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A Magazine for Sheffield

Royals: Read this on April 29th

Eventually, Britain will become a republic and people will look back on days like today with incredulity. "Why", they will say "did anyone care about the wedding of an inordinately rich man who had no mandate to rule, yet was somehow destined to become head of state?" They will shrug their shoulders and laugh at their poor, misguided ancestors. Normally, most people don't think or care about the royal family, but today the world's media is focused on them. Perhaps it's time to have a think about what it truly means to live in a monarchy. In a nutshell, we live in a (supposed) democracy, yet we elect just under half of our government. You will always be a subject, never a citizen. The greatest and wisest of our population will never be placed higher than the cruellest and weakest monarch. Huge and unaccountable power and influence is held in the hands of just a few people. It's a system that is flawed, expensive and outdated, that damages democracy and stalls aspiration, and yet there is no momentum to change it. So why is Britain still so attached to its monarchy? The answer is simple - good PR and general public apathy. But let's debunk a few common misconceptions. #1: THE QUEEN HAS NO ACTUAL POWER Not true. Legally, the Queen could dissolve parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister tomorrow if she wanted to and we would be powerless to stop it. Many claim that this would never happen, but they should check their history books. In 1975, she dissolved Australia's parliament, and also prorogued (suspended) Canada's as recently as 2008. Had Gordon Brown not excluded himself from contention, it would have been the Queen's final decision over whom she invited to form a government last year. While it's unlikely that the monarch would ever make such a controversial decision, with a parliamentary system we do actually need a figurehead above it all, able to arbitrate on our behalf. Would it not be better to have an elected figure with real authority, instead of a lame duck that has power but is unable to use it? The royal family is also exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that whatever high-powered lobbying they may be up to, we will never know about it or be able to hold them to account. Remember the Chelsea Barracks fiasco? Prince Charles was able to use his influence to cancel an enormous redevelopment - based, it seems, solely on issues of personal taste - with no opportunity for a comeback or appeal. And finally, the Royal Prerogative invests too much power in our government, which receives the Crown's 'right' to sign treaties and declare war on our behalf without having to consult parliament. It is this kind of muddying of the waters in our constitutional law that demonstrates the urgent need for full reform. #2: THEY'RE GOOD FOR TOURISM Go out and try to find a scrap of evidence to support this. You won't be able to. This is classic royal spin. If they say things enough times they become true. Frankly it's an insult to our country to suggest that the reason people visit is a rich and over privileged family. Think how much more money we'd make if Buckingham Palace was open to tourists all year? These buildings belong to the Crown (i.e. us!), not the royals. The monarchy costs more than it's worth. An exhaustive account of the figures can be found on the Republic website, but all you need to know is this; the monarchy costs us around £150 million a year. That's 100 times the cost of Ireland's presidency. #3: THIS IS ALL WELL AND GOOD, BUT IT'S JUST NOT A PRIORITY - THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS FOR US TO FIX In a world with war, famine, inequality and disease, this statement may ring true. But in order to change things, we need the power to do so. The will of the people could do so much good if only we were better able to govern ourselves. The constitution is at the heart of our society, and an arcane and deeply flawed system is at the heart of our constitution. The current debate over the alternative vote referendum shows how far there is to go. We need an elected upper house, we need greater scrutiny and accountability in public affairs, we need proportional representation for all voices to be heard - and at the centre of this debate is the monarchy. Get rid of it and we can start from scratch and build a democracy to be proud of. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS ISSUE, PLEASE VISIT REPUBLIC.ORG.UK, THE CAMPAIGN FOR AN ELECTED HEAD OF STATE. PLEASE ALSO GET IN TOUCH WITH ME - I'D LOVE TO SET UP A LOCAL REPUBLICAN GROUP, AND THIS COULD BE THE START. )

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