Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding was watched by 18 million people in the UK on May 19th. That many viewers to put that in perspective would have meant 27.6% of the population would have been watching it, going by the fact that round 65,000,000 people live in the UK. Such participation in watching the Royal Wedding would suggest that the support for the Monarchy and the Royal Family would be high. After all, that would constitute a number over a quarter of the electorate. Are there any threats to the monarchy that could potentially arise in the near future?
There are no real threats to the monarchy from among the populace as a whole. In a 2015 YouGov survey, 68% of the population thought the monarchy was a positive force in society. In 2018, this has not changed, with 69% of the British population supporting the monarchy according to a 2018 YouGov study. What is interesting is there is a political difference between monarchists and republicans; 49% of monarchists voted Tory yet 61% of Republicans voted Labour. Still, when the Queen is the political figure with the highest approval rating, it’s unlikely she faces threats from among the population as a whole.
Where the monarchy really faces threats from isn’t among the people but among the elites. Or more specifically, the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn is a republican and his election alone allowed the potential of republicans to gain more power in the Labour Party. Other than his refusal to sing the national anthem nearly three years ago at a Battle of Britain ceremony, Jeremy Corbyn has not done any more to further the republican cause in the Labour party. There are however other prominent Labour MPs with republican views include Laura Pidcock, Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell and Emma Dent Coad. Even Nia Griffiths the shadow defence secretary has some republican views, which is controversial as the Royal Army and Royal Air Force pledge allegiance to the monarch and not Parliament. Therefore, among the political elites and not the population as a whole, exists in opposition to the monarchy.
Is it, therefore, possible for there to be a challenge to the monarchy in the near future? There are two events that if combined together could trigger this event. The events are the death of Queen Elizabeth and the election of a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn. If Jeremy Corbyn is elected prime minister at the next election and if Queen Elizabeth dies under his government, there could be a potential move by parliament to block Charles from becoming king. Considering the fact that Prince Charles is less popular than Queen Elizabeth and the fact he at times has persuaded parliament at times with his own opinion means the Labour party may block his ascent to the throne. Such event would trigger a constitutional crisis. It is hard to see whether such a constitutional crisis would lead to the dissolving of the monarchy; after all the House of Lords would not support an Act of Parliament dissolving the monarchy as the head of state without it being a manifesto pledge.
This could lead to a potential referendum where a Labour government attempts to abolish the monarchy by a popular vote. This would lead to a potential to backfire spectacularly for various reasons. Firstly, it would unify the Tory Party whilst could divide the Labour Party. Bear in mind moderate Labour politicians and moderate Labour groups such as Labour First or Progress may create a campaign to defend the monarchy to weaken the Left of the Labour Party by putting them at odds with the electorate. Secondly, if the support for the monarchy continues after Queen Elizabeth’s death, a referendum where 70% of the population support the continuation of the monarchy would put the government stance completely at odd with the populace. The AV referendum was decisive in the fact 67% voted against Alternative Voting and this contributed to the decline of the Liberal Democrats. Thirdly, a landslide defeat in a referendum could cause permanent damage to the government as it would put them at odd with the population and would cause tension within their own party.
Thankfully, there are no real threats to the monarchy at this current time. People are relatively happy with the British institution and are largely pragmatic in its continual existence. Any referendum on the future of the monarchy may have the potential to split the country in two in a way similar to the EU referendum. In a country where a bloody civil war was fought over the existence of a monarchy, a potential referendum over the future of the monarchy could be divisive.
Article by Daniel Clemence
Photograph – The Daily Express