1.1. Look through these questions before reading the text.
What are the powers of the Queen from the evidence of written law?
What are the real powers of the Queen?
Why does the British Prime Minister continue to “advise” and “request” the Queen, when everybody knows that he or she is really telling her what to do? What then, is the monarch’s role?
Why is it believed that the British monarchy is probably more important to the economy of the country than it is to the system of government?
The attitude of the British people towards their royal family has changed over the last quarter of the twentieth century. In what way has it changed, and what demonstrates that there has been a change? Why do you think this has happened?
Would you advise the British to get rid of their monarchy?
Do you think your country would benefit from having a figurehead who could perform the functions of a monarch?
The monarchy and the Commonwealth. The British people look to the Queen not only as their head of State, but also as the symbol of their nation’s unity. The monarchy is the most ancient secular institution in Britain. During the last thousand years its continuity has only once been broken (by the establishment of a republic which lasted from 1649 to 1660) and, despite interruptions in the direct line of succession, the hereditary principle upon which it was founded has always been preserved. The royal title in Britain is: ‘Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith’. The form of the royal title is varied for those other member states of the Commonwealth of which the Queen is head of State, to suit the particular circumstances of each. The Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of State include Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and others. Some member states of the Commonwealth are republics or have their own monarchies.
The seat of the Monarchy is in Great Britain, while in other member nations of the Commonwealth the Queen is represented by the Governor–General, appointed by her on the advice of the ministers of the country concerned and completely independent of the British Government.
The appearance. The position of the monarch in Britain is a perfect illustration of the contradictory nature of the constitution. From the evidence of written law only, the Queen has almost absolute powers, and it all seems very undemocratic. The American constitution talks about ‘government of the people for the people by the people’. There is no law in Britain which says anything like that. If fact, there is no legal concept of ‘the people’ at all.
The house of Windsor
Windsor is the family name of the royal family. The press sometimes refers to its members as ‘the Windsors’. Queen Elizabeth is only the fourth monarch with this name. This is not because a ‘new’ royal family took over the throne of Britain four reigns ago. It is because George V, Elizabeth’s grandfather, changed the family name. It was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but during the First World War it was thought better for the king not to have a German-sounding name.
very autumn, at the state opening of Parliament, Elizabeth II, who became Queen in 1952, makes a speech. In it, she says what ‘my government’ intends to do in the coming year. And indeed, it is her government, not the people’s. As far as the law is concerned, she can choose anybody she likes to run the government for her. There are no restrictions on whom she picks as her Prime Minister. It does not have to be somebody who has been elected. The same is true for her choices of people to fill some hundred or so other ministerial positions. And if she gets fed up with her ministers, she can just dismiss them. Officially speaking, they are all ‘servants of the Crown’ (not servants of anything like ‘the country’ or ‘the
people’). She also appears to have great power over Parliament. It is she who summons a Parliament, and she who dissolves it before a general election. Nothing that Parliament has decided can become law until she has given it the royal assent.
Similarly, it is the Queen, and not any other figure of authority, who embodies the law in the courts. In the USA, when the police take someone to court to accuse them of a crime, the court records show that ‘the people’ have accused that person. In other countries it might be ‘the
state’ that makes the accusation. But in Britain it is ‘the Crown’. This is because of the legal authority of the monarch. And when an accused person is found guilty of a crime, he or she might be sent to one of ‘Her Majesty’s’ prisons.
Other countries have ‘citizens’. But in Britain people are legally described as ‘subjects’ – subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. Moreover, there is a principle of English law that the monarch can do nothing that is legally wrong. In other words, Queen Elizabeth is above the law.
The reality. In practice, of course, reality is very different. In fact, the Queen cannot choose anyone she likes to be Prime Minister. She has to choose someone who has the support of the majority of MPs in the House of Commons (the elected chamber of the two Houses of Parliament). This is because the law says that ‘her’ government can only collect taxes with the agreement of the Commons, so if she did not choose such a person, the government would stop functioning. In practice the person she chooses in the leader of the strongest party in the House of Commons. Similarly, it is really the Prime Minister who decides who the other government ministers are going to be (although officially the Prime Minister simply ‘advises’ the monarch who to choose).
It is the same story with Parliament. Again, the Prime Minister will talk about ‘requesting’ a dissolution of Parliament when he or she wants to hold an election, but it would normally be impossible for the monarch to refuse this ‘request’. Similarly, while, in theory, the Queen could refuse the royal assent to a bill passed by Parliament – and so stop it becoming law – no monarch has actually done so since the year 1708. Indeed, the royal assent is so automatic that the Queen doesn’t even bother to give it in person. Somebody else signs the documents for her.
In reality, the Queen has almost no power at all. When she opens Parliament each year the speech she makes has been written for her. She makes no secret of this fact. She very obviously reads out the script that has been prepared for her, word for word. If she strongly disagrees with one of the policies of the government, she might ask the government ministers to change the wording in the speech a little beforehand, but that is all. She cannot actually stop the government going ahead with any of its policies.
The role of the monarch. What, then, is the monarch’s role? Many opinions are offered by political and legal experts. Three roles are often mentioned. First, the monarch is the personal embodiment of the government of the country. This means that people can be as critical as they like about the real government, and can argue that it should be thrown out, without being accused of being unpatriotic. Because of the clear separation between the symbol of government (the Queen) and the actual government (the ministers, who are also MPs), changing the government does not threaten the stability of the country as a whole. Other countries without a monarch have to use something else as the symbol of the country. In the USA, for example, one of these is its flag, and to damage the flag in any way is actually a criminal offence.
Second, it is argued that the monarch could act as a final check on a government that was becoming dictatorial. If the government ever managed to pass a bill through Parliament which was obviously terribly bad and very unpopular, the monarch could refuse the royal assent and the bill would not become law. Similarly, it is possible that if a Prime Minister who had been defeated at a general election (and so no longer commanded a majority in the House of Commons) were to ask immediately for another dissolution of Parliament (so that another election could take place), the monarch could refuse the request and dismiss the Prime Minister.
Third, the monarch has a very practical role to play. By being a figurehead and representing the country, Queen Elizabeth II can perform the ceremonial duties which heads of state often have to spend their time on. This way, the real government has more time to get on with the actual job of running the country.
The value of monarchy. However, all these advantages are hypothetical. It cannot be proved that only a monarch can provide them. Other modern democracies manage perfectly well without one. The British monarch is probably more important to the economy of the country than it is to the system of government. Apart from this, the monarchy is very popular with the majority of the British people. The monarchy gives British people a symbol of continuity, and a harmless outlet for the expression of national pride. Even in very hard times it has never seemed likely that Britain would turn to a dictator to get it out of its troubles. The grandeur of its monarchy may have been one of the reasons for this.
Occasions such as the state opening of Parliament, the Queen’s official birthday, royal weddings, and ceremonial events such as the changing of the guard make up for the lack of colour and ceremony in most people’s daily lives. (There is no tradition of local parades as there
The economic argument
Every tourist brochure for Britain in every country in the world gives great prominence to the monarchy. It is impossible to estimate exactly how much the British royal family and the events and buildings associated with the monarchy help the tourist industry, or exactly how much money they help to bring into the country. But most people working in tourism think it is an awful lot!
s in the USA, and very few traditional local festivals survive as they do in other European countries.) In addition the glamorous lives of ‘the royals’ provide a source for entertainment that often takes on the characteristics of a television soap opera. When, in 1992, it became known that Prince Charles and his wife Princes Diana were separating, even the more ‘serious’ newspapers discussed a lot more than the possible political implications. The Sunday Times published a ‘five-page royal separation special’. Since the Princes “Wills” and “Harry” grew up, most of the press has been more interested in their love lives than in the implications of their military roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The future of the monarchy. For the last 250 years, the British monarchy as an institution has only rarely been a burning political issue. Only occasionally has there been debate about the existence of the monarchy itself. Few people in Britain could be described as either ‘monarchists’ or ‘anti-monarchists’, in the sense in which these terms are often used in other countries. Most people are either vaguely in favour or they just don’t care one way or the other. There is, however, a great deal of debate about what kind of monarchy Britain should have. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, there has been a general cooling of enthusiasm. The Queen herself remains popular. But the various marital problems in her family have lowered the prestige of royalty in many people’s eyes. The problem is that, since Queen Victoria’s reign, the public have been encouraged to look up to the royal family as a model of Christian family life.
The change in attitude can be seen by comparing Queen Elizabeth’s 25th anniversary as Queen with her 40th anniversary. In 1977, there were neighbourhood street parties throughout the country, most of them spontaneously and voluntarily organised. But in 1992, nothing like this took place. On 20 November 1993, a fire damaged one of the Queen’s favourite homes to the value of £ 60 million. There were expressions of public sympathy for the Queen. But when the government announced that public money was going to be paid for the repairs, the sympathy quickly turned to anger. The Queen had recently been reported to be the richest woman in the world, so people didn’t see why she shouldn’t pay for them herself.
It is, in fact, on the subject of money that ‘anti-royalist’ opinions are most often expressed. In the early nineties even some Conservative MPs, traditionally strong supporters of the monarchy, started protesting at how much the royal family was costing the country. For the whole of her long reign Elizabeth II had been exempt from taxation. But, as a response to the change in attitude, the Queen decided that she would start paying taxes on her private income. In addition, Civil List payments to some members of the royal family were stopped. (The Civil List is the money which the Queen and some of her relatives get from Parliament each year so that they can carry out their public duties).
For most people, the most notable event marking Queen Elizabeth’s 40th anniversary was a television programme about a year in her life which showed revealing details of her private family life. In the following year parts of Buckingham Palace were, for the first time, opened for public visits (to raise money to help pay for the repairs to Windsor Castle). These events are perhaps an indication of the future royal style – a little less grand, a little less distant.
1.2. Give the English equivalents to the following Russian word-combinations:
служить прекрасной иллюстрацией противоречивого характера конституции;
решительно не соглашаться с политикой правительства;
не угрожать стабильности государства в целом;
принимать характер телевизионной «мыльной оперы»
являться высшей инстанцией, контролирующей деятельность правительства;
общее охлаждение восторженного отношения;
быть освобожденным от уплаты налогов;
организованный спонтанно, на добровольной основе.
Use the above-given text and the glossary (2.2) to discuss the institution of monarchy.
For the last two centuries, the public have wanted their monarch to show their high moral standards. In 1936, Edward VIII, the uncle of the present queen, was forced to abdicate (give up the throne) because he wanted to marry a woman who had divorced two husbands. (On top of that, she wasn’t even an aristocrat – she was an American!) The government and the major churches in the country insisted that Edward could not marry her and remain king. He chose to marry her. The couple then went to live abroad. At Winston Churchill’s invitation, the Duke of Windsor (as Edward later became) served as governor of the Bahamas during World War II, and after 1945 the couple lived in Paris. Though they were counted among the social elite, not until 1967 were they invited to attend an official public ceremony with other members of the royal family.