compared to the grand sweep of human history).
Probably not much impact, I agree: I was never proposing presidential ceremony as the key to holding American society together. But our cultural impulse is to fracture and atomize… and every little drop of glue contributes its bit to holding us together.
Leadership? leadership??!! The poor old royal family are just another bunch of celebrity dunderheads. They’re more or less Britain’s first and longest lasting real life soap opera, you know, along the Big Brother lines. I don’t think anyone actually listens to them. Yeah, they get to spend money on stupid things, our money even, but so do lots of rich gits.
Astrology, ha ha.
I thought I made it clear that I can’t provide a citation, since I’m only going on one man’s observations.
I guess I should have added that the family member in question is pretty damn astute, and since he has a lot more personal experience in British politics and military action than I do, for now I’ll accept his judgment. (Doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind if, at a later date, I read or see something that suggests he’s wrong).
My point was that there are a lot of people here who are suggesting that the monarchy has no merit, and while this may be true, I thought it was worth mentioning the opinion of someone who is directly involved — especially since it is the opposite of the general opinion here.
AJ Milne OM says
While I absolutely agree with you in principle, it does rather seem to me that trying to get people to focus on what actually matters by removing distractions probably is going to be one of the harder ways to improve things. ‘Cos if they want distractions, they’ll find distractions. If it’s not the royal soap opera, it’s celebrities of various other stripes. Or libidinous golfers. Or just (shudders) golf.
… unrelated, and probably said several times prior to this: I don’t think, prior to these last few months, I could have actually worked out a way to put a word derived from ‘libido’ and the word ‘golf’ in the same publication, let alone the same sentence. Who knew.
Anyway, in other distraction-related news: actually, I only bothered to peep into this thread in the first place because I knew the comment count was probably at least 15 percent Walton, and I was looking for a cheap (and not so vaguely sadistic) laugh.
(/And yes, I’m also one of those annoying folk who slows down for auto wrecks.)
I dunno. Is France all that much better off without theirs? Won’t people always find ridiculous things to distract them from the important issues?
I’m just sayin’.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
SRSLY? The strings of the U.S. military are being secretly pulled by Queen Elizabeth II???
If this were true, and were known to the American public (as it certainly would be, if knowing it were as simple as knowing somebody in the Royal Navy who occasionally rubs shoulders with the aristocracy), we would have no-shit civil war over here.
You’re not by any chance a devotee of Lyndon LaRouche, are you? I haven’t heard a royal conspiracy theory this juicy since LaRouche accused Liz of running an international drug-smuggling cartel, and the Brits of being behind the Oklahoma City bombing!
But the fact that you have a family member who has contact with the british aristocracy and thinks the queen gives input on most American military decisions is no evidence that the monarchy has any merit.
If your family member is correct, the Queen is getting involved in matters for which she has no authority, nor competence.
If your family member is just deluded (those things can happen, even when one is is contact with the British aristocracy), well…
Uh, NO. Emphatically not.
I’m not suggesting any kind of royal conspiracy theory. But Queen Elizabeth has spent her entire life cultivating political ties. And her reign has been loooong. I think it would be a serious overstatement to say she “pulls the strings of the U.S. military,” but I would hardly be surprised if it turns out that she has a lot more influence than is obvious on the surface.
But what do I know. I’m just some nit who believes people when they say astrology really works.
Doesn’t mean you have to encourage it. The fact that the UK is the only major European nation where inequalities have steadily risen without a reaction of its inhabitants is certainly not independent from the importance of the british tabloïd press and its main ingredient, the ridiculous adventures of the morons who move around Buckingham palace.
If your family member is correct, the Queen is getting involved in matters for which she has no authority, nor competence. – negentropyeater
Not so. One of the best-kept secrets of WWII is that the Allies grand strategy, along with the D-day landings, was planned and overseen by none other than Princess Elizabeth, as she then was. We just happen to have the world’s greatest ever military genius as our Head of State. Probably this ability has been inherited by Charles – but the “walloping great dunderhead” act has almost everyone fooled!
I think the Queen adds to the tourism industry in Britain because occasionally she gets on the news in other countries. How often is Versailles on the news? When the Queen visits other countries people think of Buckingham Palace. So no one comes to the UK to visit the Queen, but perhaps some people do come BECAUSE of the Queen. Downing Street really isn’t a big draw like the White House is.
correction to #131
…steadily risen over the past 30 years
I have seen it argued that the value of a monarchy is that it gives the government an experienced advisor, someone who has watched a lot of government and policy go past, and who is not running for office. If this is true, it should work better in England now than it did in 1960, because it takes time to collect that experience, especially if the monarch becomes king or queen fairly young (as Elizabeth II and Victoria did), or is mostly focused on other things before becoming monarch, as I suspect George VI was, since he didn’t expect to become king. There’s no way to really know whether Charles is paying much attention there, since it would Not Be Done for him to comment publicly on politics, even if he is. (Architecture is safer.)
Like any system of choosing people, a monarchy produces anomalies: I give you Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon, Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s hand-picked successor. Logic suggests that Franco thought Juan Carlos would be closer to the policies he wanted than his father; if so, he guessed wrong. Some decade, we may get a good history of that set of decisions, but maybe not in English or in my lifetime.
The only way to avoid spending money on a head of state would be to have no head of state. I don’t see anyone advocating this, though.
I advocate abolishing the post of Head of State. I’ve done so here before, Walton.
In addition, perhaps owing to the vastly more communitarian nature of European polity (which I note with distinct envy, not scorn), you’re underestimating the pernicious effects of endemic anti-communitarianism on U.S. politics. IMHO, we really need the symbolic personification of our society, perhaps in a way that European states do not. – Bill Dauphin
By your own account, it hasn’t worked.
Oi! Be nice!
But seriously. I get that you have no reason to suppose that he’s not deluded, or that he isn’t a complete moron. I also get that I have no right to make statements about the Queen’s authority, influence, competence, etc, (even though I have just blithely done so). But since I know the guy, I get to decide whether or not his opinion is worth anything — and based on other things I know about him, I think it is.
By the way, I’d say any contact has with the aristocracy is less important than his military connections.
But I can assure you that there are orders of magnitude more tourists who visit Versailles than Buckingham Palace. And more tourists who visit France each year than any other country in the world.
So not having a monarch doesn’t seem to be a detriment to tourism.
#137 correction: “….any contact HE has with the aristocracy…”
>Any system of hereditary transfer of leadership is >going to be afflicted with the unfortunate >vagaries of chance, compounded by the distortion >of traditional privilege. Why the British continue >to put up with this nonsense is a mystery.
It is a mystery to the rest of us why America elected George W Bush when they didn’t HAVE to have him.
I guess you should see the queen of a country as its flag and national anthem; a symbol.
We here in the Netherlands have the royal house of orange. Our flag, national anthem, national (soccer) color, holidays and more from our royal house. Furthermore, even before we had a monarchy, the house of Orange had a significant influence in our independence. I can’t think of a better symbol.
At this time, the royal family has no political influence. We kept the good, we dropped the bad. Our queen is a political colorless woman who unites the country in a way a political colored president never could.
Do you have a guillotine or two you could lend us? It might boost the tourist trade over here.
I’m opposed to the monarchy in principle, but only in a fairly half-hearted way. It’s not going anywhere soon, and I’m not too upset about that.
However, I really don’t like Chuck. He’s entitled to his opinions, no matter how daft, but his heritary position gives him a platform that they and he simply don’t deserve.
If/when he takes the throne, things might improve. The monarch is not really supposed to get involved in anything controversial so he might shut up.
There are aspects of the monarchy that I’m more strongly opposed to. The House of Lords for one. Reform of the Lords has been moving excrutiatingly slowly; hopefully a bit more will happen in the next parliament.
On a personal level, I don’t like our national anthem. I quite like my country – in a suitably English, restrained fashion – and there are occasions when it might be nice to join in an anthem, if only at rugby matches. But I’ll be buggerred if I’ll sing that horrible dirge.
Thank you, Coryat. I was considering my reply to the silly argument that having this inherently first-above-others family “ain’t broke”, and you nicely summarised what I would have said much more elegantly.
frog, Inc. says
BD: I think you (and frog, inc.) are conflating civil leadership with religion in a way that’s not really responsive to the points MarionLibrarian and I are making.
No — I’m using a more general concept of religion beyond the pure belief in the supernatural. Religion isn’t merely the belief in the supernatural — in some ways, that belief is a secondary effect of the structure of religion, not the cause but the effect. Religion is general a system of rituals — the supernatural is the post-hoc rationalization of those rituals, but legalistic nonsense can work also.
And you’re right — I think we have way too much damn stability in government. I think a system that stays formally the same for three centuries is repressive and the source of much of our troubles. Somewhere between continual civil war and binding your descendants for centuries is a better way. It may as well be a superstitious attachment — the nonsense I hear from my compatriots, their complete inability to reason about their own political system, sounds to me almost exactly like the nonsense coming out of religious nuts, and often the two are conflated.
Being that culture isn’t stable for centuries in the face of technological change — how could forms of government? If they are, something is awfully wrong, wrong on par with believing in sky-fairies; in other words, it demands repressive delusion to be stable.
To be less hyperbolic, I want less poetry in my government. A whole lot less.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
I disagree: I’ve noted that having an elected head of state as a personification of the polis helps counter our cultural anti-communitarian impulse… but I never said it was the sole solution, or even a major solution. The fact that we continue to struggle with that particular societal challenge does not prove, nor even imply, that one minor tool in that struggle is without value.
We have major ideological problems… but IMHO we’re better able to address them, on net, with our system of combining both the head of state and head of government in a single nationally elected individual than we would be with a parliamentary system.
We tried government without a strong executive, in the form of the Articles of Confederation, and it didn’t work very well. And I think it’s probably no accident that the last time we were at serious risk of dissolving as a nation, it was Abraham Lincoln — credited with (or blamed for, depending on your perspective) significantly raising the status of the office of the presidency &mdahs; who ultimately held us together.
We have a great many problems, I admit, and a great many things for which we should apologize to the rest of the world, but I honestly believe the fundamental structure of our government is sound. Where we need to change things is perhaps in electoral process, and in better engaging and educating the electorate.
#143 On the other hand, the House of Lords seems to have acted as quite an effective brake on some of the mosre absurde and authoritarian laws the government has tried to push through. (Although it’s also blocked some progressive measures).
If I was designing a political system from the ground up, I don’t know how it could be justified. But it does seem to work pretty well and do more good than harm, and I suppose there is something to say for having a revising chamber who aren’t going to be concerned with getting one over on their rivals at the next election.
As for monarchial in-breeding, I don’t know how bad the British royals are, but I did once find a family tree for Charles II of Spain.
It took me a few moments to make sense of it the first time I saw it, but when I worked it out it was a serious case of Eew… Ew! Ew! Ew!
There’s a reason why he was the last monarch of his dynasty…
(It also can’t have helped that the whole inbred mess descended from “Joanna the Mad”. You think the name would have been a clue).
Bill Dauphin, OM says
frog, Inc. (@145):
It might be… but it might also simply be that it’s working well. I can’t bring myself to accept the a priori assertion that all that persists, oppresses.
If your position is to equate all stability with repression, and all symbolism or ritual (or “poetry”) with religion, then you and I simply have a fundamental philosophical disconnect.
Which is cool. ;^)
Sorry, just read this properly. You make a perfectly good point. This particular queen’s supposed skills and influence do not, of course, mean that the monarchic system has any merit at all.
Everyone loves to bash the monarchy. I don’t have any strong personal feelings on whether it should be abolished or not, but I can’t shake the feeling that the well-being of Britain’s population depends not at all on having a hereditary monarch as the official head of state.
In the minds of right-wingers and conservatives, Reagan is a saint worthy reverence.
I don’t dispute this, but the US government doesn’t have a useless dedicated ceremonial head of state, unlike the UK or Germany.
The argument here started because some (Walton) mentionned that paying for a dedicated ceremonial head of state like a monarch (or a Bundespräsident) was useful to society. I still don’t see any benefit, and quite some disadvantages when it comes to the british monarch when it comes to accaparating public opinion for ridiculous matters and being an anachronic relic of past imperial times in several other countries.
Pardon, Walton actually argued that the people don’t pay for it, that it costs the taxpayer nothing as it’s taken from the crown’s estate’s revenues. Which was another ridiculous argument in itself.
Do people visit Paris for Versailles? Or is it the Eiffel Tower?
The Royal Family put us on the news, increasing at least awareness of our tourist attractions, in a way a rubbish advert about visiting Malaysia or Ireland doesn’t. A royal wedding , a royal birth, a jubilee, a royal death all put us on the news abroad. Maybe some people in Britain don’t like our country being promoted on the basis of an outdated monarchy, but it is advertisement. Yet I’d be very surprised if much – or any – of our election coverage is making your tv screens (especially in comparison to your elections)
frog, Inc. says
BD: We tried government without a strong executive, in the form of the Articles of Confederation, and it didn’t work very well.
So the myths say. I’m not so sure — Shays rebellion seems to have a legitimate grievance, and getting rid of the AofC allowed Washington to crush the ensuing Whiskey Rebellion that delayed the development of democracy by a generation, until the impoverished descendants had spread into the west and brought Jackson to power.
That thread seems to follow through American history, as a series of games is played with the disenfranchised (in multiple ways) majority, pitting them against other ethnic groups, propagandizing them and slowly being forced to extend some rights over the centuries.
I’m not sure at all that the AofC didn’t work; it’s obviously water under the bridge at this point, but it’s not at all trivial to claim it.
And that’s what bothers me — folks claim this kind of thing as if it were trivial. It’s an article of faith — no one ever questions it, it’s never controversial, it’s at the level of discussing the trinity in 13th century Rome.
If you point out that there may have been no Jesus, people just assume you’ve been demonically possessed — it’s not even heretical it’s so insane.
frog, Inc. says
BD: If your position is to equate all stability with repression, and all symbolism or ritual (or “poetry”) with religion, then you and I simply have a fundamental philosophical disconnect.
Not all stability — the question is “excessive” stability in the face of change. It’s a hard question; I can’t answer it. But it makes me suspicious. We’ve just gone through three centuries of unmatched social, economic and technological change — and yet somehow we can have a “stable” constitution? In point of fact, it has been quite unstable, while staying formally the same. That suggests to me repression.
I do connect ritual with religion — not symbolism, which is much more general, but specifically ritual. Ritual is the heart of religion; theology is just the worst kind of propaganda for the ritual.
It has it’s place — ritual I mean. But it is dangerous, because it reaches below the rational. Under current conditions, I’m always suspicious of it — we lack awareness of how it works, and so generally it’s being used as a con.
But then, unlike most posters, religion isn’t per se a “dirty” word for me. It’s just all currently existing religions (hyperbole again) that I find distasteful — not all possible religions under all possible conditions.
Bill Dauphin, OM says
Yah, I know. I have this habit of trying to expand conversations beyond the boundaries of their original envelopes. I always think of this as a Feature©, but I suppose others sometimes see it as a bug®.
You know, I wonder if the phenomenon of separate, mostly ceremonial heads of state isn’t a natural artifact of converting historical monarchies to democracy? I’d hate to push this metaphor too far, but I’ve been reading (well, listening to, and for the second time) Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, and the ceremonial, mostly powerless monarchs and presidents you’re talking about seem almost like vestigial organs, bypassed but not lost when a new structure evolved to fulfill the role of head of government.
It doesn’t necessarily strike me as odd or useless to have the roles of head of state and head of government split among two offices as long as (as I gather is the case in France… or am I mistaken/) both offices have a real role in political leadership. But the benefit I see from a head of state — the personification of the polis — is pretty much completely undermined if the HoS is a conspicuously powerless figurehead.
I actually think, though, if you deleted the superfluous kings, queens, and ceremonial presidents, the prime ministers in those governments would evolve into something like the American president, taking on at least some of the duties (if not the title) of the HoS. And in that case, I’m not sure democracy would be best served by a de facto president who was a creature of the legislature rather than elected by the people at large. If I lived in a constitutional monarchy that was considering eliminating the monarch, I’d rather see a clean-sheet constitutional convention than a simple decapitation.
Of course, that assumes a relatively sane population. If my Amercian brothers and sisters ever convene a new constitutional convention, I’m joining Ichthyic in NZ!
frog, Inc. says
BD: You know, I wonder if the phenomenon of separate, mostly ceremonial heads of state isn’t a natural artifact of converting historical monarchies to democracy?
In the US case, at least, it’s pretty obviously so. The discussion around the presidency at the convention was precisely around these issues — how to have a king-not-king (although some were pro pure monarchy, and a few anti-monarchy). Bolivar also discussed issues like this.
It’s a bit inevitable. It’s almost impossible to go clean sheet — it requires much more thoughtfulness than we’re really capable of.
The debate notes really are interesting. If you avoid anachronistic interpretation, the questions being asked are quite enlightening about what that generation and class really thought. Of course, the notes I know of were written by Madison, so there’s quite a bit of bias toward self-justification — you look at the length of speeches, completeness of the notes, etc, and you can pull out some of the propaganda techniques he was using in his notes.
hmmm, both. They also visit the Louvre, and other highly visited monuments include the chateaux de la loire, these are all relics of France’s past monarchy that people visit without hoping to see Louis XVI’s ghost or head lying somewhere in a cupboard, nor because there was a recently publicized wedding or funeral of the French royals.
As linked above, France received 80 million tourists last year, none thanks to an acting monarch (compare with the UK’s 30 million).
I guess you are british and not Malaysian or Irish. Can you please try to make rational arguments and not biased chauvinistic ones?
When visiting Latvia, a young woman slapped Prince Charles with a rose and stated that he was resposible for 9/11 which had just occurred. I was watching it at luncj at the Picatinney Arsenal in NJ, testing an old rocket assembly center, just having worked in Bridgewater, NJ where a large Johnson and Johnson wound rsearch center had been closed by an “anthrax letter” reported in the local press, clearence archeology testing there for flood control of the Raritan River, creating wetlands as buffers for flooding, after a number of devastaing floods. After that it was onto West Point Military Academy, testing where Hurricane Floyd had knocked down many trees requiring removal. In a sense, the British were just as responsible as we, invading Afghanistan that terrible week of attack and anthrax panic, he a symbol of government. Sometimes a rose, is a rose, is a rose, sometimes a “war” in England.
Historically, that’s certainly true. When a number of Commonwealth countries became republics, the former ceremonial Governor-General was simply replaced with a ceremonial President, performing exactly the same role that the Queen traditionally plays in the British system. Good examples of this can be found in India, Singapore and Dominica. They retained an essentially British “Westminster-style” system of government, replicating the features of constitutional monarchy, but with a President instead of a monarch.
Similarly, many of the European countries with ceremonial Presidents, such as Germany, Austria and Italy, are former monarchies. The system of parliamentary government in those countries, and the offices of Prime Minister or Chancellor, originally evolved under the monarchy; today, they simply have a President instead of a monarch.
So yes, you can see these institutions as “vestigial organs” – but they do have some relevance in the modern world. I certainly see a parliamentary system as superior to the US presidential system in many respects. Quite apart from it being healthy to separate the roles of head of state and head of government, I also think the collective nature of parliamentary cabinet government is a good thing, rather than concentrating all executive powers in a single directly-elected individual.
The problem with US-style presidential systems is not just that they assign too much power to the President (though this certainly can be a problem, e.g. in some Latin American republics which use presidential systems), but also that they assign too much responsibility to the President. Rather than collective cabinet responsibility, a single individual is held legally and politically responsible for all the functions of the executive government and its millions of employees – which makes the US presidency an absurdly difficult job for anyone to hold. (Indeed, plenty of presidents simply haven’t been up to the job.)
If we were going to go over to a republic, and didn’t want to have a ceremonial President stepping into the shoes of the monarch, there is one other option: the Swiss system. In Switzerland, the positions of head of state and government are held collectively by the Federal Council, rather than by single individuals. The president of the Federal Council performs the de facto duties of a head of state, but he is only primus inter pares among the Federal Councillors, not the head of state in his own right. I think there’s a lot to be said for the Swiss collegial system of governance.
what does “healthy” mean?
But that’s not an argument for having a dedicated ceremonial head of state who has no powers of any sort. And as far as responsibilites go, the Bundespräsidium has a grand total of 175 employees (I don’t know how many the Queen has, but probably not many more), what a huge difference that would make to Obama’s job if a similar useless ceremonial head of state was instituted in the USA!
Ceremonial heads of state like the Queen or the Bundespräsident serve no useful purpose whatsoever to society. Get rid of them.
frog, Inc. says
Walton: Rather than collective cabinet responsibility, a single individual is held legally and politically responsible for all the functions of the executive government and its millions of employees – which makes the US presidency an absurdly difficult job for anyone to hold
It’s also problematic for the electorate. They have to hold one person responsible — they have to give a yay or nay on all the policies simultaneously. A collective responsibility gives more flexibility on rejecting particular policies — both via party internal politics and electoral responsiveness.
frog, Inc. says
negen: Ceremonial heads of state like the Queen or the Bundespräsident serve no useful purpose whatsoever to society. Get rid of them.
Other than to keep the real head of state from getting too big a head via ceremonial BS. If L’etat, c’est un sans pouvior, those with power can not be symbolically l’etat.
It’s better to have a powerless established church than a powerful unestablished church.
Sure, we could have a working political system without a ceremonial head of state, if we really wanted to. I’m not arguing that we “need” one.
But it’s a bit of a leap from that to “serves no useful purpose whatsoever”. A ceremonial head of state serves a number of purposes which are worthwhile but not essential: serving as a symbolic representative of the state who is above party politics; performing certain state functions which should be politically neutral, such as appointing judges; acting as an arbiter between the various parties in the event that a coalition government needs to be formed; and going on state visits and improving the state’s reputation abroad. Not to mention the aesthetic value associated with ceremonies.
Yes, we could get by without all of these things. But it doesn’t follow that we must get rid of them merely because they’re not strictly necessary. National anthems, flags, monuments, national libraries and art galleries, military parades, and the like are not strictly “necessary” either: but most nations have these things. Human beings are aesthetic creatures, and sometimes we like to do things for the sake of aesthetic enjoyment, tradition or heritage: and sometimes we like to maintain the traditions of our particular political and cultural community.
You seem to have a bizarre fervour to get rid of every institution that doesn’t fit your ideal about how the perfect state and society should be run. I would point out that sometimes change for the sake of change is not a good thing. Would I advocate imposing a monarchy on France? No. But that doesn’t mean that we should abolish our monarchy merely because you don’t like it.
Gregory Greenwood says
I know the point has been made above, but it will certainly stand repetition if only to avoid confusion among those Pharyngulites unfamiliar with UK constitutional arrangements; the UK really is a republic in all but name. We have this odd little system we call a Constitutional Monarchy that completely strips the monarch of any actual legal powers. That is why terminology like ‘hereditary rule’ is misleading. The UK is not ruled by the Queen. It is ruled by the democratically(ish) elected parliament of the day.
The monarch nominally grants royal assent to every bill before it becomes an Act of Parliament, but in practice the Queen lacks the power to withold this assent. If she tried to she would likely be ignored or it would trigger a constitutional crisis that would swiftly result in either an even more strictly delimited role for the monarchy or the UK becoming a republic.
There is also simply no such thing as a Royal Edict (in the absolutist ‘word-of-the-monarch-is-word-of-god’ sense) in the contemporary United Kingdom. The Monarch has precisely zero capacity to pass laws. Only the Parliament (and now the EU via Directives, supra-national legislation and the like) has the power to pass National level laws within the UK. Even a County Council has greater law making powers that the Queen, since they can pass bylaws.
The Queen does act as a diplomatic figure since the British Monarchy maintains a certain cache in some parts of the world, and in some circumstances the more subtle expressions of international relations can be helped along by the Queen, but she has no say in the formulation of UK foreign policy (any more than she has a say in domestic policy). She certainly cannot declare war, announce or break alliances or raise any military force of her own.
As for the ‘divine right of kings’, that concept began to come apart at the seams with the execution of King Charles I, and has not been a polictical reality in the UK for centuries.
The UK monarchy is something of an anachronism. It arguably functions as an expression of national identity and cultural heritage, but it is really a holdover from the UK’s revolutionary past when the retention of some form of Monarchy was felt to be the best means to moderate the political instability brought about by outright revolution, as was experienced during the Protectorate government under Lord Protector (AKA King in all but name) Oliver Cromwell. These concerns probably seemed doublely pressing a couple of hundred years later after the bloodshed of the French Revolution.
Most people probably feel that abolishing the monarchy simply is not worth the effort required to so extensively re-engineer the existing constitutional arrangements. It would, afterall, amount to little more than very expensive and disruptive window dressing. An example of the difficulties of arriving at any kind of consensus in UK constitutional reform can be seen in the ongoing rumblings over the proposed reforms of the House of Lords (a saga that has dragged on for some decades with no end in sight).
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the UK does not really have a seperate category of constitutional law such as that in the US. It is my understanding that two thirds majority is required in both houses to affect a constitutional amendment in the US (please correct me if I am wrong, my knowledge of US law is sketchy to say the least). The UK, however, does not have a written constitution, and any act or parliament passed to alter our constitution could be reversed by another act, most likely passed on a simple majority.
In any case, we have far bigger fish to (freedom) fry in the UK. Our system of elections revolves around the winning of regional seats to confer a majority in Parliament. Despite repeated attempts, there is no proportional representation. As a result it is quite possible to win a majority in parliamentary seats while lacking a popular majority (so long as your vote is sufficiently geographically concentrated). When this labour government was re-elected last time, it was returned to power with a comfortable majority despite winning only about 30% of the popular vote. This is a far more severe threat to the UK’s democratic credentials than the monarchy.
The Monarchy is probably a waste of time and resources, and Prince Charles is certainly a prat, but whether or not anyone can be bothered to upset the apple cart over it is another matter.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am a British subject (though I prefer the term citizen), so my perspective may be somewhat skewed.
it’s not that I dislike monarchy, it’s that it serves no useful purpose AND it has several drawbacks:
1. it costs money. It’s true that any dedicated ceremonial head of state will cost the same, but I don’t see the use of this function whether it has a crown or not.
2. it distracts people from the important things they should fight for in order to build a more just society. It’s true other things distract them, but that’s no reason to encourage it.
3. it’s an anachronic relic of past imperialism and we should encourage nations to detach themselves from this.
Flags, anthems, monuments, national galleries, etc… do not share this caracteristic of being useless AND being drawbacks to society.
It’s not that I have a “bizzare fervour to get rid of every institution that doesn’t fit my ideal of how the perfect state should be run”. First I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect state. Second, I do want to get rid of every institution which serves no reasonably useful purpose and handicaps society with a needless authoritarian relic. What’s bizarre about this ?
Not quite true. The Queen can legislate by Order in Council, acting on the advice of the Privy Council (in practice, members of the Cabinet), for certain purposes. Orders in Council are subordinate legislation and are inferior to Acts of Parliament, but they nevertheless have binding force. They are less common today than in the past, since most subordinate legislation today consists of “statutory instruments”, which are promulgated by Secretaries of State rather than by the Queen. Nonetheless, Orders in Council are still used to exercise some royal prerogative powers, such as the power to legislate for British overseas territories and dependencies.
In that case, you will be pleased to know that since the British Nationality Act 1981, you are, in fact, a British citizen.
(There are several other classes of people who are “British subjects” but not British citizens: this includes citizens of British overseas territories and dependencies, British Protected Persons, and certain other holdovers from the colonial era. These people are entitled to British diplomatic protection, but do not usually have an unconditional right to enter and reside in the UK.)
Gregory Greenwood says
Walton @ 166;
Good point, but I think it fair to say that the Queen could not use this nominal authority to pass laws on her own behalf (or, for that matter, do a Caligula and appoint her horse to the Sena…err Cabinet. On second thought, that might actually be an improvement on the current bunch. At least until the expense accounts for the ‘special’ hay started pouring in…), and she certainly could not use it to negate the legislative authority of Parliament or the executive power of the ruling party. My form of words was inadequate, but I think the point that the Queen has no lawmaking powers in the style of the old absolutist monarchs still stands.
I know, but the term ‘British subject’ is so often bandied about in the American media that the phrase has come into popular usage, at least abroad. This is why I prefer the term ‘citizen’. It is both more legally accurate and more dignified.
FFS Walton it’s 2010. How is it even possible that a 19 year old could be such a crawly lickspittle forehead-knuckler?
As for ceremonial duties, there’s no shortage of lookalikes. Any theatrical agency could supply an old duck in a silly hat to perform any ribbon-cutting and standing-around necessary for about ten quid an hour.
frog, Inc. says
Good point, but I think it fair to say that the Queen could not use this nominal authority to pass laws on her own behalf
If you have a “nominal” power that you can’t exercise, can you honestly call it a power at all?
It’s like being double-secret dictator — seems to be a bit of an oxymoron.
“National anthems, flags, monuments, national libraries and art galleries, military parades, and the like are not strictly “necessary” either: but most nations have these things. Human beings are aesthetic creatures, and sometimes we like to do things for the sake of aesthetic enjoyment, tradition or heritage: and sometimes we like to maintain the traditions of our particular political and cultural community.”
Except national anthems cost nothing, flags have some useful purposes, and national libraries are also useful.
The others? Nah. Monuments, art galleries, and military parades are silly.
And weigh them on their cost vs. their benefit: I bet it’s more costly to maintain all those royal buildings for the use of a few people rather than repurpose them for the sake of the public. Make Buckingham Palace into a multipurpose Dignified State Occasions/museum/educational center. Make whatever castles the royals or peers don’t own personally – which is a shitload (Bagshot Park, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Hillsborough Castle, Holyrood Palace, St. James’s Palace, Kensington Palace, Royal Lodge, Thatched House Lodge, Windsor Castle) – into things the people can use.
Tradition, if useless, should be abandoned for better, more ethical, more efficient things.
Windsor Castle is so huge you could probably move a university department there. Seriously. If the British government gave that to Oxford, they could build a fucking satellite campus.
Gregory Greenwood@#164: Thank you for the thorough and coherent explanation.
That’s part of the problem. Everybody likes it when the Lords block – or rather delay – some legislation they oppose. So nothing gets done about it.
I see the value of a second chamber. I’d even give serious consideration to an appointed, rather than elected body, made up of life peers: the great and the good.
But I don’t want chinless nerks sitting in there just because great^n grandmother was a Jacobite whore.
I’m not too keen on senior cabinet ministers being drawn from the House of Lords, either, although that’s a bit of a different matter: the problem would still be the same no matter how the second chamber was constituted.
Alex P. says
As a Canadian, I thoroughly despise these inbreds. I am not against cutting the umbilical chord. At least we changed our fucking flag 43 years ago to get rid of the goddamn Jack on it. It’s not enough.
Gregory Greenwood says
frog,Inc @ 170;
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of UK constitutional law.
Walton and I were discussing the oddities of the system of lawmaking power in the UK. For the sake of constitutional forms harking back to the restoration of the monarchy with the coronation of King Charles II after the civil war, powers that formerly were genuine, absolutist monarchical powers continued to exist in the constitutional monarchy, and continued to be superficially exercised by the monarch, but had no legal force without parliament.
They are still considered royal ‘powers’ even though the sovereign authority that makes them binding is vested in Parliament as an expression of the democratic will of the people. I am simplifying here somewhat, but the convoluted mess takes an age to go through in exacting detail.
Certainly, to the objective observer, the idea of a nominal power is an oxymoron, but it was considered a necessary political compromise at the time. Some form of Monarchy, with its sharper teeth pulled, was seen as preferable to the bloody anarchy of outright revolution.
The Monarchy went from the (supposedly) divinely ordained mode of government to a glorified political stabiliser, and a means for the interaction between the Conservative and Whig factions of the Parliament of the era to be mediated.
Further, monarchy was almost universal in the Europe of that time. If the UK had become a full republic its example would have been perceived as a threat to the power of the great continental dynasties, and this would have been as good as an invitation for foreign invasion, particularly by the Catholic powers, like France, that were waiting for any excuse to return England (this being before the official designation of Great Britain as a soveriegn entity) to the ‘true’ faith.
The UK is full of anachronistic little features like this. It comes from being a fairly old culture. America has only beem about for 400 odd years as a nation. Give it a few more centuries and I am sure it will pick up eccentricities of government of its own…
Gregory Greenwood says
E @ 174;
Thank you. I am glad I could be of help.
John Morales says
I bet they wish for the days of yore.
“Off with his head!” she said, without even looking round.
The understanding I’ve come to as an American living in the UK on and off for the last three years is basically this.
The Queen holds powers she is too afraid to exercise in normal circumstances because they would likely be taken away. But if things ever started going really bad, she could risk her position in an attempt to stop them.
So the Queen rubber-stamps every bill that crosses her desk, but if something really nasty ever came up—”let’s send the Muslims off to concentration camps”, for example—she could refuse, which could result in the power being taken from her but could also make a big enough splash to get the whole idea scrapped. Think of her powers as being in a gilded display case with “IN CASE OF EVIL BREAK GLASS” written on it. She would never use them except in the direst circumstances, but if they’re needed they’re there.
The Lords seem to have a lesser, but similar function, but they’re too stupid to realize their position and so they blow their powers on stuff like fox-hunting. The Queen is a bit more clever than that.
(Gregory Greenwood: In the US, a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, plus three-quarters of the states (either their legislatures or special ratifying conventions). There is a second procedure as well which involves calling a national convention instead of going through Congress, but that has never been used.
The President and Supreme Court are not involved, and so it can be used to override them. Amendments are very difficult to pass, though, which is why there are only 27 of them, and many were passed in big groups as a result of specific crises.)
True, I was being a pedant. Your main point is perfectly correct.
The Queen has very extensive legal powers, known as the “royal prerogative powers”. Legally, she can summon and dissolve Parliament, veto Bills, declare war, sign and ratify treaties, grant pardons and commutation of sentence, appoint and dismiss ministers, appoint judges, command the armed forces, grant peerages, exercise legislative power by Order in Council, and take all actions necessary to maintain the peace and defend the realm. In practice, all these powers are exercised on the advice of the government of the day. This is merely a convention – the Queen would be legally free to ignore the government’s advice and exercise her powers however she wished – but in practice, she always follows constitutional convention and acts exclusively on the government’s advice.
As I said earlier, the only power that the Queen actually exercises independently is the power to appoint a Prime Minister. And she normally has no discretion in the exercise of this power, since one party usually wins an outright majority. She is only obliged to make a discretionary decision of any kind if there is a hung Parliament, and the parties have to negotiate in order to form a coalition.
Think of her powers as being in a gilded display case with “IN CASE OF EVIL BREAK GLASS” written on it. She would never use them except in the direst circumstances, but if they’re needed they’re there. – brentdax
Not “IN CASE OF EVIL”, but “IN CASE OF THREAT TO ELITE PRIVILEGE”. If the UK ever elected a seriously socialist government, the Monarchy would certainly be used to obstruct and if necessary overthrow it.
A point no-one has noted. There are currently 5 MPs from Sinn Fein who are unable to take their seats and vote because they refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen. Any elected MP who is a republican is obliged to be a hypocrite in order to take their seat. This is a monstrous denial of their and their constituents’ democratic rights, and in itself is sufficient to show that the claim the monarchy is non-political is a bare-faced lie.
There is zero evidence of this. A “seriously socialist” government was elected in 1945, and King George VI continued following constitutional convention without the slightest murmur. During the Queen’s nearly-six-decade reign, there have been governments of a wide variety of political persuasions, from left to right, and she has never allowed her personal views (whatever those may be – we simply don’t know) to interfere with her constitutional role.
And, indeed, the time of greatest tension between the Queen and Downing Street was when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.
How does the oath/affirmation of allegiance make the monarchy itself “political”? I do have issues with requiring elected officeholders to take oaths of allegiance (of any kind, whether to the monarch or to the state), but the Queen herself is in no way responsible for that. The oath could be abolished by Parliament tomorrow; it is Parliament, not the Queen, which is responsible for insisting on it.
John Morales says
So, the Queen has no say in the matter, and thus no responsibility?
I seriously doubt that.
great point. In the UK, Monarchy is supposed to be about ceremony and decorum, but we see that even then, ceremonial bullshit trumps political expression. Very similar with Religion in that respect…
I’d be interested to hear Walton, ardent defender of “freedom of expression”, on this.
The oath of allegiance in its modern form is laid down by a nineteenth-century Act of Parliament, passed long before the present Queen came to the throne. And no, the Queen has no say in the matter, in practice. Parliament could pass a bill tomorrow changing or abolishing the oath, and the Queen would sign it. The oath is required because politicians want to keep it (or, at least, can’t be bothered to abolish it), not because of the Queen.
The oath or affirmation in its modern form runs (from memory):
I, [name of MP], swear by Almighty God [or sincerely, solemnly and truly declare and affirm] that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law. [So help me God.]
It’s certainly true that an MP who does not accept the legitimacy of the monarchy, or of the British state as a whole, would either have to decline to take his or her seat, or take the oath or affirmation without believing it.
But the same is true in republics which require legislators to take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the country concerned; a legislator who was part of a regional secession/independence movement, say, would have difficulty taking such an oath in good conscience. There are real issues in a free society, therefore, with requiring elected officials to take any kind of oath of allegiance. But this is really nothing to do with monarchy.
And the reason why Parliament doesn’t do it is because it would be a hugely unpopular measure. No wonder why: the british media has been spouting irrational pro monarchist propaganda for decades now, “the Queen is good for tourism”, “the Queen costs a penny”, “the Queen is a wise woman, she even planned D Day when she was young”, “the Queen understands the british people much better than any politician”, etc…
Heck, don’t tell me the Sun or the Mirror have never profitted from the existence of the Queen. It’s very easy to understand why the british tabloïd press has every interest in keeping a monarchy prone to all sorts of groovy stories. Manufacturing Consent: does that ring a bell?
John Morales says
Well, you’re the expert and I believe you — but my mind boggles at accepting that the Queen has no say as to whether people must swear allegiance to her. I guess it drives home just how much of a ceremonial figurehead she is.
Arguing about Crown Estates and funding and so forth is fun, but it doesn’t deal with the essential problem.
By virtue of William’s conquest of England, the ruling monarch OWNS the entire country. Every bit of land. The central principle of real property law is that all other persons ‘hold … (latin: tenere, hence ‘tenant’) land ‘… of the Queen’.
The practicalities of changing the constitution of this country so that it no longer has a monarch are brain-freezingly complex. That’s why we don’t do anything about. The number of statutes alone that would need changing would occupy Parliament for an unacceptably high proportion of several sessions and cost £millions in independent reviews, committee time, and so forth.
The income from the Crown Estates, therefore, would not necessarily continue to go into public coffers. Since that land is not only owned by the Queen as in ‘my ancestor William 1 owned the whole country’ manner, but also in the ‘no-one else has any interest in that land’ manner. Meaning she’ll want to keep it.
Windsor, Sandringham, Balmoral, St James, etceterah…
frog, Inc. says
@KG: Not “IN CASE OF EVIL”, but “IN CASE OF THREAT TO ELITE PRIVILEGE”. If the UK ever elected a seriously socialist government, the Monarchy would certainly be used to obstruct and if necessary overthrow it.
Wasn’t there an event like that back in 1909, where a semi-socialist budget was enacted by parliament, the House of Lords and the King blocked it, and it ultimately was the start of turning the aristocracies real but rarely used powers into purely symbolic powers? By the 50s, the HOL was only able to delay most bills, and by the 60s Parliament wasn’t even bothering to receive the royal assent.
I’d say that “nominal powers” really are oxymorons. They are ways of changing the real power structure but avoid some of the debate of formal changes, a feature that the US system shares with the British system.
The danger, of course, is that it requires a shared hallucination to continue this process — in the US, we follow the “Constitution” even though it is only formally the same, with the same grammar, but all the terms have been redefined.
Ah, the beauty of lawyers.
Yes, in theory property law is still based upon the triangular feudal concept of the Crown at the apex with absolute title free of encumbrances to all the land in the UK with lesser titles as you move down to fee simple estates, tenancies, life interests and so on.
Outside of land law text books and dusty law libraries however it is of limited practical importance. People are free to dispose of their interests in land as they wish due to various reforms that removed restrictions on the alienation of real property starting with Quia Emptores of 1290 (if you are really bored and want to look it up).
The only example I can think of off the top of my head where the principle becomes relevant is if a landowner dies not having devised the land to another in a will and has no traceable heirs under the intestacy laws. In such a case the land would revert to the Crown as absolute owner under the doctrine of bona vacantia to avoid the problem of ownerless land not being put to good use. However, the Crown in this case is merely another name for the Treasury and has nothing to do with the Monarchy.
As for your comments on the difficulties of abolishing the Monarchy by legislation, I don’t see why it would be ‘brain-freezingly complex’. The ‘Crown’ is just an embodiment of the relevant governmental or judicial body, not the Monarchy; the use of the term would not have to cease just because the Monarchy no longer existed. If any confusion were to arise as a result upon a review of the statutes, it could be resolved by an Interpretation Act.
#190. That’d be the Parliament Act 1911 you’re thinking of. That made it clear that the House of Commons was in charge, and the Lords could only delay a bill for so long.
Seldom invoked, although the threat of it makes it unnecessary in most cases.
I think every century, in a country, there should be a review of laws to figure out whether they’re still applicable to the society.
by the 60s Parliament wasn’t even bothering to receive the royal assent. – frog, inc.
I don’t know where you got that, but it’s false. Every UK Act of Parliament requires the royal assent.
But this is really nothing to do with monarchy.
Utter garbage, Walton. Of course it’s to do with the monarchy, since it’s the monarch that MPs are obliged to swear allegiance to. What legislators in other countries are required to do may be just as undemocratic, but is not relevant. It would in any case be easy for Liz Windsor to make it clear that she does not want this to continue. She hasn’t.
A “seriously socialist” government was elected in 1945 – Walton
Crap. I mean one that is actually serious about taking the “commanding heights” of the economy – not just the bits that are failing – into public ownership, and abolishing hereditary privilege of all kinds including the monarchy and serious hereditary wealth. Oh, and ceasing to suck up to the American government and fight its wars.
As I recall (and I am not an expert on this) the Parliament Act went through because the commons and the king agreed to spike the Lords: the king made it clear that if the House of Lords didn’t pass it, he would appoint enough peers who would vote in favor that the bill would pass. So, they had the choice of passing the law, or passing the law and having their class prestige diminished. (If I ever knew why the king sided with the P.M. on this, I’ve forgotten.)
Stephen Wells says
As a British citizen, I don’t give a damn about any supposed allegiance to the monarchy or to the supposedly dire consequences of public officials swearing allegiance to her; the whole thing is amateur dramatics anyway. I like a bit of amateur dramatics in the polity. Let it go on until the actual royals won’t do it any more and it dies a natural death.
Additional British constitutional trivia for your bafflement: MPs are not allowed to resign their seat, so an MP wishing to leave the Commons (except at the dissolution of Parliament) must be appointed to be either the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Steward and Deputy Steward of the Manor of Northstead. The posts have neither duties nor rewards and are sometimes held for a matter of minutes. You see, these are technically offices of profit under the Crown, hence holding them while an MP is a conflict of interest, and the MP loses their seat. The law preventing MPs from resigning at will dates back to 1624 when people didn’t want to serve because of the conflicts with the monarchy that eventually brewed into the Civil War. Now, most countries would (after the Civil War, executing the King for treason, and being a republic for a decade) have reconsidered the law on resignations, but this is Britain, dammit, and we do things differently here :)
frog, Inc. says
Wells: Now, most countries would (after the Civil War, executing the King for treason, and being a republic for a decade) have reconsidered the law on resignations, but this is Britain, dammit, and we do things differently here
Nah, it’s very similar to the American insanity. Just like the Latin countries have a tendency to believe in the magic of words, the Anglophone countries tend to self-delusion — it avoids confrontation!
“So the Whitlam Government was dissolved how exactly? I always thought it was the Governor General wielding the Royal Perogative that did it.”
No, not really. The whitlam government lost its mandate and wound up with a opposing majority in the senate. The senate blocked supply twice, which triggers a double dissolution.
If you think the GG was responsible, then ask yourself how come the Libs wound up winning? 1975 was an example of a working democracy doing the right thing.
Whether the australian people were wise to throw out Whitlam is a different question.
The present lot are usurpers, anyway. As Tony Robinson (when’s he getting knighted, anyway?) showed in the programme Britain’s Real Monarch, Edward IV couldn’t have been fathered by Richard, Duke of York; he was off fighting in France when Edward would have been conceived. Tony’s crew tracked down the descendants of the rightful heir, George, Duke of Clarence. Turns out the real King of England is an agricultural researcher in Australia.
Actually Origuy, I think you’ll find that Arthur is our once and future king.
Non Edible Nacho says
The problem with US-style presidential systems is not just that they assign too much power to the President (though this certainly can be a problem, e.g. in some Latin American republics which use presidential systems), but also that they assign too much responsibility to the President.
As a side point, this is utterly wrong.
In parliamentary systems, it is much, much easier for the prime minister to pass a law he wants. In presidential systems, it is much more likely that he will be defeated in congress. It sounds paradoxical, but all political science agrees on this. Look how difficult it is for Obama to pass anything significant through congress, while in the UK the party whips make the party vote as the prime minister wants.
And I’m from Latin America, and it’s as complicated as in the US here. In the US, it’s been common to have the executive branch dominated by one party and the legislative one by another. This happens here too. (in Argentina right now, for example) In Europe, it doesn’t.
The word “presidential” is just confusing, the president doesn’t actually have more power than, say, the UK prime minister – it has less.