The monarchy has been in the news recently. Queen Elizabeth II has celebrated her 95th birthday, shortly after the death of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. At such a time you might expect support for the royal family to be at an all time high.
The issue of whether it is time to get rid of the monarchy has been debated since the 16th Century. In fact, in the 1600s England did get rid of its king and replace him with a “Lord Protector”. Charles I was beheaded and Oliver Cromwell became our head of state. This brief dalliance with being a republic was soon abandoned though, and Charles’ son was restored as head of state after just eleven years had passed.
With the monarchy in the news we thought it was a good time to find out how children feel about having an unelected king or queen as the head of state. Are they happy with things as they are, or would they prefer a president, or even an alternative? To find the answer we asked the following question: “Would you rather have a monarch or a president as head of state?” We gave three possible answers: a monarch, a president or (to cover all opinions) neither.
The results of our survey are shocking. A mere 23% of our respondents are happy to maintain the status quo. With such a small number in favour of the monarchy, then perhaps the royals' days are numbered. When today’s children have become adults then perhaps we will see major changes in the UK’s constitution.
The alternative of having a president (as a vast majority of countries around the world do) received just under half the votes. A total of 48% of children voted for this option. Given the small number who want to retain the monarchy, this is no surprise. Children, as we have found in other surveys, are a great deal more progressive than their elders.
The third option covers a lot of possible choices. We will look at some of those later. It also is the option most likely to have been chosen by those who have no interest in politics. Sadly, a large proportion of society. After all, about a third of us don’t even bother to vote. The sad news for royalists is that 29% of our respondents chose this option – that’s more than the ones who wish to retain the monarchy.
Given that we are debating the issue, let’s have a look at the arguments both for and against having a monarch as head of state. Here are four argument for each side…
Less bureaucracy. We often hear people complaining about the bureaucracy and red tape in many forms of government. Laws that require multiple checks before they are passed. In a monarchy, laws can be ratified much more quickly, requiring only the approval of the House of Commons and the monarch themselves.
Less expensive. Many people believe that the royal family are a drain on our national purse. It is true that they are incredibly wealthy and are supported by the lands they own along with some taxpayers’ money. But the alternative, of having elections every few years to choose a president is, believe it or not, actually more expensive.
Stronger defence. Whether actually due to the monarchy, or a coincidence, historical examples and modern ones show that countries which have a monarchy tend also to have a more powerful army (in relation to its population) and a better record when it comes to war. This could be due to the fact that people in a monarchy are fighting for their country, rather than a political cause they may or may not believe in.
Stable government. When one president leaves office to be replaced by another, the disruption can be complicated. When Donald Trump took over in the USA there were mass protests and riots. When a monarch gives way to another there is no disruption at all. The successor is not a representative of a political movement but of the nation as a whole.
Class discrimination. The very basis of a monarchy is the idea that some people are better than others. We are expected to bow before our king or queen and abase ourselves. This goes against the idea that all men are equal and divides society into the noble and the common.
Change is slower. Imagine that a government wished to replace the monarch with a president. To get this law passed would require the approval of the monarch themselves. Change is very hard to achieve when it depends on one person to happen.
Ineptitude. Monarchs are not chosen, they are born. This leaves the fate of a country in the hands of chance. There have ben many kings in the past who were not suited to the job. And that has brought war and chaos to many lands.
Undemocratic. We associate tyrannical governments with communism or fascism rather than monarchy. But the fact is that monarchies are the most at risk of becoming a despotic regime. As ultimate power rests within the hands of one person, if they so wished a king or queen could ignore their parliament. If this happened the result would be a tyrant as a ruler or, more likely, a civil war.
Now we have heard some arguments for and against having a monarchy, we come to the alternatives. A presidency is by far the most common, but 29% of our respondents wanted something else instead. If we are to have neither a monarch nor a president, what other options are there?
Firstly, there are heads of state who are not technically monarchs, though are the same in all but name. For example, Japan has an emperor, Kuwait has an Emir, and Luxembourg a grand duke. The amount of power these have varies. Some are heads of democratic states, just as our monarch is. Others have much more power.
Lybia is unique in that it has more than one head of state. Rather than one person a presidential council of three members has control of the armed forces and acts as the country’s head of state.
There is one more type of head of state. This one has various names: supreme leader and chairman being examples. These are men with complete control of government. Similar to a European monarch from the early middle ages, though chosen by their party usually, rather than born into the role. I don’t think any of us would wish to replace our monarchy with such an alternative – even if we are not great fans of the institution.
Here are the results from the 1,036 children who answered our question "Would you rather have a monarch or a president as head of state?" The survey was conducted in the week ending 25th April 2021.
|Would you rather have a monarch or a president as head of state?||Percentage of Respondents|