Monarchy and Democracy in the UNITED KINGDOM
It was the year 1215 when for the first time, since its inception, the British Monarchy faced the pressure of Democracy in the form of Magna Carta, which curbed the power of King John of England by compelling him to accept the condition that, when imposing tax on the people of country, the King has to seek the approval of the noble men of the country. That was probably the beginning of the end of the unilateral ruling power of the British Monarchy and, in the early 14th century, the condition, imposed by the British barons, that the British Monarchy should consult the noblemen of the country before taking any major decisions affecting the social or economical life of Britain, probably led to the formation of the democratic government of England. However, it was merely the very first step towards the formation of a fully fledged British Parliament of today. By 1780, less than even 3% of the total population of England was allowed to vote for any change in the regulations of the land. The percentage of the participation gradually increased over time and by the end of 1918, a significant percentage of the British population as well as the women (before that any women as well as the men without any property, were not allowed to cast their vote in deciding the representatives in the British Parliament) were allowed to take apart in the voting process to decide their representative in the parliament and thus the win of the Democracy became complete at the end of 1918.
Thus over hundreds of years the power of the throne has been reduced and United Kingdom gradually converted into State with Parliamentary Democracy, being headed by a Monarch as the Head of the State. Let us take a brief look at the functioning of the Parliamentarian Democracy of the United Kingdom. The highest legislative body is termed as Parliament and consists of three houses, The House of Commons, The House of Lords and the Queen (as she is the current head of the British Monarchy). The House Commons is formed by the members elected by the general election in the UNITED KINGDOM. The party which owns the majority of the seats as well as the confidence of majority of the voters (common people of the United Kingdom) is invited by the Queen to form the Government. The leader of the party which own the election becomes the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister selects his ministers to run various departments of the government. The other party forms the Opposition and discharge their responsibilities by suggesting the amendments to the bill of reforms and bills for new enactments brought by the ruling party. As Loyal Opposition, they also play their role to oppose any bill which, the opposition party thinks, is not in the interest of the country. The bill, proposed and discussed in both houses of Parliament, becomes a law after the Third Reading, if majority of the elected members in both the houses vote in favour of the bill. The terms of such elected Government is fixed by number of years (not more than 5 years except an emergency) and at the end of each term, the country goes back to the common people, who decide by their voting rights, the next elected Government of the United Kingdom. Even an elected government may be forced to end its ruling regime before the fixed term, by the Vote of No Confidence Motion. In such a motion, if the members of the Parliament are enough to oust the ruling government, then the term of the elected government comes to an end prematurely and a General Election takes place again.
If the UNITED KINGDOM is now being run by a democratic Parliamentary system, then what is the role of the Monarch in the United Kingdom? In fact the role of the Monarch, now a day, is mostly ceremonial, although theoretically it still holds a veto power in deciding the matters related to Finance and National security of the country. But the British Monarchy does not involve itself in the complicacy of the day to day running of the country as well as in the policy making of the country, in spite of the requirement of formal assent (known as Royal Assent) of the Monarch to make a bill, passed by the Country, an Act of the country. Usually the roles played by the British Monarch are as follows:
- After the declaration of the result of the general election, the Monarch (now the Queen Elizabeth II) invites the leader of the winning party to form the Government and the leader as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- The Queen starts the beginning of the Parliament through the sate Opening and dissolves the parliament when the term of an elected Government comes to an end. This dissolution of Parliament is done by the Queen in accordance with the regulations laid by the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 (dissolution)
- The Queen informs the Parliament, by a speech dictated by the Government, about the policy reforms made by the Government from the throne in the House of Lords.
- After a bill gets the assent of the majority of the members of both Houses (House of Lords and House of Commons), the bill is formally placed before the Crown (the Queen) for her approval. Only after the formal approval of the Crown, the bill becomes an Act of the land and this process of getting approval from the Crown is called the Royal Assent.
Whether the United Kingdom, should continue with its Monarchy and the Democratise Parliamentarian system side by side and whether, the Monarchy and its existence have lost its justification in this era of Democracy, has always remain a topic of debate in throughout the UNITED KINGDOM for a long time. A good percentage of British, who advocates for complete democratic control of the government, voice their opinion against the continuation of the Monarchy in the United Kingdom and raise questions regularly against the justification of maintaining such Monarchy. However, a majority of the common British still loves the system of Monarchy, and no doubts, that there is no major upspring of concerted opinion, till recently, to abolish the Monarchy completely from the land of the country.
The reason could be the fact, that the role played by the Crown in the United Kingdom, is mostly ceremonial, and though there are theoretical powers in the hands of the Monarchy like the power of veto to decide on the policies related to finance and the national security, usually the power is not exercised arbitrarily or in a way to upset the democratic system of the society. The Monarchy is there in other countries also, and some countries are there where the President wields enough power to affect the national policies of those countries. It has been proved earlier and in recent time, that some of the Presidents as well as Monarchs in other countries have influenced the policies of those countries in a much more significant way, thereby upsetting the so called democratic systems in those countries. So even if the Monarchy is there, most of the British do not find it harmful enough to rein their democratic power and the democratic decision making process of the House of Lords and the House of commons.
However, this does not mean that resentment is not there, and there are evidences as well as good reasons for it. It is quite surprising for many British that the British Monarchy still, holds the power, though theoretically, to undermine the policy reforms, decided by the democratically elected Government, in the areas of national security as well as economic matters. Moreover so far as the Royal revenue, tax etc. are concerned, the Royal family can influence these policies directly and at least in this case, a good number of British citizens believes, the family uses its power to influence such policies directly. The concern over such matters has well sounded by the Natalie Bennett, a leader of the Green Party of UNITED KINGDOM, as follows:
“ that it should require real investigative persistence with freedom of information requests to uncover the role of the Queen and Prince Charles in approving legislation passed by Parliament is extremely disturbing.... the Queen blocked a bill about the procedures by which the state decides to go to war, one of the most serious acts, is almost beyond belief.....the need for a written constitution, transparently implemented, has never been clearer.”
True, that there is still a grey area, in between the British Monarchy and the democratically elected Parliamentarian system which needs to be investigated. In fact Democracy and Monarchy are two faces of ruling a country which are altogether different by their nature and it is hard to believe that a system could be developed where Monarchy and Democracy will go side by side keeping the interest of both versions intact.