This week the United Kingdom celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, marking the 60anniversary of her ascension to the throne of Great Britain and her reign as Queen regent of the Commonwealth countries. The bank holiday weekend was highlighted by a jubilee pageant, a BBC concert at Buckingham palace, a thanksgiving service and several balcony appearances, and was celebrated as an excuse for the British middle class to take off from work and spend four days at the pub. At a moment of economic crisis, the exorbitant expenses incurred by this celebration have many spectators questioning both the relevance and the utility of celebrating the Queen’s reign, especially in such an extravagant manner.
These four days of events and the enormous expenses incurred by UK taxpayers and those of the commonwealth mark the celebration of the country’s unwillingness to let go of irrelevant and unnecessary symbols that represent the United Kingdom’s imperialist history and unwavering class system. The cost of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to Britain and its taxpayers is estimated at 3 billion pounds (roughly $4.6 billion) at a time when unemployment rates are skyrocketing and many of Britain’s poor barely have enough money to pay for their basic amenities such as food, housing, energy, and water.
Throughout Britain’s history the monarchy exercised direct executive, legislative and judicial power. However, following a struggle between the Crown and Parliament in the 17century, and the establishment of the party system in the 19century, the role of the crown exponentially lost its political relevance. Today the only real duties of the royal family are to function as symbols of British identity and to spend UK tax money on its lavish lifestyle. While the Queen still maintains political power on paper (she is executive of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords), in reality all governing functions of the Crown are exercised by ministers responsible to parliament. The Queen is obliged to obey the will of her ministers and accept any bill passed by both the House of Commons and House of Lords.
These facts lead one to wonder what the reaction of Britain’s parliamentarians would be were the Queen to attempt to take an active role in dictating legislation. Having no clear political purpose, the relevance of spending billions of UK tax money on celebrating and maintaining an anachronistic symbol that helps perpetuate social inequality is being called into question. The question belies, is it appropriate to maintain an outdated symbol and reminder of a country’s imperial past in a modern functioning democracy?