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British monarchy keeps UK from coming apart

September 18, 2022

Republicanism is enjoying some momentum in the United Kingdom after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. DW's Sertan Sanderson argues why the monarchy is needed more than ever before in a country otherwise falling apart.

A woman holds a photo of Queen Elizabeth with the words: "RIP my Queen"
A well-wisher holds a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as she waits along the funeral procession route in LondonImage: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

Following the queen's death, there have been renewed calls for republicanism and revolution reaching from Perth, Australia to Perth, Scotland.

These kinds of thought experiments are healthy exercises for democracies around the world. I'd like to argue that a constitutional monarchy is indeed the only way forward for the United Kingdom — and perhaps even for other countries.

A protestor in Edinburgh holds up a sign that reads "republic"
A YouGov poll dated May 2021 suggests that less than a quarter of Brits want to abolish the monarchyImage: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/dpa/picture alliance

The ultimate matriarch

It is evident that we have lost the kind of leader you hardly come across these days: A woman who has for decades influenced political events as head of state; a lady who redefined the power of soft diplomacy.

DW editor Sertan Sanderson
Sertan Sanderson reports for DW from London

Queen Elizabeth II traveled to over 100 countries in her lifetime, and with every hand she shook, the queen extended her welcoming smile to all realms of the Commonwealth and beyond in an attempt to start addressing — and redressing — the past.

She paved the way for modernism and monarchy to meet and led the way with dedication, devotion and dignity, always seeking to be a force for nation-building, as the entire postcolonial world underwent seismic changes.

Empirical evidence

With each erstwhile colony declaring independence, Britain fast shrank from empire to barely more than an umpire. Nonetheless, the queen certainly had her good innings, overseeing this avalanche of social transformation at home and abroad for 70 years .

With the empire on which the sun never set entering the twilight years of imperialism, she opened more and more aspects of her own life to the public, as the "exoticism" of the empire had to be replaced with that of her own family to keep the public believing in the monarchy.

Television cameras entered the halls of Buckingham Palace, allowing the public access to a privileged world that had been steeped in mystery for centuries.

She later agreed to pay taxes on her private income, and when her beloved home, Windsor Castle, was reduced to ashes in 1992, she decided to explore new ways to fund the repairs out of her own pocket.

It would be a stretch to say that she became "one of us" — but at least she succeeded in showing that she wasn't holier than thou.

Queen Elizabeth II (left) meeting former German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany in 2015
Queen Elizabeth tirelessly met with world leaders during her reign, always seeking consensus and rapportImage: Michael Sohn/AP Photo/picture alliance

Keeping the peace

The queen reliably stood out for her measured and balanced approach at home, which stands in stark contrast to the absence of reliable political leadership in the UK; the country has witnessed the feeble cabinets of four prime ministers in the past decade alone.

Those 10 years were marked by social division and discord under each one of those leaders — from the Scottish independence referendum to the Brexit question to the COVID-19 response, there appears to be no sense of social consensus or cohesion in Britain anymore.

However, the queen remained a rare constant though it all, serving as the glue that holds the UK together.

Royal pains

At the same time, there's no question that there are issues in and with the royal family, with some of the less graceful members of her clan appearing to stumble from one gaffe to the next. But that is beside the point. Of course, there is dysfunction in the royal family. After all, it is a family.

But those family dynamics, those instances of infighting, the related speculation in the tabloid press (and these days, on social media) remind us of just how human these people — the royals — are.

Yes, they may reside in palaces built on and with the exploitation of much of the rest of the world. We can, and should, argue that. And we can also argue what the point of having a constitutional monarchy is in the first place. But we should also remember that the crown that harbors the stolen riches of the African continent and beyond also represents reconciliation, rapprochement and even restitution. It stands for decades of efforts to right the wrongs of centuries, and to affect change without revolt.

The Queen's death and colonial legacies

In the line of duty

Those who are using the death of the monarch as a platform to call for revolution seem to forget how much transformation has happened in Queen Elizabeth's lifetime, and how she mastered those changes as head-of-state, leader of the Commonwealth, defender of the faith, iconic figurehead and mother of a family clan.

When she ascended the throne in 1952, the queen was declared the servant of God; I would argue that she has singlehandedly managed to change that definition of the monarchy.

Thanks to her steadfast commitment, future sovereigns will have to perform their duties as servants of the people. To me, this pledge to service is an ultimate act of democracy, but to King Charles this might be a burden heavier than the crown that now will rest on his head.

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson