As liberals, we oppose the arbitrary concentration of power – and you don’t get more arbitrary than your head of state being hereditary!
As a short disclaimer, I do not intend to go into arguments about cost et cetera, but rather the principle of having a monarchy.
Certainly, a liberal conception of a head of state isn’t one that that has no mandate to challenge what the government legislates, simply rubber-stamping all legislation. A liberal democracy has checks and balances at all levels and subsidiarity to avoid concentration of power.
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. We also 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 not support a constitutional change that would weaken the power of the central government? If we oppose hereditary peers, why do we not oppose an 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 be elected? If we support Freedom of Information, why do we not oppose an institution that is exempt and exercises significant political power? How can we be consistent with our own policies, and our own principles, while we 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 options for a way forward, consistent with a strong, vibrant liberal democracy.
1. Disestablish and deport the monarchy and establish a British republic with a president elected by the public using SV/AV.
2. Disestablish the monarchy and establish a British republic with a President elected by the public using SV/AV, keeping on the monarchy as ambassadors for the British republic.
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, such as electing 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 personally most keen on the second.
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 me, you have to admit that she has served the public for a long time and that, in itself, deserves commendation.
To conclude, I think that an elected head of state must be a part of any radical, liberal constitutional settlement for Britain.
* Kevin McNamara 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.