Imagine you are shipwrecked and come ashore on a land you don’t know. You are taken in by some kind people. You are naturally curious about where you are. So you start asking your hosts about their country.
Sooner or later you get round to politics. The conversation could go like this:
You: What kind of a political system do you have?
Them: Oh we’re a democracy. We elect our parliament and the majority party forms the government. So our elected representatives work hard on our behalf to govern the country.
You: Do you have a Head of State?
Them: Yes. We have a monarch, a constitutional monarchy though. The monarch is a very nice person.
You: So is the constitutional monarch elected?
Them: Ha ha. No the monarchy is hereditary. The eldest son or, if none , daughter inherits the title.
You: Then what constitution do you have that defines the role of your monarch?
Them: We don’t have a constitution.
You: But how can you have a constitutional monarch without a constitution?
Them: Hmmm. Never thought of it like that.
You : So what laws govern the monarch?
Them: Oh the monarch is above the law. No court in the land can prosecute the monarch. They’re answerable to parliament. It’s purely ceremonial. The tourists love it.
You: So what does the monarch do?.
Them: They work very hard. They’re kept busy opening things and bestowing honours on people, meeting people. They meet with the Prime Minister once a week.
You: So what’s discussed at those meetings?
Them: That’s the funny thing. It’s all a secret. They must discuss government business, laws that kind of thing.
You: But if the monarch has no authority why do they need to meet the Prime Minister once a week and in secret?
Them: You’re asking some tough questions, my friend.
You: So you don’t know what goes on between the monarch and the leader of the government you elected? How do you know what is agreed between them? How do you know what your government wants to do is changed by the monarch?
Them: I suppose we don’t know.
You: That’s not what we call open government where I come from.
Them: That’s what we call it here too. ‘Open government’. But it has some flaws…….
You: What about the monarch’s family? Do they have normal jobs?
Them: Oh no. They all do the same as the monarch. Open things, wave at people to cheer them up and so on. There’s a big family.
You: Is your monarch subject to the same taxes as you are?
Them: Don’t be silly. Monarchs don’t have to pay taxes, but recently our monarch agreed to pay something. So that was kindhearted.
Them: Well they don’t pay taxes on everything. The monarch has private trusts that don’t pay tax and their accounts are secret. They have money all over the world. They’re actually very wealthy. They own huge tracts of land all round the world. They’re very good with money.
You: How did they get all this land and this wealth?
Them: Ha ha. I suppose in days gone by other monarchs – their ancestors – fought battles and killed people for it. Then it’s passed down within the family.
You: Do you have any poverty or homelessness or is everyone well looked after like your monarch?
Them: Oh no. You can’t expect something for nothing the government tells us. We can’t all be monarchs! That would be silly. Ha ha. We have huge problems with poverty and homelessness. It seems to always get worse. The government says we don’t have enough money and we can’t afford to pay for everyone on benefits who doesn’t work.
You: Does the monarch not donate some of their huge wealth to the country?
Them: Ha ha. You’re being silly again. No. It’s us that give the monarch money.
You: But why would a ‘constitutional’ monarch want to hold on to such wealth when their people are in poverty and then demand to be given more money by the people?
Them: That’s the way it’s always been here. I suppose their advisers tell them to hold on to their money. They have a lot of expenses.. Big family to keep and a lot of palaces.
You: They have advisers, you say? Does the government not advise the monarch?
Them: Well yes. They do. But they also advise the monarch as ‘Privy Councillors’.
You: So they have two jobs: government ministers and Privy Councillors?
Them: Yes they all must become Privy Councillors to advise the monarch. Judges must become privy Councillors too and some clergy. There are over six hundred Privy Councillors.
You: You say ministers ‘must’ become Privy Councillors. Who forces them?
Them: I suppose it must be the monarch.
You: So you have a hereditary monarch making demands of democratically elected representatives. That doesn’t sound like a constitutional monarchy, does it?
Them: Well, we respect the monarch.
You: That’s a lot of advice for the monarch from 600 people. So what do Privy Councillors actually advise the monarch about?
Them: We don’t know. Again it’s all secret. They take an oath of secrecy and loyalty to the monarch.
You: An oath of loyalty to the monarch? But what about their loyalty to the people who elected them?
Them: No they don’t take an oath of loyalty to us. All members of our parliament must take an oath of loyalty to the monarch before they can begin work. Judges and police officers too. Then as Privy Councillors they take a further oath to serve the monarch and keep everything secret.
You: But you said earlier that the monarch was answerable to parliament. This is a constitutional monarchy with only ceremonial powers, you said. Why should the people’s representatives have to declare loyalty to a ceremonial monarch and not to the people who elect and pay them?
Them: I see what your driving at, my friend. You have a very sharp and inquiring mind. We’ve never discussed these things. Even though we have a free press and an elected parliament to debate these matters, they never do. It’s just always been like this.
You: I see. The monarch is fabulously wealthy and works in secret. So how do you know what hold they have over the media? Parliament is loyal to the monarch and from what you tell me many of them are also Privy Councillors. So they can’t challenge the monarch, even though the people in theory give them their authority. You can’t believe you live a free country.
Them: Och. The monarch is old and frail. They wouldn’t have the energy for what you’re describing.
You: It’s not the person. The Monarch or the Crown is not a person. It’s an institution. The person is just the representative. They can be any age. It makes no difference to the powers vested in the institution.
Them: Well we do have freedom of speech. I can say what I like.
You: What would happen if you wanted to replace the monarch with an elected president.
Them: I’d be laughed at and labelled an extremist. By the way, a thought just occurred to me: parliament doesn’t have any authority until the monarch gives them authority. Also the government can’t be formed unless the monarch agrees. The monarch calls it ‘My government‘. It’s known as ‘Her Majesty’s Government’.
You: Not the People’s Government of the Nation’s Government?
Them: Oh no. Never. It’s ‘Her Majesty’s Government’. Parliament can’t pass laws unless the monarch agrees. Oh and the monarch can abolish parliament too…..in theory.
Them: Ha ha, It’s all theory, my friend. We don’t worry about it. That’s all just tradition left over from a bygone age. The monarch has never exercised these powers or even as much as threatened to.
You: But how could you know that when all dealings with the monarch are in secret?
Them: Th- that’s a good point………..
You: So let me recap. You have a constitutional monarchy, but no constitution. You elect your government, but it’s known as ‘Her Majesty’s Government’. Your members of parliament are elected by you, but they all must take an oath to the monarch and not to the people. The parliament and the government is given its authority by the monarch. The monarch can get rid of them. All senior politicians must become the monarch’s Privy Councillors. All business with the monarch is secret so you don’t know what goes on or if the monarch has demanded changes to things, such as laws. All laws must be approved by the monarch. The monarch is above the law, is not required to pay taxes, has secret trusts and is fabulously wealthy. While many of the people live in poverty everyone must pay money to the monarch.
Them: Yes that’s about it, I’m afraid.
You: I have to tell you from what you say you’re living under an absolute monarchy. Seems to me they have fooled your people into believing you have a constitutional monarch, when all the evidence suggests that the monarch reigns supreme behind a cloak of secrecy aided by your politicians who are in fact nothing more than servants of the monarch. You cannot have democracy under such conditions.
Them: Have some more tea! Do you have religion where you come from?