The Monarchy is an ancient, yet “forward-thinking” institution that gives continuity to the British political system, the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps Alistair Harrison told a recent meeting of the Young Diplomats in London.
The secret to the survival of the British Monarchy “is its ability to adapt with the times,” said the Marshal, adding that it was the first British institution to use television as a medium of mass communication for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, while the modern monarchy has embraced social media, and now has its own Youtube and Twitter channels.
Explaining the constitutional role of the monarch, the Marshal looked ahead to the elections in 2015. “The Queen is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister,” said Mr Harrison, “but she does so on the basis of the person who can command a majority in the House of Commons.”
The Marshal stressed that executive power rests with the Prime Minister. Political statements made by the Monarch – such as the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament – are on the advice of the Prime Minister. Royal Assent given to all new acts of parliament is done on the advice of the government and there is no royal veto. Appointments, such as British high commissioners or ambassadors, are made in consultation with the government (usually the Foreign Secretary).
The other 15 “working royals” are free to make public statements on their personal views, added the Marshal, but they are “careful to avoid political controversy,” he added.
In September next year, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest reigning monarch in British history. The majority of the Realms of which She is Queen – countries that have opted to retain Her as Head of State at independence – have had no other Head of State.
This provides states with a sense of continuity, said the Marshal. “The constitutional personality of the Monarchy is continuous. The Royal Standard is never flown at half mast because after the death of a sovereign it is immediately flying for the new sovereign.”
He also pointed to the Queen’s role as Head of the Commonwealth, which was a symbol of unity. He added that the Commonwealth Games were a “great unifying feature” of the organisation, as demonstrated by the successful Glasgow Games.