According to a famed British constitutional scholar, Walter Bagehot, Queen Elizabeth II “could disband the army; she could dismiss all the officers . . .she could sell off all our ships-of-war and all our naval stores; she could make a peace by the sacrifice of Cornwall and begin a war for the conquest of Brittany. She could make every citizen in the United Kingdom, male or female, a peer; she could make every parish in the United Kingdom a ‘University’; she could dismiss most of the civil servants, and she could pardon all offenders.”
Her Majesty’s actual rights as a Queen are only three:
However her duties are far greater than her rights. Her Majesty’s duties do not just consist one or two, but the many below:
In times of Crisis, as with a hung Parliament, the lack of an automatic choice of Prime Minister or an unjustifiable and unnecessary request for a dissolution of Parliament, the Monarchy provides an impartial and non-political arbitrator, like an umpire called in when the players cannot agree. It would also be able to intervene if the government acted un-constitutionally by, say putting the opposition in jail, abolishing elections, or instructing the police not to prosecute members of the government for criminal offences. The Monarch can also dissolve Parliament, and appoint a Prime Minister to their liking, which has been done throughout Her Majesty’s reign. This duty falls upon the Monarch not only in England, but in the Commonwealth countries that retain the British Sovereign as their Monarch and Head of State.
A form of Government that only came into being yesterday can quite easily be overthrown tomorrow; an institution sanctified by 1,000 years of Sovereignty is more deeply embedded in the consciousness of the nation and more closely woven into the fabric of political life. It can still be overthrown (as by Oliver Cromwell in 1649), but people are still likely to think very hard before they pick up the sword. The Monarchy was Restored (1659 Charles II).
Governments come and go, A week is a long time in Parliament, and five years a lifetime. But the Sovereign is always there, and the apparatus of monarchy helps to bridge the discontinuities of party politics.
A lifetime of reading state papers, meeting heads of state and ambassadors, and holding a weekly audience with the Prime Minister gives The Queen an unequalled store of knowledge and experience. Politicians see state papers only when they are in office, but the Queen sees them every day. Her constitutional right to be consulted, to encourage and to warn makes this experience available to every government, as it is after all, Her Government.
Party politics is about disagreement and confrontation. It encourages polarisation – rich against poor, north against south, management against unions, black against white, Catholic against Protestant. Parliament institutionalises division and conflict. The monarchy is about national unity and institutionalises cooperation and consensus.
The heredity principle does more than provide a formula for unopposed succession. It also means that everyone knows who the successor is likely to be, and that he or she will have been groomed for the job from birth.
A family at the head of the nation’s affairs is something everyone can understand and identify with. It makes the state seem human, personal and accessible. A parliament portrays public life as a battlefield; the monarchy portrays it as a family circle.
Recognition of Achievement:
By honours, awards, visits, patronage and sponsorship the sovereign and the Royal Family can recognise and reward achievement by individuals and organisations, and publicly affirm their value to the nation.
Focus of Allegiance:
A person and a family are a powerful symbol for the armed services of what they are fighting for, and are not so vulnerable to the winds of political favour in supporting the forces and honouring their sacrificing.
Because the monarchy is permanent, it can set a consistent moral standard which people can look to as a guide and example.
The monarchy can also give the nation an example or, to be more precise, a range of examples of acceptable behaviour in the smaller matters of social convention and behaviour. Even when some members of the Royal Family do not behave as well as people expect them to, they are still contributing to the process of reviewing and revising the nations behaviour patterns.
Custodianship of the Past:
Through its ceremony, pageantry and ritual, the monarchy preserves the link with Britain’s history and reminds people of the country’s past achievements and the antiquity of their state.
Trusteeship of the Future:
By being close to the heart of affairs, but outside of the political arena, the Royal Family can focus attention on the country’s long-term dangers and opportunities as a counterweight to the inevitably short-term preoccupations of politicians in the heat of the party battle.
Uniting the Nation with the State:
Most important of all is the combination of the constitutional role as Head of State and the social role as Head of the Nation within a single institution, a single family and a single office. If the sovereign can be the focus of the people’s loyalty, pride, patriotism and a sense of nationhood, then the people are simultaneously focusing these emotions on the state of which the Queen is the constitutional head; they are confirming and supporting the legitimacy of the political, legal and economic system which regulates their daily lives.
A Commonwealth Realm is a country which has The Queen as its Monarch. The Queen is Head of State (Queen) of 15 Commonwealth realms in addition to the UK. She is also Head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 53 independent countries. From Australia to Antigua, Canada to Cameroon, the Commonwealth is a remarkable international organisation, spanning every geographical region, religion and culture. It exists to foster international co-operation and trade links between people all over the world.
Powers of the Queen:
If the Queen pleases, she can ride in a horse carriage down Rotten Row, where others can only ride horseback. Her picture will appear on postage stamps, but she will not need them; her personal mail is franked. She can drive as fast as she likes in a car which needs no license number. She could tell her sister Princess Margaret when she could marry. She can confer Britain’s highest civilian decoration, the Order of Merit—one honour in which the Sovereign retains freedom of choice.
What Her Majesty cannot do is vote. Nor can she express any shading of political opinion in public. The Queen cannot sit in the House of Commons, although the building is royal property. She addresses the opening session of each Parliament, but she cannot write her own speech. The Queen cannot refuse to sign a bill of Parliament, and she cannot appear as a witness in court, or rent property from her subjects.