Meghan fallout fuels calls for a republic
Is it time to abolish the monarchy? As the Royal Family is rocked by allegations of racism and emotional neglect, some are asking if it is time to tear it down and start all over again.
Yesterday, in the wake of Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, one question was on everyone’s lips: which royal asked a racist question about the skin colour of Meghan’s unborn baby?
Whoever the culprit is, experts say, the suspicion that the whole Royal Family is tolerant of racism could hang over the monarchy for a long time.
Some warn that people of colour, seeing how Markle has been treated, might feel the monarchy does not represent them. This could be a disaster for a Royal Family that claims to embody an increasingly diverse nation – and that leads the Commonwealth, most of whose countries are majority non-White.
That is why some think this might be the death knell for the British monarchy as we know it.
The Royal Family seems to understand the threat. Yesterday afternoon, in the hope of cooling tensions, the palace issued a statement promising to take allegations of racism seriously, and stressing love for Meghan and Harry. But by then, calls for the abolition of the monarchy were already mounting.
So what other models could Britain adopt?
Slimmed-down monarchy: in the Netherlands, there is a hereditary royal family like the one in the UK, but with fewer working members. Only the monarch and the heir apparent receive a government income and are required to carry out official duties. This means that, unlike in Britain, the personal behaviour of minor royals comes under little scrutiny. Prince Charles wants the British monarchy to follow this model.
Elected monarchy: in some countries, there is a royal family, but no fixed line of succession. In Malaysia, a group of nine local rulers elect one Supreme Head of State from among their number every five years. In Saudi Arabia, the king’s heir is selected by a council of senior princes within the royal family.
Elected president: most countries have gotten rid of monarchies altogether. In some cases, this has meant replacing them with an elected president. However, there is no one model determining what a president’s powers should be. In the USA, the president is the head of government as well as the head of state, meaning that they wield executive powers. In France, there is a semi-presidential system, in which the president shares executive powers with a prime minister who leads the ruling party in parliament.
Ceremonial president: having a head of state who belongs to a particular political party can be divisive. That is why some countries, like Ireland, prefer to have an apolitical head of state with very few or no powers. In Israel, the president has no formal powers except the right to issue pardons to criminals.
Elected by priests: in some countries, like Vatican City, the head of state is chosen by senior priests. In Iran, the head of government is a secular president who is elected by the people, and the head of state is a supreme leader elected by religious experts.
Is it time to abolish the monarchy?
Uneasy lies the head
Yes, say some. They think that the British monarchy has proved that it is unable to represent people of colour, in the UK and in the Commonwealth. Harry and Meghan’s marriage was a chance, they argued, for the monarchy to present a new, more diverse face; by mistreating her, they have proved that they cannot adapt to represent multiethnic Britain. The only choice now is to abolish them.
Not at all, say others. They argue that in spite of the Meghan controversy, polls suggest that the monarchy still enjoys higher popularity ratings than any elected president in the western world. The British monarchy has navigated no end of crises in its thousand-year history: while other monarchies have collapsed around it, it has always adapted to the times, and it will do so again.
- If you could pick anyone from your country to act as your head of state, who would it be?
- Is it important for the head of state to represent everyone in the nation?
- Write a diary entry from the perspective of a prince or princess who has decided, despite their birth, that the monarchy should be abolished.
- Divide the class into four groups and assign each one a form of government: hereditary monarchy, elective monarchy, executive presidency and ceremonial presidency. Each group should write and deliver an argument in favour of their system.
Some People Say...
“Once you touch the trappings of monarchy, like opening an Egyptian tomb, the inside is liable to crumble.”Anthony Sampson (1926 – 2004), British journalist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Most people agree that the British king or queen is technically appointed by the people. This is because Parliament established in 1689 that it has the right to decide who the monarch should be, when it appointed William III and Mary II to replace James II. According to the same principle, when Edward VIII resigned in 1936, he had to get the agreement of the six realms of which he was monarch. Since Parliament could always decide to appoint someone else monarch, the office is officially elected.
- What do we not know?
- There is some debate over how monarchies can be abolished peacefully. In the past it has almost always been revolutions that have abolished monarchies: in fact, when England’s monarchy was abolished once before, in 1649, it was after a long and bloody civil war. Today, an Act of Parliament would be sufficient to abolish the monarchy in the United Kingdom, although it would have to be signed by the reigning monarch in order to come into effect.
- An association of 54 states, mostly former British colonies, that collaborate on a number of issues. It covers 5 continents and a combined population of 2.4 billion people.
- Death knell
- Metaphorically, a blow that indicates the imminent doom of an institution. The term refers to the church bells that used to be rung to announce a recent death.
- Working members
- Every royal family has some working members, who receive a stipend from the state in exchange for carrying out public duties, and some non-working members who have to make their own incomes and have no public duties.
- Head of government
- The person who is in charge of carrying out executive functions in the state. They generally supervise day-to-day administration and enforcement of the law.
- Executive powers
- The powers of the government, as opposed to parliament and the court. They include control of the civil service, the emergency services and the army.
- Vatican City
- The smallest state in the world, it acts as the seat of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Its population of 825 people is administered directly by the Pope.
- Not connected with religious or spiritual matters.
- Some date the British monarchy back to the reign of King Egbert in 827AD. The current royal line came to the throne in 1688, when the kingdoms of England and Scotland were still separate. They were originally Germans, from Hanover.