By Kevin McNamara
This is a long fought argument and maybe one that everyone that will read this is tired of hearing but nonetheless, it is an argument that all liberals should support.
As liberals, we oppose the concentration of arbitrary concentration of power – and you don’t get more arbitrary than your head of state being hereditary!
As a short disclaimer, I in no way intend to go into arguments about cost, etcetera, but rather the principle of having a monarchy.
Certainly, a liberal conception of a head of state is not one that that has no mandate to challenge anything the government legislates and simply rubber-stamps all legislation. A proper liberal democracy has checks and balances at every level and subsidiarity to avoid concentration of power in any one area. We support devolving power away from Westminster because we believe that local decision-making is superior and more accountable than laws emanating from Whitehall. We support an elected House of Lords, because we believe that no-one should inherit a seat in parliament and that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those who follow them and because we believe that an elected house has more of a mandate to challenge the Commons which can often pass bad laws. We support proportional representation because we believe all votes should be equal and no one party should have a majority unless a majority of voters put their trust in them. We support Freedom of Information because we believe that those officials who exercise power on our behalf should be open to scrutiny.
If we support devolving power away from Westminster, why do we oppose a constitutional change that would weaken government? If we oppose hereditary peers, why do we support a hereditary head of state? If we believe that those who make the laws of the land should be elected, why do we not believe that those who sign them into law should not be elected? If we support Freedom of Information, why do we support an institution that is free from scrutiny and exercises significant political power? How can be we consistently with our own policies, and with our principles, support a monarchy?
Does this mean I hate the queen or the royal family? No. Does this mean I think they have no role in the future of the UK? Interestingly enough, not at all.
There are a few possibilities for a way forward, consistent with a strong, vibrant liberal democracy.
- Disestablish and deport the monarchy and establish a British republic with a president elected by the public using SV/AV.
- Disestablish the monarchy, establish a British republic politically with a president elected by the public using SV/AV, keeping the monarchy on as ambassadors for the British republic.
- Disestablish the monarchy politically but keeping it as an honorary head of state, establishing a British republic politically with a president elected by the public using SV/AV that exercises the powers of an elected head of state while keeping the monarchy as the face of Britain.
- Make the monarchy an elected position using AV/SV, so keeping the monarchy as the head of state.
As we have found with the House of Lords debate, the ways you can go about reform are inexhaustible. You could probably use indirect elections, elect the Prime Minister, or any other number of solutions to this democratic deficit as well as any number of questions over what sort of power an elected head of state would have. As for the solutions I just briefly sketched out, I am less keen on one and three.
Firstly, I quite like ol’ Liz. I wouldn’t be keen on deporting her and her family even if I didn’t. Even if you do not believe that she has done a good job, or you are a Republican like I, you have to admit that she has served the public for a long time and that in itself deserved commendation.
And put quite simply, the third option seems like a hodgepodge to me. We need constitutional clarity, not overlapping roles!
As for choosing between the second and fourth options? I’m rather agnostic. I can see arguments for an elected monarch would be in keeping with British tradition. I can also see why keeping the royals on as ambassadors would be good for Britain – it keeps our image to the outside world and also pleases monarchists (to an extent! But we’re Lib Dems, we love compromise!)
To conclude, I think that an elected head of state must be a part of any radical, liberal constitutional settlement for Britain.
Kevin is secretary and treasurer of the University of Kent Liberal Democrats, Executive Member of Liberal Democrats Grassroutes to Government and can be found on multiple websites on his About.Me page.