Queen Elizabeth II: Past, Present, Future

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In recent years, there have been many debates as to whether the British monarchy should be abolished. Many believe Queen Elizabeth II will be Queen Elizabeth the Last. Only time will tell.

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Narration: April this year, Queen Elizabeth II, the world's oldest and longest-reigning monarch, celebrated her 91st birthday. A few months later in August, Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, retired at the age of 96. The Queen, however, is not expected to relinquish her throne anytime soon. Her firstborn child, Prince Charles is now the oldest ever Prince of Wales.

SOUNDBITE [English] Graham Smith, Republic: “We don't think that it is something to celebrate when someone is in public office for 63 years. That's normally a sign of a need for reform. People don't last in public office that long unless there is something wrong with the constitution or something wrong with the political climate and culture. I think in Britain's case there is something wrong with both.”

Narration: At her coronation, many tried to make Queen Elizabeth the symbol of TV-age modernity, a pretty young mother in Westminster Abbey, heralding what Winston Churchill promised would be “an immense and undreamed of prosperity, with culture and leisure even more widely spread”. Living standards soared over time, but far less than anticipated.

SOUNDBITE [English] Local citizen of England: “I've been three times in court, trying to stop repossession of our house. So I'm either in my wheelchair outside or I'm struggling hobbling around using my furniture, using my stick here in the home trying to live a life.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Local citizen of England: “I was made unemployed six months ago. As a disabled person, I have no future now. I've got job-seeker allowance. I'm finished. It's all over. Now I'm forced into retirement. I want to work. I cannot have a job. Fifty-four disabled scrappy.”

Narration: Elizabeth II’s reign has been an age of dramatic and turbulent change. Queen has been presiding over the rapid dismantling of the British Empire which once had a population of over 700 millions. Now, with Scottish and Welsh nationalism growing more and more, Britain is likely to be a ramshackle collection of small kingdoms.

SOUNDBITE [English] Scottish Protester: “… today is the day that the people of Scotland reclaim our nation”

Narration: At the time of her Coronation in 1952, a woman’s place was still in the home. Yet over the years that followed, women flocked into the workforce on an unprecedented scale. But the real women's revolution of the Elizabethan age was taking place elsewhere as birth control, abortion reform, and the 1970 Equal Pay Act transformed the gender settlement of the 1950s.

The liberalism of the Elizabethan era continued with legalizing homosexuality and giving rights to gay and lesbian people. But, the liberalism had its price as family breakdown reshaped the societal foundations of Elizabethan Britain. Divorce, cohabitation, and single-parent households all sky-rocketed as the traditional, postwar family structure came under unprecedented pressure.

As Queen Elisabeth nears the last legs of her reign, the future does not look too rosy for the British monarchy, whose image has been damaged by failed marriages and princely drug abuse; and scandals which have made way into the media.

With Prince Charles recently unmasked as a serial interferer in state affairs and Prince William described as work-shy, life after Queen Elizabeth may not be a smooth one for the monarchy. Prince Charles, the British heir to the throne, has been accused of using his position as the future king to lobby ministers in secret in an attempt to influence government policy. Bob Morris, a professor with University College London’s Constitution Unit says, “As King, he would have the traditional rights to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. Should a King seek to exceed these traditional duties, for example by publicly opposing his government’s policies, then an impasse could ensue.”

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SOUNDBITE [English] Adrian Thurston, Anti-Monarchy Campaign: “It’s a convention that the monarch is head of state and that convention remains only in so far as the monarch has no part in party politics. As soon as they do what they are doing and interfere party politically, they risk being abolished.”

Narration: The extent of Charles’ involvement in political affairs was revealed by the release of a series of letters he wrote to government ministers in 2004 and 2005. Finally released in 2015, despite the government’s efforts to keep them from public view, the so-called “Black Spider” memos showed Charles sought to lobby politicians on a range of issues from herbal medicine to badger culling.

SOUNDBITE [English] John Rees, Political Analyst: “What would be embarrassing for the political establishment is that the royal family - who are known for having a conservative, if not reactionary views - are seen to have special access to ministers , to the government, that the rest of the of us don't have. The fact that they are able to use that access to put forward a series of views that most people in this country would reject out of hand.”

Narration: Speaking to Newsweek magazine, Prince Harry recently made the somewhat surprising claim that no member of the royal family wants to inherit the crown. He told the magazine “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”

No matter who will come after the Queen and how he will act, the future of the monarchy as an outdated institution is in danger of extinction. Important questions about the relevance of the monarchy in modern society have been constrained so far out of respect for the Queens’ long reign. According to Dr. Anna Whitelock at Royal Holloway in London, "All of those questions about 'What the hell do we want this kind of unelected family (for)? What does that represent in Britain today?', all these profound questions have been held in check because of the Queen." Millions of people in the UK have no idea why the royal family can spend taxpayers’ money on private travel, palatial homes, round-the-clock security and personal staff.

SOUNDBITE [English] Adrian Thurston, Anti-Monarchy Campaign: Most people think the royal family is a commercial enterprise and as a commercial enterprise it should tighten its belt. They should reduce the number of employees and increase productivity.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Margaret Hodge, Politician, British Labour Party: “It is really important that the royal household, working with the Treasury, should get better value for money for the 31 million pounds of tax payers money they received last year, and then use that money to make sure that they really are proper guardians of the heritage properties under their wing.”

Narration: Over the recent years, there have been many debates as to whether the monarchy should be abolished. The fact is that hereditary appointments are incompatible with democracy and meritocracy. Royalists say this does not matter because the monarch no longer “runs” Britain. Yet in theory, at least, she or he has considerable powers: to wage war, sign treaties, dissolve Parliament and more. In a democratic society there is no room for a head of state who is put there for life and by birth. This feudal system is now outdated and Britain needs change in order to revolutionalize the country and live in a more modern and democratic society.

SOUNDBITE [English] John Rees, Political Analyst: “Even in the case of the current Queen, I wouldn’t overstate it. There are 30% of the people in the country in the opinion poll who would like to say they are Republican in this country and you never get to hear that, you never get to say nearly a third of the Brits think that monarchy should be abolished but it's true. When we get Prince Charles near the member throughout family, they got significantly lower approval than the Queen herself. Of course, it's a quite big push now to say that there should be a referendum when the Queen goes, but will this country continue to have a monarchy.”

Narration: Many believe Queen Elizabeth II will be Queen Elizabeth the Last. Time will tell. 


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