The monarchy is here to stay

Gabriel Villena

The fact that a member of the royal family is coming to visit our University tomorrow may be, to a few, vaguely exciting. I can almost imagine the excited murmur of “Ooh, royalty! Finally, a real famous person, not a ‘campus celebrity’!” And yet why do we find the concept of royalty exciting?

The British monarchy is, for many people, dead. Although the Queen is a public icon and may have the power to dissolve a Parliament that she personally dislikes, she would never do so. The repercussions of that action (something along the lines of complete national pandemonium and uproar) makes it an empty threat. Royalty is a step above the label of ‘celebrity’: it denotes the concept wealth, power, jewels and privileges which will be forever withheld from we, the plebs, that they rule over. Even so, the influence of the monarchy no longer appears to extend down many generations, only its prestige.

That the Prince is visiting during exams time and that the JCR and GCR will be closed before his visit is more than “unfortunate”. It is a horrendously timed idea, and whilst the Prince’s schedule may be packed, it’s unfair to students in mid-study for their upcoming exams. Students are, in the end, what make the University keep going – not just by achieving excellent grades, but also through College spirit and vivacity. There are a limited number of people invited to the event, and as appropriate as ex-Goodricke chair Dan Walker and YUSU President Tim Ngwena may be to show Prince Andrew round, it must not be forgotten that a university is nothing without its demographic of ‘typical’ students.

The general opinion of the royal family is that they open ceremonies, greet starstruck members of the public, live in castles (or at worst, a mansion), and repeat patriotic speeches. They uphold, just by being ‘themselves’, patriotism and national pride. The tradition of the British monarchy is something which we hold with pride, but its role now seems obsolete. We’re happy to have the Queen’s face plastered over money that we handle daily, but we no longer live in a society where it could be imagined possible that the monarch would choose the religious denomination which Britain would follow. Parliament itself has a more visible presence – not just during the media’s current election hype – and perhaps more power as well. For younger generations, the royal family holds role of decreasing significance and increasing superficiality. Sovereign Elizabeth might overlook the affairs of our nation state, but it is the government who have greater control over its future. The Queen signs off on the budget, and would (theoretically) decide on the Prime Minister in the case of a hung parliament… but in reality even the media probably have a greater influence.

The fact that we cannot choose the future monarch may have a lot to do with a comparative disregard towards them. The heir apparent to the throne is the somewhat reluctant Prince Charles, who appears to be ‘the opinionated one’ in the family; the Queen remains generally neutral, radiating perpetual serenity; her grandchildren are constantly apologising for living as teenagers are supposed to. In the end, they’re just a normal family who have a visible line of civic duties towards our nation as whole. The government on the other hand, are seen as directly shaping the future of our country over the course of their term and are allowed to be opinionated or irrational. In fact, it’s expected that politicians should be controversial – that’s why so many people enjoy politics in the first place, it’s a forum for ripping others to shreds and finding loopholes in what are seen to be unfounded lines of argument.

So what’s the point of keeping the establishment of a monarchy in Britain? Whilst I’m sure that history or politics students would be able to debate at length about why I’m wrong on a national scale, I just can’t see my life being too different if the system dissolved. Prince Andrew’s visit is a prime example of the protection and hype that surrounds an individual who, prestigious as he may be, will simply be fulfilling a pointless ceremonial role on his visit to York. The JCR will be closed, students will be made scarce, and he will leave with a false impression of the University because he hasn’t seen it on a ‘normal’ day.

Having a monarch in rule is “nice”, but perhaps not a necessity. Plenty of countries are without royalty, and they’re doing just fine. The fact is that it plays an integral role in the “nice” British identity (pip pip; the Queen’s English; red buses, black cabs), and our infamous monarchy certainly allows our souvenir trade to boom. Rule Britannia indeed… the chances of the monarchy disappearing are as likely as the Queen suddenly declaring that she despises corgis.