Her Majesty, The Queen's Job
After 65 years on “The Job”, people often ask: What exactly does Her Majesty do? Some of them say: “She is merely a steward, she is a waste of money and taxpayers have to pay for her upkeep”. Truth be told, these people do not understand the Sovereign Support Grant, The Crown Estate, or the workings of, not “their” Government, but “Her Majesty’s Government”. Her Majesty’s job is one that few understand or would want to have. Her duties are not for a set term where she can retire with a pension, but a job that carries stress and burdens for a lifetime, until her last breath is taken. “A mere figurehead” …. if you think that it all she is, you are greatly mistaken. Her Majesty, The Queen, is Head of State of the United Kingdom, and of 15 other Realms, as well as the leader of the Commonwealth of Nations, which comprises a further 53 independent nations. As a Constitutional Monarch, Her Majesty fulfils important ceremonial and formal roles with respect to Her Government. She is also Fount of Justice, Head of the Armed Forces and has important relationships with the Established Churches of England (she is “Defender of the Faith”) and Scotland. Her job does not just consist of one or two duties, but the many described below as offered by Buckingham Palace:
Constitutional Arbitration – In times of Crisis, as with a hung Parliament, the lack of an automatic choice of Prime Minister, or an unjustifiable and unnecessary request for a dissolution of Parliament, the Monarchy acts as an impartial and non-political arbitrator, like an umpire called in when the players cannot agree. The Crown would also be able to intervene if the government acted unconstitutionally by, say putting the opposition in jail, abolishing elections, or instructing the police not to prosecute members of the government for criminal offences. Monarchs can also dissolve Parliament, and appoint a Prime Minister to their liking. The first time our Queen had to confirm an unelected Prime Minister was exercised in 1957 and again in 1963 when the leadership of the Conservative party became vacant between general elections. Her Majesty, taking advice from senior Conservatives, invited Harold Macmillan to become her third Prime Minister, a process repeated in October 1963 when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was appointed as her fourth. This duty falls upon the Monarch not only in England but in the Commonwealth countries that retain Her Majesty as their Sovereign and Head of State. In 1975 when there was a stalemate in the Australian Parliament, The Queen dismissed the Prime Minister and the government paving the way for fresh elections. There has not been a government shut down since.
Stability – A form of Government that only came into being yesterday can quite easily be overthrown tomorrow; an institution sanctified by 1,000 years of Sovereignty is more deeply embedded in the consciousness of the nation and more closely woven into the fabric of political life. It can still be overthrown (as by Oliver Cromwell in 1649), but people are still likely to think very hard before they pick up the sword. The Monarchy was restored within eleven years.
Continuity – Governments come and go; a week is a long time in Parliament, and five years a lifetime but the Sovereign is always there and the apparatus of Monarchy helps to bridge the discontinuities of party politics.
Experience – A lifetime of reading state papers, meeting heads of state and ambassadors, and holding a weekly audience with the Prime Minister gives The Queen an unequalled store of knowledge and experience. Politicians see state papers only when they are in office, but the Queen sees them every day. Her constitutional right to be consulted, to encourage and to warn makes this experience available to every government, as it is, after all, Her Government.
Unity – Party politics is about disagreement and confrontation. It encourages polarization – rich against poor, north against south, management against unions, black against white, Catholic against Protestant. Parliament institutionalizes division and conflict. The monarchy is about national unity and institutionalizes cooperation and consensus.
Succession – The heredity principle does more than provide a formula for unopposed succession. It also means that everyone knows who the successor is likely to be and that he or she will have been groomed for the job from birth.
Transparency – A family at the head of the nation’s affairs is something everyone can understand and identify with. It makes the state seem human, personal and accessible. Parliaments portray public life as a battlefield; the monarchy portrays it as a family circle.
Recognition of Achievement – By honours, awards, visits, patronage and sponsorship the sovereign and the Royal Family can recognize and reward achievement by individuals and organizations, and publicly affirm their value to the nation.
The focus of Allegiance – A person and a family are a powerful symbol to the armed services of the cause for which they are fighting. The Royal family often has personal, first-hand experience within the Armed Forces which is much more rarely the case with elected politicians.
Moral Leadership – Because the Monarchy is permanent, it can set a consistent moral standard that people can look to as a guide and example.
Role Model – The Monarchy can also give the nation an example, or, to be more precise, a range of examples of acceptable behaviour in the smaller matters of social convention and behaviour. Even when some members of the Royal Family do not behave as well as people expect them to, they are still contributing to the process of reviewing and revising the nations behaviour patterns.
Custodianship of the Past – Through its ceremony, pageantry and ritual, the monarchy preserves the link with Britain’s history and reminds people of the country’s past achievements and the antiquity of their state. The pomp and state of Monarchy afford an uplifting beauty for all to share in a lacklustre modern world.
Trusteeship of the Future – By being close to the heart of affairs, but outside of the political arena, the Royal Family can focus attention on the country’s long-term dangers and opportunities as a counterweight to the inevitably short-term preoccupations of politicians in the heat of the party battle.
Uniting the Nation with the State – Most important of all is the combination of the constitutional role as Head of State and the social role as Head of the Nation within a single institution, a single-family and a single office. If the sovereign can be the focus of the people’s loyalty, pride, patriotism and a sense of nationhood, then the people are simultaneously focusing these emotions on the state of which the Queen is the constitutional head; they are confirming and supporting the legitimacy of the political, legal and economic system which regulates their daily lives.
The Commonwealth – A Commonwealth Realm is a country that has The Queen as its Monarch. The Queen is Head of State of 15 Commonwealth realms in addition to the UK. She is also Head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 53 independent countries. From Australia to Antigua, Canada to Cameroon, the Commonwealth is a remarkable international organisation, spanning every geographical region, religion and culture. It exists to foster international co-operation and trade links between people all over the world. For 50 years, The Queen has been Head of the Commonwealth. This is an important symbolic and unifying role. As Head, Her Majesty personally reinforces the links by which the Commonwealth joins people together from around the world. One of the ways of strengthening these connections is through regular Commonwealth visits. During her reign, The Queen has visited every country in the Commonwealth (with the exception of Cameroon, which joined in 1995) and made many repeat visits. One-third of The Queen’s total overseas visits are to Commonwealth countries. The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family are also regular visitors to the Commonwealth.
The Queen keeps in touch with Commonwealth developments through regular contact with the Commonwealth Secretary-General and his Secretariat. This is the Commonwealth’s central organisation. Based in London, it coordinates many Commonwealth activities. Her Majesty also has regular meetings with Heads of Government from Commonwealth countries such as Canada, which is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign. As a constitutional monarch, The Queen abides by the decisions of the Canadian Government, but she continues to play important ceremonial and symbolic roles as the Sovereign of the Canadian Monarchy, which is also known as The Maple Crown. In all these duties, Her Majesty acts as Queen of Canada, which is quite distinctive from her role in the United Kingdom or any of her other Realms. Over the course of 65 years, the Queen has been a regular visitor to Canada, paying 30 visits to her northernmost realm. Together with The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen has travelled through every part of each of the different provinces to meet people from all cultures, walks of life and religions.
Every two years a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (C.H.O.G.M.) is held, at locations throughout the Commonwealth. The Queen is normally present in the host country, during which she has a series of private meetings with the Commonwealth countries’ leaders. Her Majesty also attends a CHOGM reception and dinner, at which she makes a speech. The next C.H.O.G.M. will take place this November in Malta.
Within the United Kingdom and the British Isles, Her Majesty’s role is vastly different from her function in her overseas realms and territories. As well as the aforementioned duties that the Sovereign must carry out on a State level, The Queen can be seen as having not just one, but two roles for which she does not receive a pay-cheque. Her dual purpose is as Head of State and ‘Head of the Nation’. As Head of State, The Queen undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over a thousand years. There are “inward duties” with The Queen playing a part in State functions in Britain. Parliament must be opened, Orders in Council have to be approved, Acts of Parliament must be signed, and meetings with the Prime Minister must be held. There are also “outward duties” of State, when The Queen represents Britain to the rest of the world. For example, The Queen receives foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners, entertains visiting Heads of State, and makes State visits overseas to other countries in support of diplomatic and economic relations.
As ‘Head of Nation’, The Queen’s role is less formal but no less important for the social and cultural functions it fulfils. These include: providing a focus for national identity, unity and pride; giving a sense of stability and continuity; recognising success, achievement and excellence; and supporting service to others, particularly through public service and the voluntary sector. Through her engagements and walkabouts, The Queen is able to meet people from every background. The Queen’s unifying role as Sovereign is also shown in her special relationships with the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales. In addition, at times of national celebration or tragedy, The Queen publicly represents the nation’s mood – for example, at the annual commemoration of the war dead on Remembrance Sunday, or at celebrations for a national sporting victory, or other related events.
While political parties change constantly, the Sovereign continues uninterruptedly as Head of State, providing a stable framework within, which a government can introduce wide-ranging reforms. With an exceptional six decades of reading State papers, meeting Heads of State and Ambassadors and holding a weekly audience with her Prime Minister, The Queen has an unequalled store of experience from which successive Prime Ministers have been able to draw.
Her Majesty also hosts garden parties to which guests from all backgrounds are invited, most of whom are nominated by charities or public-sector organisations for their service to their communities. Approximately two million people have enjoyed tea with the Queen over the last sixty years. She has met nearly four million people, which is equivalent to the entire population of New Zealand. In the thousands of messages sent by The Queen each year to people celebrating their 100th birthdays or diamond weddings, The Queen is able to give recognition to such personal individual landmarks.
The Queen also supports service to others, through close relationships with the voluntary and charitable sectors of our society. About 3,000 organisations list a member of the Royal Family as Patron or President. Her Majesty personally has over 600 patronages and The Duke of Edinburgh over 700. In all these roles, the Queen is supported by members of the Royal Family, who help her perform many of the engagements that she cannot undertake in person.
Our experienced and well-educated Queen is an institution unto herself. She has provided direction and dedicated leadership that is the hallmark of Constitutional Monarchy at its best. The job in which Her Majesty holds is gruelling, time-consuming and physically demanding, in which she deserves more than a pay-cheque and a pat on the back, but the deepest respect and admiration that the people of our old islands can muster. It is because of her that we are who we are today. God Save The Queen!
Article by Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills Esq.