How to win the argumentThe monarchy is so entrenched in the British political system that many people simply accept it, unquestioningly. As Thomas Paine put it, over 200 years ago, for many 'a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.' So much so that even some republicans believe - or at least aren't sure how to counter - the oft-quoted defences of monarchy, the ones about tourism, keeping power from politicians or acting as a stabilising or unifying force for our country. So to help you win the argument with monarchists we've provided some answers to the most common questions and counter-points. We've also published How to win the argument, a great resource for anyone with an interest in winning this debate. We've never heard a good argument to keep the Crown or deny you a real democracy. If you think you have, and the answer isn't below, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post a reply.
The monarchy is great for tourism.
Tourism revenue is not only irrelevant to a debate about our constitution, the suggestion that the monarchy promotes tourism is also untrue. There is not a single shred of evidence to back this up. Of the top 20 tourist attractions in the UK only one royal residence makes it: Windsor Castle at number 17 (beaten comfortably by Windsor Legoland, in at number 7). Royal residences account for less than 1% of total tourist revenue. Indeed, the success of the Tower of London (number 6 in the list) suggests that tourism would benefit if Buckingham Palace and Windsor castle were vacated by the Windsor family. The British tourist industry is successful and robust - castles and palaces would remain a part of our heritage regardless of whether or not we have a monarchy (look at Versaille). Other attractions, such as the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, the west end, Bath, Stonehenge, Britain's beautiful countryside and so on, will continue to attract tourists in the same numbers as they do today. The government body responsible for tourism, Visit Britain, hasn't even collated statistics on the monarchy as an attraction, which shows it is not a key factor in the promotion of the UK as a tourist destination. The tourism argument has been dreamt up to distract people from the real issues. There is no evidence that the monarchy is good for tourism, in fact, there are good reasons why the opposite might be true. Imagine the potential for Buckingham Palace if it was fully opened up to tourists all year round, where visitors can explore every room and courtyard and see the grounds and the magnificent art collection. And of course popular ceremonies such as the changing of the guard will continue.
The monarchy is a great British tradition.
Republicanism is as much an integral part of British tradition and history as the monarchy - perhaps more so. Constitutional innovation and reform have been crucial in Britain's development, and much more relevant to modern times than our mock-feudal monarchy. The Magna Carta of 1215, the 1689 Bill of Rights, the Great Reform Act of 1832, and the introduction of universal suffrage in 1920, are all pioneering political advances. Since the earliest days of recorded British history, our nation has aimed to curtail the power of the monarchy and expand the power of those with the greatest stake in the welfare of our country - whether medieval Barons, or, in the democratic age, all British citizens. It is important to remember that history has to be made - and each age will make its own history. It is useful to remember that much of the so-called 'tradition' of the monarchy is a recent invention. The ceremonies surrounding Trooping the Colour, Changing the Guard, the coronation and the State Opening of Parliament have all been invented since the reign of Victoria. They are part of the monarchy's continuing PR campaign - dressing up a shabby constitutional arrangement in fancy uniforms and flamboyant occasions so as to distract the casual observer from the more serious questions about why the monarchy exists.
The people want it. If the monarchy is popular and does no harm, why get rid of it?
The argument is based on the incorrect statement that the monarchy does no harm. It does do harm, it harms our democracy, it harms our society and it gets in the way of genuine reform. This argument also assumes that 'the people want it'. As Republic says elsewhere on this site, it is questionable how many people really support the monarchy. Opinion polls are inconclusive until a full and informative debate has taken place. The monarchy spends millions of pounds on publicity and PR, the government too backs the monarchy and shields it from genuine scutiny. They all work hard to perpetuate the myth that the monarchy is little more than a nice family living in a big house doing their 'duty' for their country. The truth is a little different. So, if we had a full and informative debate we would all get to hear about the way the Crown ensures the central government and bureaucracy has enormous unchecked power. We would hear about the way government ministers can use the Privy Council to bypass parliament. We would hear how undemocratic our constitution is and how unaccountable the monarchy is. We would also hear that the Queen does have a practical, albeit limited, role to play in the constitution, despite being completely unaccountable to the people or parliament. There are lots of reasons why the monarchy does this country harm, most of which are outlined on this website. We believe the polls will begin to look quite different once a full and open debate takes off.
The monarchy acts as a stabilising and unifying influence on our political life
Two of the most stable and prosperous countries in the world are the US and Switzerland - two republics. Monarchists try to scare people into submission by suggesting the British monarchy gives us stability, but they do not say how. The British monarchy does not have the power to stop war, oppression, divisive political policies or even a coup. When responding to this point it is worth asking just how stable and unified Britain is. Nationalism is on the increase in Scotland, Wales and England. Conflicts of national identity in which the symbol of the Crown played a prominent part led to 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. Ultimately stability and unity are the products of a healthy democracy and prosperous society. They have little to do with feudal institutions or heads of state.
This is not a priority for Britain, there are more important things to worry about.
In terms of immediate and urgent issues it is fair to say that some things need to be dealt with more urgently than the monarchy. But that's not to say this is not a fundamentally important issue. This isn't just about palaces and princes, it's not just about spending money on holidays for Charles - this is about the health of British democracy and the legitimacy of the British constitution. How well our constitution works and how democratic it is will help determine how well we deal with all sorts of other issues. The British constitution is unwritten. It is a very poor version of democracy, one which gives you very little control over parliament or government. Our constitution gives our government almost unlimited power and gives you few chances to stop them from using that power. The British constitution and the monarchy are bound together. They are inseperable. The monarchhy is the constitution. Get rid of it and we can write a new set of rules for our politicians, limiting the powers of government and make Britain a better, stronger democracy. There's not much more important than that.
The monarchy unites the Commonwealth, strengthening historic bonds with other countries.
Most countries in the Commonwealth are republics, including some which were never under the rule of the British Empire. The Commonwealth can continue as a treaty organisation, with Britain as a member, and under whatever terms the elected leaders of those states judge to be appropriate. Even with the monarchy in place there is no assumption among Commonwealth heads of government that Charles will succeed his mother as the head of the organisation. A British republic will only help to free the body from its colonial past and give it a modern and more relevant character.
The Windsors work hard for our country.
Let's assume for a moment that the Windsors do work hard, is this an argument for the monarchy? Should we appoint a head of state, MPs or other officials based on who works the most hours in the year? Nurses, teachers, manual workers, police officers and even City bankers - these are people who work hard. To compare the royals' lifestyle with theirs is absurd. The royals are paid astronomic hourly rates for their "work" and yet accept none of the risks of redundancy or formal performance appraisals, and do not have the same chores and responsibilities the rest of us face at home. The simple truth is that they do very little. Mark Bolland, former press officer for Prince Charles, was quoted on Janet Street Porter's BBC programme in 2005 as saying "the Windsors are very good at working three days a week, five months of a year and making it look as though they work hard" .
The Windsor family do so much for charity, this would be lost if we became a republic.
Even the palace itself claims credit for charity work in an attempt to justify the enormous cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer. It is used as a smokescreen to deflect attention from the real issues. It works well because few people are willing to question another person's charity 'work'. It is, however, little more than a cynical PR exercise. Two obvious points can first be raised to rebut this monarchist defence:
- The royals can continue to do charity work in a republic. They do not need official 'royal' statue to raise money for charity.
- Their value to charities is their celebrity status, which they will retain even after the monarchy is gone.
- What charity work do they actually do?
- How do other countries manage without the Windsors?
- What charities are they mainly involved with? (many are their own creations)
- This is a cynical use of charities to bolster their own reputations and stave off criticism about their lifestyles and extravagances
- There is a big difference between simply turning up at engagements, (what the royals do) and being an engaged patron (something many other celebrity patrons do)
The royals are great ambassadors for trade, they promote exports and investment.
The notion that the monarchy is required to provide Britain with 'ambassadors' for trade is pure fantasy. We only need consider the scale of the British economy to see what nonsense this is.
- London is a major world financial centre.
- The City channels billions of pounds of investment into the UK every week - do the big businesses in the City and Canary Wharf need the help of a little old lady in a big house in central London?
- The UK is in the top five economies in the world.
- The UK is a member of the G8 group of leading industrialised nations.
We don't want president Blair or president Thatcher.
So many people argue against a republic by saying they don't want president Blair or president Thatcher it is safe to assume that we wouldn't get either. Democracy is about the people getting what they want. If the people are overwhelmingly against the idea of former Prime Ministers becoming president then you wouldn't get former Prime Ministers as president. Ultimately it's for the people to decide. If you don't want them, don't vote for them and you won't get them. If you do want them, do vote for them and you will get them. If they were elected then that would be the people's choice. That's democracy. So the question really misses the point. We're not campaigning for a particular president, we are campaigning for the right of the people to decide. Simply put, if we don't want them we won't get them, and if we get them, then don't like them, they can be voted out.
People are already apathetic and don't turn up to vote, we don't need yet another election.
The 'we have enough elections already' argument is simplistic. Elections can be held on the same day as other elections, and turnout in this country is not down due to a lack of interest, it is down due to a lack of democracy. Make our democracy truly democratic, make it more responsive to the people and greater participation will follow. The post of President of Great Britain will be a prestigious one. The people are not going to ignore their chance to have a say in who it should be.
The monarchy is irrelevant. It will just fade away.
Some people believe that a passive approach to the monarchy will allow it to just 'fade away'. But institutions of state do not just fade away. How would that happen? Even if popular support for the monarchy evaporated, a campaign is needed to provide an alternative and a political momentum. More importantly, the palace conducts a continuing PR campaign, seeking to reinvent itself and secure public support for the next generation. This campaign must be met by a strong and vocal case for an alternative. There are too many vested interests in the monarchy. Too many people enjoy the power, prestige and privilege the Crown provides them. It cannot fade away and will not fade away. It must be actively abolished.
The Queen does a good job. She's not put a foot wrong.
But what job does she do? Without knowing that how can we say she's done a good job? If anything, she's done 'ok'. Her work has never been scrutinised, most of what she does is little more than shaking the right hands and saying the right words. It is largely scripted and choreographed and entirely out of her hands. It is true that she has not made any controversial statements in public, or done anything particularly contentious - she is perhaps the last professional monarch. But we could have had much better heads of state had they been elected from among the people, by the people. Such heads of state would have been free to be themselves, to be ordinary people doing an extraordinary job - an inspiration to us all.
Britain will be dull without all the pomp and ceremony such as Changing of the Guard.
There is no reason to discontinue either Changing the Guard or Trooping the Colour. These traditions belong to Britain, not to the Windsor family. We are free to decide for ourselves which traditions will stay and which will go. The Beefeaters at the Tower of London are a good example of a tradition which has continued largely because the people and tourists want it to.
People around the world are envious of our monarchy. The Americans love our royals.
The notion of the monarchy is entirely at odds with the principles of the US constitution, which Americans hold dear. While some may enjoy the quaintness of British pageantry there is no desire to replicate it back home.
The monarchy is value for money, it costs less than a president would.
The monarchy is very definitely not 'value-for-money', as you can see from Republic's Royal Finances page. The monarchy does not cost each person 67p a year, as the palace claims. This figure is part of the official spin. It is reached by dividing £40m (a woefully inadequate figure) by 60m people, which includes every man, woman and child in the country (rather than just every taxpayer). Let's repeat the important point here: this is blatant spin. No other public expense is justified by dividing it among the total population. If it were then almost any government expenditure could be spun as 'cheap'. The key figure is £150m, the estimated total cost for the maintenance and lifestyles of one family: 100 times the cost of the Irish presidency, 17 times the cost (per person) of members of parliament and without any return on our 'investment'. To test whether something is 'value-for-money' we need to judge what we get for our money and whether we can get something better for less. The monarchy completely fails this simple test.
It is unpatriotic to be against the monarchy.
Patriotism is a love of your country, your fellow countrymen, and the most important values that your country stands for. This country stands for the values of freedom, democracy, equality and tolerance that, by broad political consensus, are said to be at the heart of a modern Britain. The monarchy stands for none of these. It is the monarchists who are least patriotic - they favour loyalty to a single privileged family over loyalty to our nation. They routinely rubbish our nation by claiming that we are dull and incapable of managing our own affairs - arguing instead we need the Windsor family to bring us tourists and to provide us with a head of state. Republicans have a much more patriotic and positive view of our great country - we have an impressive history, a unique culture and have provided the world with many great names in fields of politics, arts, music, science, law and so on. Wanting a republic is about wanting what's best for Britain. We are more than capable of being responsible for our own destiny and identity - managing our own affairs and choosing our own head of state from among our own people. It is unpatriotic to say we cannot.
We don't need more politicians. The Queen is above the political fray.
If you're really worried about having more politicians, don't be. The head of state is one person, it would be quite simple to reduce the size of parliament at the time of introducing the office of president and we'd end up with fewer politicians. Not that having politicians is necessarily a bad thing - after all they are supposed to be people like you who have been chosen by the voters to serve their country and community. Democracy is about taking responsibility. It's not good enough to simply wish that our head of state gives birth to the next and that it'll all work out ok in the end. You need to take control of the situation, to have a say in who our head of state is, to choose someone from among your community. It could even be you. That's what happens when we elect MPs, it's what should happen when we choose our next head of state. The idea that the Queen is 'above the political fray' is missing the point. The Queen is, for most of the time, irrelevant to the political process. She is only 'above' the process in that she doesn't say anything in public unless it is scripted by the government. She is essentially a puppet for the PM, so there is no value in her being 'above the fray'. She can't use that position in any way that would help the country. On the rare occasions she has any meaningful power (two or three times during her reign) the question must be asked: who gave her that power, and how do we hold her accountable for it? What we need is a head of state who can actually play a role in our constitution, even if it is a limited role as proposed by Republic. Such a person can help protect the new constitution and can serve the people in their own right, not as a puppet of the government.
The royals are trained from birth to represent us at home and abroad.
The notion that the Windsor family assists in any way with our diplomacy is fantasy. This is part of the official spin from Buckingham Palace. In truth senior members of the royal household, including Charles and Philip, have routinely made diplomatic gaffes when representing us overseas while do nothing to help with the difficult and complex process of international diplomacy. Thankfully we have a professional diplomatic corps to represent us and do the serious diplomatic work, and they do not need the help of the Windsors.
The monarchy has no real power. What's the problem with it?
While the monarch herself has little power, except on rare occasions when she can influence who gets to be Prime Minister, the institution of the monarchy is the source of all power in the land. The Crown is what gives parliament and government its power, the monarch hands most of her personal powers directly to the prime minister, or allows ministers to exercise her powers through the Privy Council. So the problem isn't the power of the monarch, it is the role of the monarchy in giving unchecked power to the central government. See our page on the British Constitution for more details.