Tag Archives: abolition

Abolish the monarchy

As I watch the news of William, Kate and George visiting Australia and New Zealand, I wonder to myself “Why should we care about this? What is so special about these people?” The answer is that they are from the arbitrarily designated family that have been chosen to be the special family. I’m not going to beat about the bush. I think it’s time that we did away with the monarchy. It’s an outdated concept from a time before we were a democratic nation, and yet it has somehow managed to cling on to existence.

The monarchy is a fundamentally undemocratic concept, with people just born into royalty. Of course, some people would argue that the majority of people are in favour of a monarchy, making it democratic. But there has been no referendum or any sort of official public vote to confirm this, so regardless of whether most people are actually in favour, it doesn’t make it any more democratic. We could vote for the current system to remain (if we ever got the chance), but for there to be real democracy, this could not be binding forever. There would have to be other chances to vote on this matter in the future. A one-off vote on a subject followed by a permanently closed door is not democracy. To be as democratic as other nations, we would need to have the chance to vote on the matter as often as they elect their heads of state.

So, what would I replace the monarchy with? People often assume that I’d have a president as a replacement head of state. Well, actually I wouldn’t. It might be the done thing to have some sort of head of state, but this doesn’t make it essential. The monarch doesn’t make any important decisions, but mostly just meets people, either in this country or abroad. We don’t need someone with a title as lofty as “head of state” to do this. There are no particular skills required for head of state. Anyone could do it, which is why we can safely use the current “selection” process. One possibility for this glorified meeting and greeting role would be for it to be given out to different people on different occasions using a lottery system. Anyone could take part, so anyone could have the opportunity to meet these people from other countries. This is just one possibility, and not an idea that I’m particularly committed to. But I think it sounds quite fun, while at the same time making a statement that we don’t consider some people to be fundamentally better or more important than anyone else, and it’s probably as good an idea as any, and certainly better than what we have now.

The lottery winners wouldn’t have as many roles as the Queen currently has, however, since many of these roles don’t need to exist, such as the Queen’s speech, opening Parliament,  and signing off legislation. These are just outdated ideas that happen to have continued through time, but that we have no need for. For example, take the Queen’s speech: it seems absurd to me that she should be reading out the aims of the current government of the day. They’re perfectly capable of doing it themselves, and don’t need some sort of puppet (who is supposed to be politically neutral) to do it for them.

The monarchy is a discriminatory idea, and flies in the face of the drive towards equality. How can one argue on one hand how unfair it is that those from rich and privileged families get more opportunities, while on the other hand argue to keep the monarchy? Of course, the joke is that people have in all seriousness successfully argued for a change in the law so that females are not discriminated against in terms of succession to the throne. This would mean that had William and Kate’s firstborn been a girl, she would not have been demoted down the line of succession by any later born males. This ignores the fact that the monarchy is the epitome of discrimination, so really what difference does it make in the grand scheme of things if males are favoured over females within such a discriminatory system? No-one is more deserving than anyone else, so either way involves favouring some arbitrary undeserving individual over another arbitrary undeserving individual.

What about the economic benefits that the monarchy brings to the country? It’s hard to get an objective answer to this. The royal family arguably costs us £180 million a year when everything is factored in. It’s impossible to measure the exact amount that it gains for the country through e.g. tourism, but this money generally goes to people who run gift shops or other tourism-related companies. It doesn’t generally go to “us” as a whole, even if some may come back through tax. So even if there are people that overall cash in on the Queen, it doesn’t mean that we all do. In any case, my argument against the monarchy is not economic. Sometimes there are more important things to consider: things such as equality, democracy, fairness, and generally not giving an arbitrary family privileges most people could only dream of through a mere accident of birth. Of course, while we do still have the monarchy, the amount of money spent on the Royal Family needs to be cut. There’s no need for us taxpayers to keep them in such luxury, whatever economic benefits they might bring.

I’ve already argued that there should be no official titles, so this is just a logical extension of that. It’s time this country grew up.

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Time to abolish the TV licence

It has been proposed that evading the television licence fee should be made a civil rather than criminal offence due to the draconian nature of criminal proceedings for such an offence, although the BBC have expressed concerns that it will increase levels of evasions, potentially costing £200 million. 

But a far simpler and less problematic solution is available. Abolish the licence fee and have payment through general taxation. The licence fee is an outdated concept that adds an extra layer of complexity to people’s lives, and I think we’d be better off without it. By using the graduated taxation system, it would also become more progressive, as there is currently a set fee for everyone regardless of personal wealth or income.

What reasons could there be for keeping the current licensing system? Arguably payment through general taxation would be unfair. Some people don’t have televisions, and yet they would still have to fund the BBC. However, the current system is unfair anyway, and the change would make it no less unfair. Currently, you don’t have to buy a television licence to access many services that are paid for through the licence fee. This includes BBC radio, the BBC iPlayer and the BBC website. It is only television, or simultaneous internet transmission, that you watch while it is being broadcast that incurs the fee. You also have to pay the licence fee for watching programmes on any channel, not just those paid for by the BBC licence fee. In other words, you can use services funded by the licence fee and not have to pay, or not use any services funded by the licence fee and yet have to pay anyway. Since the licence does not work in the interests of fairness, it makes more sense to have simpler payment through general taxation, which I see as far less of a sledgehammer approach. It will never be the case that everyone will get equal use out of every state-funded organisation anyway, but I think it would be wrong to begrudge this or demand that there be an individual licence for each of these.

If the BBC was paid for through taxes, there is the concern that it would lose its independence and become government television. However, the licence fee is officially considered to be a tax, so the argument isn’t technically valid. Regardless, I think these fears are unfounded. Many organisations receive state funding but retain their independence, such as universities and arts councils. Also, if clear guidelines are laid down, it really makes no difference if the money comes from a licence fee or from general taxation. And the BBC trustees are currently not selected independently from government anyway.

There is also the argument that some have made that there should be nothing special about the BBC, so it should just be paid for by adverts or through a specific BBC subscription. This change is much bigger than what I am proposing and would require far more debate, and would be unlikely to happen for years anyway. The change I am proposing today would not affect the day-to-day running of the BBC, but would eliminate a layer of complexity from our lives, and the problem of payment evasion (above and beyond general tax evasion of course), so would be a quick win all round. There is a good case for this change regardless of where you stand on the BBC in general.