Merryn's Blog

Why the Queen is great (and the world’s other monarchies, too)

Monarchies are great not because of what they do, but because of what they prevent others from doing, says Merryn Somerset Webb.


I went on Question Time last week. This is pretty scary stuff which I guess is why people tend to assume that you don't necessarily mean much of what you say when you are on it. It's easy to say the wrong thing when you don't know what the questions are in advance and three million people are watching you. So I just want to be clear that I did mean almost everything I said.

Yes, I do think that Scotland is much more conservatively minded than some Scots like to think. I do think Ruth Davidson, who leads Scotland's Tories, is brilliant and will be in charge of a government somewhere one day. I do think that the UK should vote "Leave". I do think the EU is anti-competition and hence anti-growth which is bad for the poor. And I do think that there is enough evidence to say that there is some effect on UK wages from high levels of immigration.

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However, I did say one thing that I didn't mean about the Queen. In answer to a question about whether her comments on the rudeness of the Chinese should have been broadcast or not I said that I hadn't ever really wanted to know what the Queen thought about things and suggested that I wasn't much bothered about her one way or another. This just isn't true.

I think the Queen is great! What I was trying to say was that I have always liked the way we don't know what she thinks so everyone can project their own feelings on to her ("I bet the Queen agrees with me on"). That works for a head of state.

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I'm also very keen on the idea of monarchy (ours and those of other countries), not because of what they do but because of what they prevent others doing. Because the PM is not the head of state just the manager of the state his ability to wrap himself up in our flag and stir up nationalism is limited (the Queen represents the feeling of nationhood in a rather different way) and so is his ability to spend hundreds of millions of our pounds aggrandising his position by building whopping great monuments to his importance.

Look to countries with no monarchies and what we might call their palace spend. In Germany there is the Bundeskanzleramt which was completed in 2001 and is the largest government building in the world (ten times the size of the White House).

In Turkey, President Erdogan has spent around £400m on a vast palace (his bit has 250 rooms): the president refers to it as a "show of the country's prestige" according to the BBC.

Then there is Russia, where Vladimir Putin is said to have built himself a fairly extraordinary palace. More examples won't be hard to find (and here's a nice article about how often the showmanship surrounding a republic costs more than that surrounding a monarchy) and anyone in any doubt as to how this stuff happens might want to try and imagine the kind of palace Alex Salmond would have built for himself in Scotland had the zealots in their party got their way, won the referendum and dumped the Queen as head of state.

Enough to make you grateful that not being head of state means that our PM is stuck living in a medium sized flat above his London office isn't it?




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