Analysis: The monarchy helps political stability

By Vernon Bogdanor, May 31, 2012

The Queen is a constitutional monarch who reigns but does not rule. Constitutional monarchy is, I think, a Jewish invention.

When, after being defeated by the Philistines, the ancient Jewish tribes asked to be “like other nations” and to have a king, his powers were to be limited by the Mosaic laws; and, according to II Kings, monarchs who infringed them, such as Queen Jezebel or Queen Athaliah of Judah, were to be overthrown.

The Queen’s powers are today minimal. Almost all of her acts are undertaken on the advice of ministers. This serves to protect her from political involvement, since criticism of the policies emanating from the state is criticism of the government, not of the Queen.

This political neutrality enables the Queen to act not only as head of state, but also as head of the nation, to represent the nation to itself. Queen Victoria’s last Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, once said: “When I knew what the Queen thought, I knew pretty certainly what view her subjects would take”. Perhaps modern prime ministers think the same about the Queen, who seems to have an intuitive understanding of the soul of the British people.

The monarchy is a remarkable example of the evolution of an ancient institution. By providing a fixed constitutional landmark in a sea of change, monarchy makes an important contribution to political stability.
Times columnist Danny Finkelstein recalls his grandmother, who had been arrested and deported by Stalin, insisting that “while the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I’m safe in Hendon Central.” All very well to have a Russian soul, but better perhaps to have a British passport.

Vernon Bogdanor is a Research Professor at King’s College London. His books include The Monarchy and the Constitution, published by Oxford University Press.

Last updated: 12:14pm, May 31 2012