It is always a big occasion when the Queen pops over from Buckingham Palace to pay her subjects in this part of the kingdom a visit. Before, I go any further I must declare an interest, I am a republican and not just in a narrow Irish sense, but I generally think that monarchies around the world are in 2014 pretty redundant. The recent example in Spain of King Juan Carlos having to abdicate because of his extravagant holidays while his people suffer high unemployment and austerity is a case in point.
Likewise, the monarchy here has emerged remarkably unscathed from the austerity drive as the Sovereign Grant (from the taxpayer) has actually increased by 5% in the last year going from £36.1 to 37.9 million. We demand accountability from people who receive funding from the state all the way from the person on job seekers allowance right through to our MPs. Yet when it comes to the Queen and her family, we all seem to get hypnotised when the head of state we all pay for comes to town to walk around City Hall and visit our local jail. I treat any person who is elected with respect and monarchy should also be treated with respect, but deference is where I draw the line. Any person who is part of the system of government should always be questioned and held to account for the money they spend and the work that they do in their role. The recent trouble that Margaret Hodge encountered as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in actually discovering just what exactly the Royal Family are spending their money on is an example of how ludicrous the current system is.
The Royal Family do bring strengths and I have no reason to disagree that Queen Elizabeth is anything less than a pleasant person with good intentions. But, in a democracy and one which prides itself on its liberal values, it is not just the responsibility of its citizens and our MPs to question the head of state, it is our duty. When Queen Elizabeth comes to town instead just waving flags and watching journalists trip over camera cords to get the next photograph, it would be nice if one of them asked her about money she spends and the job that she does. Likewise, if some of our MPs who represent some of the poorest constituencies in the country were to enquire, that would be good too.
In reality, I know the monarchy is not going anywhere and it has successfully adapted itself to the modern age. My gripe is that the rest of us seemingly haven’t as we drool over the next photo spread and comment on how lovely the handbag is. The monarchy is an integral part of our government. We got rid of the deference to MPs in the forties, followed by the Prime Minister in the fifties and today we should drop the timidity about the monarchy. I want questions asked by MPs and journalists about the work she does and yes, maybe are they value for money? The Queen isn’t a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother and Kate and Wills are not characters from Eastenders, we need to treat them as the figures that they are and question them about the work that they do on Britain’s behalf.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs