The year is 1649, and the strike of an axe ends five centuries of monarchy in the Kingdom of England. The execution of Charles I heralded in the establishment of a republic, or Commonwealth, throughout the British Isles and brought with it all the usual mantra of republicanism: regular and freely elected parliaments; equality for all the citizenry; sovereignty deriving from the people, not the despot; etc. etc. etc. What followed was the true eleven years of tyranny in the form of Oliver Cromwell and his cronies. Forcible dispersals of Parliament, genocide in Ireland, religious persecution; all culminating in Cromwell’s installation as a military dictator. Britain’s experiment in republicanism was a complete and utter failure.
However, there is no need to despair fellow Britons. The collapse of the republic did not mark the end of democratic ideals on our islands. On the contrary, this was only the beginning. What followed was the birth of the genius that is the Westminster system of government, with its characteristic fusing of constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy. The democratic ideals of republicanism were achieved and surpassed with a monarch as head of state.
Indeed, democracy has been proven to best flourish when there is an apolitical monarch to act as a constitutional watchdog. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual rankings of democracies, ten of the twenty most democratic countries in the world as of 2021 are constitutional monarchies, including the top two (Norway and New Zealand), with the United Kingdom itself ranking at number eighteen. This is over twice what one would expect given that only 22% of the world’s sovereign states have a monarchical head of state.
But monarchy in this great nation goes well beyond the heavy drivel of our constitutional arrangements. It is the lifeblood of the nation – we are after all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The monarchy as an institution unites us as a people far greater than any republican leader could. Presidents come and go but the Crown is eternal, with its stability providing a focal point for the nation. According to YouGov, the Queen is ‘liked’ by 76% of the public, with only a tiny 7% ‘disliking’ her. This is a level of popularity that Joe Biden could only dream of.
Crucially though, if we were to remove this institution, what would be left to fill the void? We would need a new constitution, a new head of state, a new national anthem, a new design of currency, even a new name! At what point do we stop being Britain at all?! In a time of increasing divisions across all aspects of our society, it is imperative that we cherish those few that continue to rise above these divisions.
And so, in this the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, I urge all my fellow citizens to use the upcoming celebrations to do just that. Focus more on what unites than divides us as we celebrate as one nation, one people, one United Kingdom.