There are twenty-eight constitutional monarchies worldwide, of which the United Kingdom is one.
It is often referred to as the British monarchy. To be accurate, it is the monarchy of the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, and the British Overseas Territories. But the name doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.
The powers of the monarch with regard to the conduct of Government are purely ceremonial. As of 8 September 2022, the Government is His Majesty’s Government. And my thoughts are with what Charles III must be feeling now that he has stepped into a role that is surely one of the most special, strange, and demanding.
The role of the monarch has steadily reduced since Magna Carta in 1215, and brought to an end with the beheading of Charles I in 1649. The republican Commonwealth of England lasted just a hair’s breadth of time – until 1660. But when the monarchy was restored it was not the same creature. With the Bill of Rights of 1689 it was made clear that the monarch did Parliament’s bidding and the role became ceremonial – a Constitutional monarchy.
As an example, when the monarch reads the speech of what his or her Parliament intended to do, the speech is prepared by the Government and the monarch does not utter a single word that is not already prepared.
But the monarch does have power. If the Parliament of MPs votes that it has no confidence in the Government, then the Government must resign and a General election must be held. If the Government refuses to go, the monarch has the power to dismiss it.
And the allegiance of the Armed Forces is to the Crown and not to the Government. In times of civil strife that can matter.
The bottom line is that save for when the Government and the people are at odds, the monarch’s only power is through the myth of the rightness of the pyramid of entitlement. Looking at the span of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, that pyramid has taken some hard knocks. Few people look back at the colonial history of Britain with the same misty eyed view that was the general view in 1952 when she became Queen.
The real power of the monarchy is in how deeply the loss of the Queen will be felt over the coming days and weeks and months..
Charles promised that once King he would rein in on his views on controversial matters. But everything is political in this modern world – and Charles has strong views on the environment and food security.
If this were a country governed by a Government of good repute; if this was a time plenty and rising expectations, then Charles might feel constrained to keep quiet. But the Government and the last Prime Minister are seen by not a few as a bunch of inept charlatans or worse. Charles might well feel he can open his mouth.