The Liberal Democrats and Republicanism: In conversation with Julian Huppert MP (Part 2)

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(5)   Will the eradication of monarchy ever be a priority for the Party?

It’s something I’m always aware of and I think it matters for the identity of the Party. I think there will be interesting times when the current Queen stops reigning, whether she abdicates or dies. I think that will be a very important moment to try to engage the country on the issue of Republicanism.

You have to accept the current Queen is personally popular. There are lots of polls done about politicians which always find that local MP’s are more popular than MP’s in general.  It’s harder to conduct a poll comparing this current Queen to the concept of monarch. I would suspect that she would substantially outperform her job if such a poll were to be conducted. That transition point will therefore be an important one for a widespread re-evaluation of the institution of monarchy. That for me is a really important opportunity to change the way the system works.

(6)   Do you think the reaction to recent events, the Diamond Jubilee and Royal birth included, demonstrates the long term security of the monarchy?

These events have certainly bolstered support for the monarchy. We will have to wait and see. However, I don’t think Charles is as personally popular.

(7)   How do you think a specifically Liberal Democrat case for a Republic differs from that of other parties?

If you look at our fundamental values, we exist to create a free, fair and open society, where no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. It is not a free and fair society if there is somebody who by birth right is in charge, however nominally. I don’t think it helps to free others from enslavement if individuals are put into certain roles based on their birth right. It’s the hereditary aspect which is the central problem.

(8)   On a more theoretical level, how do you think Liberalism makes a better case for Republicanism, than Socialism does?

In my opinion, one of the core principles of Liberalism is about equality of opportunity. A monarchy flies in the face of this sole principle. It is less objectionable because it so curtailed. I think Liberals would unite against the prospect of a powerful monarch. There would be no question about that whatsoever.

I am not sure I can necessarily argue from a Socialist perspective. I am not always entirely sure which parties are Socialist in the UK. From the Socialist perspective, one may defend Republicanism on the basis of equality. Yet I believe it is important to distinguish economic and social equality from equality of opportunity.

From historical experience, Socialism has had a ‘big man effect’, where support of a sole figurehead has become a reality. However, there is a perfectly viable Social Democratic case for a Republic as well. This case is connected to certain Liberal values, but is not a clear cut connection.

(9)   If I am right in saying that your opposition to the institution of monarchy stems from a belief in the principle of equality of opportunity, how would you respond to the claim that Liberalism does not result in a level balanced playing field?

I think Liberalism in its purest form makes the playing field fair. It’s doesn’t ensure that every classroom has the same number of students. That’s why we shouldn’t conflate notions of equality with equality of opportunity. It results in a massive oversimplification if we do. Equality of opportunity is of course different from the more general notion of equality.

If you want a literary example with the problems of equality, there is a wonderful story called ‘Harrison Bergeron’ . It is a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut which is set in a world where everybody is equal. So, if you are particularly strong, you have to carry weights at all times to stop you being able to move faster than anybody else. If you are attractive, you are obliged to wear fake deformities. That is a form of equality which I do not want to see.

The playing field shouldn’t be stacked one way or the other. But I don’t want the score to always be ten all.

(10)   What alternative constitutional model do you support?

I think there are a range of constitutional models that one could have. As long as it fits with the principles which I have previously outlined, I am not attached to a specific alternative. We are not at the stage right now where next week we have to decide which form to go for.

From my perspective, it’s very fundamental to tackle the issue of inheritance of power. The arrangements regarding an elected and accountable Head of State would result in a secondary decision. However, once this decision is made it would make it easier for us to determine what the Head of State’s powers actually are; to what extent they are a figurehead; to what extent are they powerful.

(11)   How would you respond to claims that the US style presidential model is the only alternative constitutional model?

I would disagree that the US style presidential model is the only alternative. For instance, South Africa, Israel and a huge range of countries share a twin approach where the President is a nominal figurehead.

I am not sure I would particularly want a US style presidential model. However, I am relatively relaxed about exactly what form might be chosen. Then again, I would probably lean towards the prospect of a more ceremonial figure.

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