Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The case for a British republic (BSDA #17)

As frequent readers of this blog will be aware, I am in favour of the abolition of the British monarchy. I want to explain why, and, rather than boringly explaining this in the conventional way, I am going to make my points as responses to common monarchist arguments in favour of the monarchy.

Monarchist arguments, and my rebuttals

1. Monarchy provides stability.

Inaccurate. There is an ongoing political crisis in monarchical Belgium which has resulted in there being no government for the eleven months since their last general election. Monarchies have fallen in Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy and numerous other countries. It is not true to say that monarchies are more stable than republics. The stability of a nation is based mainly on its prosperity, the unity of its citizens and its geographical location. There is no correlation between type of head of state and stability.

2. Monarchy is good for tourism.

Inaccurate. Of the top 20 British tourist attractions, only one is a royal residence - Windsor Castle at number 17. Windsor Legoland is ten places higher on the list. By that logic, we should have a Lego man as head of state. (Which would be ironic, as we haven't had Danish leaders for nearly a thousand years - in that time we've had French, Dutch and Germans instead...)

3. Monarchy, as a British tradition, is a good thing.

There are two assumptions at work here, both inaccurate. One is that monarchy is a British tradition. In fact, all the great political reforms in history - Magna Carta, the 1640s revolution, the Glorious Revolution, the development of parliamentary superiority in the 1700s - have been as a result of We The People fighting to gain power from an unaccountable hereditary leader. British traditions include democracy, the right to social mobility, religious pluralism, accountability and choice; all of which are incompatible with monarchy. Secondly, there's the notion that tradition is in itself a good thing. If that were true, we'd still have slavery, women wouldn't be able to vote and lords would still own our land. Oh, and we'd still be going around the world invading less powerful countries for their natural resources. (Ahem....) There's nothing implicitly good about  tradition itself - the past is only good when it's still relevant in the present and future. Monarchy is not.

4. A hereditary monarch is a unifying symbol.

This is a daft statement. A hereditary monarchy, in going against all British principles, is hardly a symbol that can be considered as unifying the nation. I think we acknowledge as a people that election is the only meaningful way of establishing who has power. So whatever we think about David Cameron, we acknowledge he has the moral right to be prime minister, as he's leader of the Conservative party, which has the most seats in the House of Commons. What physical right does Prince Charles have to become our next king? Also, can you really argue that the monarchy is unifying when the symbolism of the Crown, the flag and the monarch were such a part of the Troubles in Northern Ireland?

5. The royal family work hard for our country.

Hardly. They cut a few ribbons, go on fabulously expensive trips round the world at our expense and invite foreign despots and murderers to their weddings. This argument implies that the royals work harder than our great scientists, our artists, our engineers and builders. Anyone with half a brain knows this isn't true. Furthermore, the royals do nothing that an elected president could not. Or, indeed, anyone with half a brain...

6. Electing a leader would result in president Blair or president Thatcher.

The number of people who've said this to me makes it fairly certain that there wouldn't be, if either of these two ever chose to stand for election as a president. It seems absurd to suggest that these would be the only kind of candidates - the last two presidents of Ireland have been a barrister and a charity campaigner. We have plenty of these, and I think most would make fantastic leaders and role models to our citizens. Monarchists seem consumed with a self-loathing which makes them hate the people they themselves elect, and they therefore seem to think the random chance of birth can make better decisions about who's fit to rule than the people of Britain.

7. The monarchy has no power.

Probably the worst lie of all. In fact the monarchy has a massive and dangerous amount of power, which is vested by tradition in other parts of the government. The royal prerogative means that Tony Blair could go to war in Iraq without consulting parliament first. The monarch can choose anyone he/she wants as prime minister (see 1957 and 1963 for examples. Go on, look 'em up). The Crown-in-Parliament principle means that Parliament can pass any law it likes - meaning our liberties can never be guaranteed. All these intolerable abuses of power could be checked with a written constitution and a president to defend it. Finally, the monarch can legally do no wrong at all. He/she cannot be charged with any crime, impeached or tried in any way. Is that acceptable in the 21st century? I think not.

8. The monarchy is value for money.

Inaccurate. The monarchy costs over 100 times the Irish presidency, and is considerably worse in constitutional terms. In any case, democracy shouldn't be tempered by questions of cost. Democracy is a right, and we should defend it wholeheartedly.

9. People in other countries love our royals.

So it would seem. The sycophancy of the American press regarding the royal wedding is rather worrying. But you don't see Americans advocating a return to monarchy. Why? Because more than a foreign monarchy, they admire their own Constitution, a great document which sets out a republican system that has served the country well for more than 200 years, and has allowed even poor farmers like Abraham Lincoln, born in a one-room cabin in Kentucky, to rise to their nation's highest office. And anyway, are monarchists really suggesting our democracy is of less value than the ability to write fairytales for foreign television?

10. Having a president would result in a system like that in the USA.

No. I'm not suggesting that we move to a presidential system. I would see the parliamentary control over the executive retained, meaning we'd keep the post of prime minister. The president would be an impartial leader who would be tasked with preventing abuses of the constitution. When it gets written. The exact system I advocate is outlined here: http://dft.ba/-modelrepublic.

There are many more arguments for the republic, which I don't have the time to go into here. Any questions, put them in comments - I'll answer them all. Essentially, my view is that election is the only patriotic, democratic, modern and fair way to decide our head of state. For more information on all the questions of this complex debate, go to http://www.republic.org.uk/ and join the campaign to change Britain for the better. Also, if you go back to March in this blog, you can find a two-part rant on the ways that the monarchy retains its power and stifles any debate about itself.

Follow this blog if you like. More politics to come! Twitter: @antmoorfield. 


  1. You seem to think that we have a say on this?

  2. I would like to think we do. One would hope that we would be allowed a referendum within, say, the next ten years. Probably fanciful, knowing the pace of change within this country, but you do what you can, after all...