The Coronation of King Charles III is a historic event that will mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the British Monarchy. The Queen’s reign was one of unprecedented length and stability: Charles, on the other hand, has had a more controversial career. He has been outspoken on a number of issues, and his personal life has been the subject of much media scrutiny.
It is too early to say what the future holds for the British Monarchy, but there is no doubt that King Charles III will face a number of challenges. Here are some of the key challenges that King Charles III will face –
- Maintaining public support for the Monarchy:
The Monarchy is a popular institution in the United Kingdom, but support for it has not been constant or enduring. This is due in part to the rise of republicanism, as well as the scandals that have plagued the royal family in recent years. Charles will need to work hard to maintain public support for the Monarchy and ensure that it remains relevant to the 21st century.
- Modernising the Monarchy:
The Monarchy is an ancient institution, and it has been slow to adapt to the changing times. Charles has spoken about the need to modernise the Monarchy and make it more relevant to the 21st century.
- Representing the United Kingdom on the world stage:
The British Monarch is the head of state of 16 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Will this continue?
Let us look at these issues in some detail.
Maintaining support for the Monarchy:
The Monarchy has risen and fallen in public esteem several times in the past.There has only ever been one ‘Great’ king and that was applied to Alfred long after he died in the late 9th century. Mostly, they were ‘Bad’ King John, or ‘Good’ Queen Bess, depending on who wrote up their biographies. England had a brief period from 1649 to 1660 as a republic under the Commonwealth, but while that was judged a failure, there was much that was learnt about the standing of the Monarch in the constitution.
Since then, the Monarchy has veered away from the social norms of the day (George IV, Edward VII and Edward VIII) and then back again, towards social conformity (Victoria, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II), as a reaction to the moral outrage wrought by previous Monarchs. BBC – History. During the reign of Victoria R 1837-1901, her long purdah following the death of Albert, the prince consort, in 1861, caused a drop in support for the Monarch and an increase in republicanism.
As for the scandals in the royal family, none can surpass the moral turpitude of George IV, who barred his own queen from attending his coronation.
The BBC started a moral panic in suggesting that the Monarchy was in decline Coronation: How popular by saying that only the older generation supported the Monarchy but, in truth, the young have often been indifferent or opposed to a Monarchy. However, it is more troubling to find that the poll shows a lack of enthusiasm for the Monarchy, which may be a reaction to the passing of Elizabeth, but may also be a harbinger of public indifference leading towards oblivion.
The Monarchy seems safe for now, but unless radical steps are taken, it may lose its appeal.
Modernising the Monarchy
Are future generations going to accept the enormous disparities in wealth that the royal family epitomises? How do we deal with the toxic past of slavery? Are constant references to the empire healthy, within a nation that seeks to win friends and influence people across the globe, post Brexit?
Here are some ideas which may be worth exploring:
- The Monarchy represents a jumbo sized portion of rank and privilege, compared to 90% or more, of the 66 million people that form the population of the UK. We cannot entirely reduce that disparity, but we can ameliorate it, by insisting that the Monarch pays income tax, capital gains tax, and death duties. In short the Monarch will have to do some tax planning like all wealthy individuals.
- Civil list payments should reflect operational need, and not as a cut of the Crown estates revenue.
- The Royal palaces should become state-owned or managed by the National Trust or English Heritage, and leased back to the Monarch for operational purposes. Sandringham and Balmoral are not part of the Crown estate and they would be subject to the norms of business/estate taxation.
- The royal logistics should be reviewed in terms of climate change and economy, so perhaps the royal flight etc, could be used for other state purposes as required.
- There should be a public apology about slavery and public policy about international development should reflect what I think is genuine remorse about how some countries have been affected by slavery.
- The honours system is still a badge of privilege and sometimes notoriety. I think it is high time references to the empire were removed, and that individuals who serve the country and/or their communities faithfully, should be valued above term servers, politicians, the wealthy, and aristocrats.
- The remaining powers of the Monarchy, such as the royal-prerogative, have been used and abused in recent times. All Governments need emergency powers as a contingency, but they should be abolished, and replaced with a set of contingencies that can be applied to a given set of circumstances and sanctioned by the Supreme Court or Privy Council so that there are failsafes to limit any abuse of power.
Representing the United Kingdom on the world stage
This is going to be the most difficult of tasks. We are going through a period of instability and authoritarianism in many parts of the world, driven by economics and the effects of climate change.
The Monarchy is often promoted as part of the UK’s soft power, in that somehow, hard-headed world leaders will be persuaded of the benefits of adopting UK based solutions or policies, simply by meeting the Monarch.
This is difficult to quantify, but if it exists, it is minuscule to the soft power the UK threw away, when exiting the EU. Instead of being a bridge between the USA and the EU, Britain is now a bit player, scrabbling to win friends and influence people. In time, with more sagacious and quiet diplomacy, freed from unreasoning ideology, the UK may regain something of its status as trusted intermediary, a kind of an über Switzerland or Sweden, but not now, and not under current policy making, that wishes only to fence off the world, and not engage with it.
By all accounts, Elizabeth was revered and respected by the Commonwealth leaders, but her successor, Charles, cannot rely on that special situation continuing into the future. He will face challenges, and may even have graciously to hand over the leadership of the commonwealth to its members. Some members may no longer choose to retain Charles as head of state. In those circumstances, perhaps Charles III and the UK should enable a transition as seamlessly and as graciously, as his mother might have done.
It will help the Monarchy to weather the prevailing rise in nationalism, if there is a policy of modernisation and reform of the institution.
We have not mentioned the status of the Church of England, or the 1701 Act of Settlement that ensured a Protestant succession. At a time of a reducing residuum of religious faith and observance, is it fit for purpose in this day and age? Should the Monarch be instead the defender of the (reformed) constitution, rather than defender of the faith, performing a role similar to which a notional UK president would perform?
For now, the Monarchy is safe and deeply embedded in the national culture, but it cannot be assumed that this will endure in perpetuity. The age of deference has long gone and “the times they are a changin’ ”. Time and tide wait for no Monarch, as Cnut showed in the 11th century, and resolute and, I think, painful steps may be needed to move towards a more inclusive, less deferential form of Monarchy. Royalists cling on to the claim of the magic of the Monarchy, afraid no doubt that, like the unveiling of the Wizard of Oz, it will reveal an ordinary set of individuals at its heart, and in this they may well be correct.