Sixty-three Years and Counting

On Friday, February 6, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II marked 63 years on the throne of the United Kingdom. She is the second-longest reigning British monarch. If she makes it through September 10 of this year, she will surpass Queen Victoria’s 63 years, 7 months, and 2 days, and become the longest. Given the apparent state of her health, her survival until then is likely.

Some believe that the British monarchy is an anachronism, or a fossil. Great Britain is a functioning democracy, probably more “democratic” than the United States, at least in the sense that it lacks the checks and balances of the federal system and tripartite division of government, that tend to slow down and even squelch ephemeral movements. The Queen has a veto over legislation in theory, but no monarch since Queen Anne in the early 18th Century has used it. Nearly every official act of the Queen is done on the advice of the then current Prime Minister and his government.

That is not to say that monarchy is irrelevant in any sense. In matters of state, if there were to be a hung parliament; that is, no party or coalition of parties obtains a majority in the House of Commons to form a government, the Queen would decide who would be Prime Minister with a commission to do so. Being strictly apolitical and non-partisan, she would have a great deal of confidence with the public to choose correctly. As head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the monarch is a focal point for cooperation among those member nations, 16 of which she is the titular queen. The tourism attracted by the pomp and pageantry of the monarchy brings hundreds of millions if not billions of pounds to Britain every year. That pomp also underscores that the present Queen is the thirtieth in an unbroken line from William the Conqueror in 1066 – nearly a thousand years. That continuity underscores the unity and identity of the nation. Few of us who are over the age of 50 will not see it, but the present Queen’s grandson or great-grandson will be king at the millennium.

Every now and then, a few soreheads in Britain call for the abolition of the monarchy. That continues to be an exercise in futility. The advantages of a monarchy in the United Kingdom are obvious to all. Even the recent failed referendum on independence for Scotland proposed to retain the Queen as head of state.

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