Monarchy still relevant to most Britons | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.06.2012
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Monarchy still relevant to most Britons

As the Queen celebrates 60 years on the throne, she remains popular to the vast majority of the British public. But others say that a head of state who inherits the office doesn't belong in a modern democracy.

Support for the monarchy is at its highest level for more than a decade - just 21 percent of Britons would like to see the monarchy abolished, and over half think the country is better off with the royal family. That's according to an ICM poll of just over 2,000 people conducted last month.

Remarkable continuity

The monarchy went through a dip in popularity in the mid-1990s, after a series of high-profile divorces, including that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. When the "people's princess" was killed in a car crash in 1997, the royal family was criticized for its response to the tragedy. But the Queen's personal popularity rebounded after she laid flowers and spoke to mourners outside Buckingham Palace a few days after Diana's death, and has remained high ever since.

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge stand outside of Westminster Abbey after their Royal Wedding

The royal wedding boosted the popularity of the monarchy

Last year's royal wedding and this year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations have endeared the monarchy still more to the British people - not least because an extra public holiday was set aside for each occasion.

It's ironic that the country is still willing to get behind such public displays of pageantry, despite the current gloomy forecasts about the economy and concerns over the state of eurozone. It seems that the British public sees the royals as a symbol of continuity and stability in the midst of a wave of social and economic change.

Oliver Lane, chairman of the British Monarchist League, a group that seeks to defend the integrity of the crown, put the popularity of the Queen down to the fact that she is set apart from day-to-day politics.

"We are very fortunate in this country that the constitutional monarchy is extremely stable, and it brings that stability to public life," Lane told DW. "Because the Queen is a constitutional figurehead, she doesn't have to make the hard and unpopular decisions that politicians do, so it's easier for her to retain that sort of popularity."

The Queen accepts a posy of flowers from a wellwisher during her 'walkabout' in the City of London after the Thanksgiving Service for the Silver Jubilee at St Paul's Cathedral on 07.06.1977

The Queen celebrated her silver jubilee in 1977

Six decades

Elizabeth II is the second-longest serving monarch in British history, after Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years and seven months. Elizabeth's popularity has been remarkably consistent. Her coronation in 1953 also took place in hard times - the extravagant spectacle provided a distraction in a country struggling to emerge from the war. Today, the jubilee parties provide a similar "feel-good factor."

"One of the reasons the monarchy is popular in this country, and is ever successful, is that the monarchy is something that can change with the times," Lane explained. "Because there's no specific written document, no written constitution in the UK that fixes their role, they can change with the requirements and needs of the time."

Princess Diana with her sons Harry and William, and Prince Charles

The death of Princess Diana marked a low point for the royals

Support for a republic?

Republicans find hope in the fact that support for the monarchy is highest among people over 65. The ICM survey showed that 28 percent of 18-24 year-olds said Britain would be better off without the monarchy, seven percentage points higher than the average.

"A symbol like the royal family, which celebrates the idea of unearned privilege, unearned wealth ... really doesn't have any place in a modern society," Andrew Child, a spokesperson for the campaign group "Republic" as well as a republican blogger and journalist, told DW.

Child and others like him want to see an end to hereditary power.

"It's just completely arcane; it has no place in the modern world," he said. "It means you concentrate power in the hands of an elite family, rather than giving power to the people."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth ll with the Duke of Edinburgh in the House of Lords as she arrives for the State Opening of Parliament

Those who argue for a republic reject inherited privilege

Child disputed the idea that people are genuinely enthusiastic about the Diamond Jubilee. He said most Britons are just looking forward to the extra time off.

"People get an extra public holiday, but do they use it to celebrate? No, they don't. Most people are going on holiday. They're having a long weekend. This weekend is going to have nothing to do with celebrating the royals at all," he said.

British democracy

Lane said he understands the republican argument but added that the system of monarchy suits Britain.

"I see where republicans are coming from when they say that to have a head of state inherit their title is anachronistic in the modern age," he said. "I would counterpoint that by saying it is by far the best system there is, and it suits our national character best.

"I don't think anybody could argue that the Queen does what she does for herself," Lane continued. "We're not her servants, she is ours, and she works tirelessly for the country. I think we would probably struggle to find any president who could fulfill that role as a president in the same way that she does."

Author: Joanna Impey
Editor: Sean Sinico

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