The death of Elizabeth II ends an era. During his 70-year reign, he has seen tremendous social change.
In many ways, today’s England bears little resemblance to that post-war country. It went from a conservative and traditional society to a diverse country.
However, monarchy, a system based on inheritance of power and privilege, continues to maintain steady popularity: according to a June Youkov poll, 62% of Britons support it as a political system.
Charles III himself, who had never been one of the favorite members of the British royal family, felt the effect of the crown: his popularity doubled after he became king.
This is clearly reflected in the kilometre-long line of citizens who formed to bid their last farewell to the Queen.
In a country without a national holiday, royal duties such as jubilees or the monarch’s birthday have taken the place of boosting British identity and its uniqueness, which sets it apart from the rest of the world, experts point out.
The relationship between the monarchy and the British reached its peak with the death of Elizabeth II, a grieving country celebrating the life of its queen and its own history at the same time.
Thousands of citizens celebrate Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in London – Photo: BBC
“Britain values a head of state separate and distinct from day-to-day politics,” says constitutionalist Craig Prescott, a professor at Bangor University in Wales.
The House of Commons can become a brutal place, and with conflict and political tension creating unrest among citizens, the monarchy, the expert argues, is often presented as a unifying figure representing all of Britain.
“This includes the way Elizabeth II has carried out her duties since 1952 and her commitment. She has been a very popular monarch and even many republicans agree she has done a great job,” says Prescott.
Charles III’s popularity has doubled since becoming king – Photo: PA Media
For sociologist Laura Clancy, the monarchy has maintained steady support over the years for three main reasons. “First, with a focus on monarchs, there is a strong connection to national identity, history and nostalgia.”
Also, “they developed a strong affection for some members of the British royal family, especially the Queen”.
Finally, Clancy argues, “the monarchy knows how to best present itself in the media by projecting a particular ideology to the public, such as notions of family values, charity, service, and duty.”
However, although the weight of republicanism in England has shifted little in recent decades, the monarchy has not been without criticism.
In 1969, 18% of Britons considered themselves republicans. That figure now stands at 22%, according to data from Ipsos Mori. However, among younger generations, this rises to 31%, according to YouGov data.
For Prescott, “the question is whether these young people will continue to be Republicans as they grow up or whether they will change their minds.”
One of the main arguments against monarchy is that “in principle, it is not a democracy,” argues Graham Smith, the leader of the Republic, perhaps the main group in England supporting system change.
“The organization serves no purpose, is corrupt, abuses public money and lobbies for its own interests,” says Smith.
His organization, which is seeking a referendum to let the British people choose their form of government, is planning a campaign against Charles III’s coronation next year.
Queen Elizabeth II is the most famous monarch – Photo: Getty Images
Another persistent criticism of the institution of monarchy is its cost. Calculating actual funds is not easy. The Sovereign Grant, the public budget given each year to manage the royal family’s entertainment expenses, exceeded US$100 million this year.
In return, advocates say, the royal family has become a major tourist attraction, generating significant revenue.
The Republic disagreed. “The monarchy brings no money to the country and any estimate of the money they have to contribute is completely wrong. However, it costs us 345 million pounds ($2.1 billion) a year,” criticizes Smith. Other expenses like security (not included in sovereign subsidy).
For Clancy, who wrote Running the Family Firm: How the Monarchy Manages Its Image and Our Money, “the firm is a system of inequality and slavery”.
The crown’s imperial and colonial past is also under attack, which, according to Prescott, “the new monarch and the Prince of Wales will have to sort out”.
The past few decades, including Prince Andrew’s prosecution for sexual abuse, or Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s removal from the royal family, have “done a lot of damage to the monarchy and created a lot of debate about why it’s a monarchy”, Smith argues.
Despite the criticism, six in ten Britons want the UK to remain a monarchy. A number that has decreased over the last decade, but is still relevant.
What makes the British so fond of a system that is antithetical to modern liberal democracy?
National mourning for Elizabeth II’s death marks the link between the monarchy and the British – Photo: Getty Images
One of the thinkers who sought to explain this British distinctiveness was the Victorian essayist and journalist Walter Baghet, one of the early editors of The Economist.
In The English Constitution, published in 1867, which has become one of the canonical references for understanding the British political system, he distinguishes between the efficient element of the constitution – the government – and its sacred or “dignified” element embodied by the monarchy. .
Monarchy, Bagehat recognized, was not a rational thing. But he wrote that “the mystic reverence, the religious loyalty, which no legislature can create among a people, is essential to every true monarchy.”
As the empire fell, he argued, “people paid homage to what was called the theatrical scene of society. The culmination of this drama was the queen,” at the time, Victoria.
These rites and rituals, such as the opening of parliament, the proclamation, the coronation – theatre, above all, says Bagehot – ‘provide continuity’.
“The people involved change, but the ceremonies stay the same. Elizabeth II had all kinds of governments, Conservative, Labor or Coalition. But for all intents and purposes, the ceremonies are the same, so the changes don’t seem that way. Harsh.” In a way, too many things stay the same, and they can change,” Prescott argues.
The monarch, Andrew Marr explains in The Diamond Queen, represents continuity: “A constitutional monarchy must represent the interests of the people before and after a government is elected. Look to the future beyond the next election.”
‘Extraordinary and extravagant represent an important part of our national identity’ – Photo: Getty Images
In the 21st century, a democratic country naturally accepts that the credentials of its new head of state are based on his birth certificate. But here, “logic is not the most important factor,” argues BBC editor Mark Easton.
Easton explains, “We are happy to embrace the weird and the weird because they represent an important part of our national identity. So, in trying to explain the unlikely success of the monarchy, we should not expect the answer to be based on reason.”
“The British monarchy is admired because it is the British monarchy. We are an ancient and complex society that pays homage to the theatrical spectacle of society.”
– The text was originally published https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-62943516
Crowds bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth II in London
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