What is the Role of the Monarchy in UK ?

What is the Role of the Monarchy in UK ? Monarchy is the oldest form of government in the United Kingdom. In a monarchy, a king or queen is Head of State. The British Monarchy is known as a constitutional monarchy. This means that, while The Sovereign is Head of State, the ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament. Although The Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role, he or she continues to play an important part in the life of the nation.

The King or Queen as Adviser :-

Far more important is the Monarch’s role as a critic, adviser and friend of the Ministers. In the oft-quoted phrase of Bagehot, the Sovereign has three rights-the tight to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. And a King of great sense and sagacity, he further added, would want no others.

He would find that his having no others would enable him to use these with singular effect. Or, as stated by Winston Churchill, under the British constitutional system the Sovereign has aright to be made acquainted with everything for which his Ministers are responsible, and has an unlimited right of giving counsel to his government.

Since the time of George I, the Sovereign has not attended a Cabinet meeting, but the King is better informed than the average Cabinet Minister on all matters which are brought before the Cabinet. He sees all Cabinet papers, whether they are circulated by the Cabinet office or by the Departments.

He receives the Cabinet agenda in advance and can discuss memorandum with the Ministers responsible for them. If he requires information from a Department he can ask for it. He also receives a copy of the Cabinet minutes, reports of Cabinet Committees, including the Defense Committee and the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the daily  print of dispatches circulated by the Foreign Office.

He follows debates in Parliament by means of the Official Report. If other information would be helpful, he can ask his Private Secretary to obtain it. Moreover, he has a staff to keep him informed of the development of political events, In short, the Prime Minister must keep the King abreast of what happens within and without the country, always tell him of Cabinet decision and he must be ready to explain the seasons for any policy in some respects, says Jennings, notably on foreign affairs and on matters dealing with the Commonwealth, he may be better informed than the Prime Minister.

The King would, thus, acquire some knowledge and experience which no other statesman in control of governmental machine can claim, Bagehot rightly showed that the King has two advantages over the Prime Minister. One, while Prime Ministers and Ministers change, the King, goes on until he dies.

Cabinet business, therefore, is continuous for him and a change of government is merely a change of personnel. All this makes the King a mentor whom a wise Minister ts not only obliged, but positively desires, to consult. In a word, the King knows the mistakes made by a Premier’s predecessors, and probably why they made them. Writing about the advantages of Monarchy, just after the death of George VI,

Clemient Attlee said,

“Yet another advantage is that the Monarchy continuously in touch with public affairs, acquires great experience, whereas the Prime Minister might have been out of office for some years.”

He (Prime Minister) has no doubt kept himself as fully informed as possible and, on coming into office, can avail himself of the experience of the civil service, but this is not the same thing as having access, year after year, to all the secret papers. King George VI was a very hard worker and read with great care all the state papers that came before him. A Prime Minister discussing affairs of state with him was talking to one who had a wider and more continuous knowledge than any one else.

Since the Prime Minister must discuss his policies with the Monarch, speak of new developments, and listen to what he has to say; and what the Monarch says is the result of his perennial knowledge and experience, he is in an excellent position to influence the man who has the power to decide on policy.

To express a doubt, as Jennings § cays, is often more helpful than to formulate a criticism; to throw in a casual remark is often more helpful than to write a memorandum. The easy personal relationship that George VI maintained with his Ministers probably had more influence than the letters: which Queen Victoria wrote in profusion.

John Wheeler-Bennet, in his biography of George VI points out that the King believed, as did his father, that the Crown must of necessity represent all that was most straightforward in the national character, that the Sovereign must set an example to his people of devotion to duty and service to the State, and that, in relation to his Ministers, he must closely adhere to and never abandon the three inalienable rights of the King in a constitutional monarchy; the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.

The views of the King are particularly valuable, because they are not clouded by political controversy. He has no party objective at a nor is he concerned with infra-party intrigues. He is in the words of Lord Attlee, the general representative of all the people and stands aloof from the party political battle.

The former Conservative Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home was of the opinion that the Queen has a constitutional role of great importance, because after all everything is done in the name of the Queen and Parliament so they are one. I think her power lies in her influence, and the authority which she naturally carries after 25 years of the most intimate experience of national and international affairs think she ts influential.

Nor that she would take a political part, not at all but obviously the Prime Minister discusses with her political issues of the first importance both to our country and oversees. And on al! of those the Queen will have a point of view which is her own, born of very considerable experience. Her influence is important and accepted. I think, because people realize, in this country, that she puts public service above everything, and far above, of course politics in which she does not herself intervene.

On the same point Sir Harold Wilson, another former Prime Minister, said, Her role is important, not in terms of power but in terms of, for example, the weekly audience the Prime Minister has with her. These are very useful for the Prime Minister, because, for instance, he is talking tn absolute confidence to some one with lot of experience and a lot of understanding, sometimes a lot of sympathy.

He has to collect in his mind all the things he wants to talk about which have happened over the past week, and she will put a lot of questions, always friendly and helpful. It is a very pleasant oasis in a Prime Minister’s life and constructive one, Then, there is the traditional reverence for the Monarch’s office which must add weight to his opinions.

Asquith, wrote in his Memorandum on the Rights and Obligations of the King, that He is entitled and bound to give his ministers all relevant information which comes to him; to point out objections which seem to him valid against the course which they advise; to suggest (if he thinks fit) an alternative policy. Such intimations are always received with the utmost respect and considered with more respect and deference than if, they proceeded from any other quarter.

Jennings gives a matter of fact summing up. He says, Thus, the King may be said to be almost a member of the Cabinet, and the only non-party member. He is, too, the best informed member and the only one who cannot be forced to keep silent. His status gives him power to press his view upon the Minister making a proposal and (what is sometimes even more important) to press them on the minister who is not making proposals.

He can do more, he can press those views on the Prime-Minister the weight of whose authority may in the end produce the Cabinet decision. He can, if he likes to press his point, insist that his views be laid before the Cabinet and considered by them. In other words, he can be as helpful or as obstreperous as he pleases in the end, of course, he is bound by a Cabinet decision, but he may play a considerable part in the process by which it is reached.

The King’s function is advisory only. He can press his opinions as forcefully as he likes. He may resist the advice given to him by his Ministers, but he must not persist and in the last resort give way if Ministers refuse to accept his opinion.

He cannot carry his point so far as to threaten the stability of his Government. There are two reasons for it. In the first place, the King cannot act unconstitutionally so long as he acts on the advice of a Minister supported by a majority in the House of Commons. Ministerial responsibility i is the safeguard of the Monarchy.

The saying that the King can do no wrong precisely illustrates that the Monarch cannot make decisions of a political or controversial character. The price of his popularity and position is in the abstention from politics. In the second place, if the King forces his opinion which the Ministers are not willing to accept the Cabinet must resign.

The King’s action, then, immediately enters into political controversy. But the real power of the King depends upon his willingness to keep respectable and to keep off politics. The Throne cannot stand for long amid the gusts of political conflict and the storm of political opinion.

The road of least criticism is the road for the King. Lord Esher, who was advising George V on the dispute over the Home Rule Bill controversy, most correctly summed up the position of the King. He wrote in a memorandum :

Every constitutional monarch possesses a dual personality. He may hold and express opinions upon the conduct of his ministers and their measures. He may endeavor to influence their actions. He may delay decisions i in order to give more time for reflection. He may refuse assent to their advice-up to the point where he is obliged to choose between accepting it and losing their services.

The King as Mediator:-

The King very often acts as a mediator and uses his prestige to settle political conflict or diminish the virulence of Opposition. As he wields no political power and makes no political enemies his advice is deemed valuable and is generally accepted.

In 1872, Queen Victoria wrote to Lord Russel, without Gladstone’s knowledge, and urged upon him not to move for papers on the Alabama question so that the Government should not be embarrassed. In 1881, the Queen asked General Ponsonby to see Sir Stafford North cote and Lord Beaconsfield to secure agreement about the Government’s proposals to meet Irish obstruction.

The Queen’s mediation was again very useful in resolving differences between the two Houses of Parliament. In 1913 and 1914 George V made efforts to secure agreement on the Home Rule Bill. The leaders of the Parties did not reach agreement, but he did bring them together.

In his address at the Buckingham Palace Conference on July 21, 1914, the King said , My intervention at this moment may be regarded as a new departure, but the exceptional circumstances under which you are brought together justify my action. There is also some evidence available that in 1916, Lord Stamfordham, as the King’s Private Secretary, endeavored to settle the dispute between Asquith and Lloyd George which led to the resignation of Asquith.

George V had much conspicuous part to play in 1921 over the Irish Home. Rule tangle A King is, as Attlee says, a kind of referee, although the occasions when he has to  blow the whistle are now-a-days very few. But even then, they do happen. The Financial Times reported that Queen Elizabeth I, as Head of the Commonwealth, intervened to end the Commonwealth crisis over the question of imposing sanctions against South Africa, to ward off a clash between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other heads of the Commonwealth.

The occasion was necessitated by Mrs. Thatcher’s reiteration of outright opposition to sanctions in the House of Commons. The Queen’s anxiety was to prevent a break-up of the Commonwealth and her mediation had a little cooling effect on the rigid attitude adopted by the Prime Minister.

A Symbol of Unity:-

The King of Britain is at once he King of Canada and other Dominions. In his welcome speech on the visit of George. VI to Canada in 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King said, Here you will be in the heart of the family that is your own. We would have your Majesties feel that in coming from the old land to the new, you left one home for another.

The constitutional, developments of 1911 to 1931, ending with the Statute of Westminster, have given the Dominions complete independence both. in matters of legislation and in matters of policy. But the King is still, in the language of the Preamble to Statute of Westminster, a symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Subordination to the Government at Westminster is inconsistent with Dominion Status, but common allegiance to the King ts not. The King, therefore, provides an in dispense sable symbol of unity of the far-flung Commonwealth countries. It is the last link of the Empire that is left, as Baldwin reminded Edward VIII.

Break this link which is furnished by Royalty and nothing remains in common among the autonomous partners in the Commonwealth, With a view to stabilize the bonds of unity the Statute of Westminster provides that any change made in the order of succession to the throne must have the consent of the members of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth is the Queen of all territories that admit allegiance to her. She is one Queen and not a score of Queens. The Queen is a person and not an institution, and so she is one Queen.

The essential factor in this scheme of governance was, and still is, the Monarchy. The person of the King moves as a single animating force through the whole of that Commonwealth. Then, the Sovereign is the symbol! of the free association of the members of the Commonwealth including the Republic of India and some fifty other Sovereign and independent States.

The position of the Sovereign as head of the Commonwealth countries, who do not owe allegiance to the King, was best explained by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In a broadcast speech on May 10, 1949, Nehru said, It must be remembered that the Commonwealth is not super-state in any sense of the term. We have agreed to consider the King as a symbolic head of the free association. But the King has no function attached to that status in the Commonwealth. So far as the Constitution of India is concerned the King has no place and we shall owe no allegiance to him. This is the correct position, yet the King provides the link which brings about the free association of sovereign nations which meet and think over problems of common interests and derive means of mutual amity.

The King is, in the words of Winston Churchill a mysterious link, indeed, J may say, the magic link, which united our loosely hound but strongly inter-woven Commonwealth of nations, states and races. The King may be a symbol for India and other countries like her, but he is also in that capacity the Head-the one and single Head-the Head of the body which is all the more united because it now has, and henceforth acknowledges, a Head.

The King as Chief of the Nation:-

British Kingship, wrote Earl of Balfour, like most other parts of our Constitution, has a very modern side to it. Our King, in virtue of his descent and of his office, is the living representative of our national history. So far from concealing the popular character of our institutions he brings it into prominence.

He is not the leader of a party nor the representative Of a class; he is the chief of the nation. He is everybody’s King. He is really everybody’s King and that is precisely the feeling of all British people. The accession of the King, his coronation, his jubilee, are the occasions for unparalleled demonstration of popular and patriotic devotion.

Enthusiastic and loyal subjects throng the route to watch and cheer the King when he drives in State to open a new session of Parliament. In fact, every item of royal activity is newsworthy and it is flashed through by every device that modem publicity can utilize. Some of the tributes, said Laski, devoted to the person of the Monarch since the war would certainly have been more suited to the description of a demigod than to the actual occupants of the throne in the last sixty years.

Monarchy, therefore, provides a useful focus for patriotism particularly where it has a long and glorious history. We can damn the Government , says Jennings, and cheer the King, A person can be loyal to his King and yet oppose the Government. The Conservatives served the King in 1914, although they opposed some aspects of the Liberal Government’s policy.

The patriotic fervor of the people is more easily stimulated when the King declares war and asks for recruits for the royal forces. The national appeal Your King and country need you is sufficient to remind them that they are one nation, The King is the most concrete symbol of this oneness and unity.

According to Llyod George,the King in 1917 enormously assisted in allaying industrial unrest by his visits to munition works and other places when suspicion of war motives was being aroused, The visit of George VI to various theaters of War and the bombed areas in England imbued the soldiers and the civilian population alike with a new spirit of patriotism. They made a heroic bid to win the war and the loyal subjects of the King ultimately won it.

God save the Queen is their National Anthem, and they do and die for the Sovereign who for them personifies the State, Or to put it in the words of Amery, Human nature not only craves for symbols but prefers them to be personal and human. The Monarch is, thus, a more personalized and attractive symbol of national unity than a vague concept of the state, the flag, or even a President, and the hereditary system at least solves the problem of succession.

Queen Elizabeth’s plea for unity in an address to Parliament, on May 4, 1977 at the start of Jubilee celebrations, stirred up unprecedented political controversy as it was a departure from the tradition that the Monarch did not intervene in political affairs. But it did indicate her personal anxiety about the danger of break up of the United Kingdom through separatist movements in Scot land and Wales. It was reported that the speech was written in Buckingham Palace and that the Queen wanted to speak her mind about separation. Prime Minister James Callaghan had seen a copy of the speech earlier but had not offered advice and had not been asked about this passage.

King as a Social Figure:-

The King is not merely a part of the political machine, he is also an important part of the social structure and wields a great social influence. He is the leader of society by general precedence dating back from the fourteenth century and sustained until the present day by Royal Ordinances, ancient usage, established custom and the public will. The Royal family sets morality, fashion and aptitude even in art and literature.

The Royal patronage is an enormous asset to any cause and ensures for it popular support. Such a national appeal no other person, however eminent, could give. His presence at ceremonies such as the laying of the foundation stones, the launching of Ships, and the opening of new works, enables people of opposing views to associate without suppressing their mutual opposition.

Government is a collective concern and it requires the Willing co-operation of all sections of people. The presence of the King adds personal touch to the individuals feeling a personal responsibility for the collective action. No government is averse se the personal popularity and social influence of the Sovereign to strengthen its own popular appeal. The Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee celebrations of 1887 and 1897 strengthened popular support for the imperialistic ideas of the Conservative Governments then in office.

It is  certain, too, that: the Silver Jubilee of 1935 strengthened the National Government, whose popular support had until then been rapidly diminishing. The Silver Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I in 1977 were intended to regenerate emotions and loyalties of the nation to stop the trend gains Royalty which several forces combined to demonstrate recently.

Thus, these dignified functions, a Bagehot called them, are far more important that the King’s Government functions. If democracy means the government by the people as well as for the people, the presence of the King helps to make it so. When the people cheer the Queen and sing her praises, wrote Herbert Morrisor, they are also cheering our free democracy. The proper part of the Monarch, as Laski emphasized has been that of a dignified emollient rather than of an active umpire between conflicting interests.

The King and Parliamentary System:-

The Cabinet system of government has nowhere proved a workable plan without the presence of some titular Head of the State, whether he be a King, as in Britain, or a President, as in India. But from the political point of view a person who is free of party ties and stands above party considerations is the most desirable adjunct of the Parliamentary system of government. An elected Head of the State is a promoted politician and howsoever sincerely he may endeavor to forget his past party associations, he cannot do it.

Even the can, others cannot. But the Sovereign, unlike an elected President, has no party associations or partisan leanings. His august position, as the occupant of the throne, puts him in an altogether different atmosphere He is everybody’s King and he does not form party loyalties. As a result, not only is he in a position to act more impartially, but also, what i of more importance, he is believed by others to be impartial.

If Parliamentary government in Britain is to be retained in the classic form in Which it has been developed, then, the best representation of such a dignified and detached figure is the King. Thus far, beyond doubt, the system of limited Monarchy has been an unquestionable success in Great Britain.

It has, so far, trodden its way with remarkable skill amid the changing habits of the time. Its success has been the outcome of the fact that it has exchanged power for influence; the blame for errors in policy has been laid at the door of ministers who have paid penalty by loss of the office. Monarchy has been no bar to the progressive democratization of the Government otherwise it would have been thrown overboard long ere this.

The security and popularity of the British Monarchy today, wrote Herbert Morrison, are largely the result of the fact that it does not govern and that government is the task of ministers responsible to a House of Commons elected by the people. The Monarchy as it exists now facilitates the process of parliamentary democracy and functions as an upholder of freedom and representative government.

The popularity of the British King and the role which he plays in the British politics is now an undisputed fact. In Britain, there had been moves to end or mend the House of Lords; even to reform the House of Commons and the Cabinet, but Monarchy has withstood the test of time. People realize and appreciate its unifying, and stabilizing influence.

If it were to be abolished the substitute would be either like the type of Indian Presidency or the American Presidency. The former is not a good substitute, because the President of India neither rules nor reigns; and if he rules it is the negation of Parliamentary government.

The limited period of office of a President has disadvantages as compared with the continuing reign of a hereditary Monarch. The type of American Presidency would entail revolutionary changes in the existing-political set-up of the country. An Englishman will never agree to it.

The institution of Monarchy is something with which all Britons have grown up; it is a part of their heritage and their political culture. They have shaped it so that it does not interfere with their social and political development and they see no reason to substitute some other institution for this venerable institution.

Lowell has aptly said,

“If the King is no longer the motive power of the state, it is the spar on which the sail is bent,and as such it is not only a useful but an essential part of themselves.’’

So despite its anachronism in a democracy, the Kingship is impregnably entrenched in the British constitutional system.

Ernest Barker has aptly said, When a nation has : preserved continuity with its past, and continues to feel some piety towards its past, it will naturally fly the flag of monarchy which it has inherited from its past. But the monarchy which it preserves will be a changing and moving monarchy-changing and moving with the times and actively helping the times to change and move, That, for the last 300 years, has been nature of the British monarchy. That is the secret of its survival, and that is the source of its strength.

Even the present strains on Monarchy, with the liquidation of the Empire, the economic cost to the nation on the upkeep of royalty, and Scotland’s determination to win independence, are not likely to liquidate this venerable institution. It will continue to command respect, loyalty and attention for no other reason than that it works. And for a nation with a long history, it gives a sense of continuity, of stability.

So the crowds hoping for a view of the Queen, will continue to stand outside the Buckingham Palace, where the guards will also continue their time honored ritual. And the Monarch perhaps typified by Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles, will survive.

The Ruling Elite :-

The ruling class of the United Kingdom today uses the monarchy tn three ways :

  • Firstly, as an ideological weapon for maintaining the equilibrium of the political system;
  • Secondly, as a direct or indirect means of intervention in political events at critical junctures; and
  • Thirdly, because of its constitutional rights, the monarchy is potentially a reserve weapon to be used in crisis.

That is why Bagehot had felt that without the queen in England, the present English government would fail and pass away.  Baldwin regarded it as The guarantee in this country against many evils that have affected and afflicted other countries. The great value of the monarchy to the ruling class has been, as we have seen, its facade of neutrality, its pretense of representing the nation as a whole.

Once the monarch showed partisanship openly on a controversial question, the pretenses of impartiality would be undermined and the great merit of a controversial questions , the pretenses of impartiality would be undermined and the great merit of a monarchy would vanish from the point of view of the ruling elites. The crown would then become the football of contending factions.

Recently, the institution of monarchy has been subjected to adverse criticism due to scandalous conduct of some members of the royal household,including Prince Charles. Some critics  have argued that monarchy has outlined its utility and should be abolished after the reign of the. present reigning Queen. However, this still remains a minority opinion.