9 September 2015 marks the day Elizabeth II becomes the UK’s longest reigning monarch. Bob Morris takes this milestone as an opportunity to reflect on the evolution of the monarchy in relation to the constitution in recent years.
Today Queen Elizabeth II’s term exceeds Victoria’s and she becomes the nation’s longest reigning monarch. The institution she heads is not subject to any current serious challenge. Indeed, it is now probably as popular as it has ever been.
Milestones like this prompt reflection and the following attempts to consider what the present reign tells us about the monarchy and the constitution.
To state the obvious first, the monarchy has survived. That should be regarded as an achievement in itself and not assumed to be a constitutional given. The very concept of monarchy is hardly attuned to the spirit of the times – increasingly egalitarian, democratic, undeferential, worldly, multicultural, secular. Some maintain that monarchy represents a vanished feudal worldview of fixed hierarchy, deference, social immobility and religious uniformity.
Despite these claims there is, apart from small sections of the chattering classes, no serious pressure to abolish the monarchy and replace it with a republic. With the possible exception of Australia, this appears to be the position too in the other former ‘settler’ dominions of Canada and New Zealand. Nor does a concerted move against the monarchy seem likely in the twelve other Commonwealth ‘realms’ of which the Queen is head of state. Polling support in the UK for a republic has only ever once – and in evanescent special conditions – just exceeded 20 per cent. Republicanism has yet to establish any real political traction.