Opinion: The lottery winner who would be King or Queen

Hereditary monarchy has no place in a “fair, free and open society” but royalists and republicans seem to be talking different languages. To bridge the divide we need to choose our head of state by lottery. I agree with William Summers who recently wrote herethat he “cannot support a system of monarchy whereby power is inherited and all but one family is excluded from being head of state.” This is on top of questions of transparency, corruption and political influence, or of historical connotation. But republicans have failed to make the case for any alternative. Arguments from principle land on deaf ears. Worryingly, the words ‘elected’ or ‘politician’ win zero support. Support for a republic remains very low, though most would confusingly like to choose William over Charles.

Brits want something special and anachronistic; something flavourful. “We are happy to accept eccentricity and quirkiness because they reflect an important part of our national character. So in trying to explain the unlikely success of the monarchy, we shouldn’t expect the answer to be based on reason.” (Mark Easton)

Republicans therefore need to embrace rather than bury this “theatrical show of society”, however embarrassing. We must combine principle, if we are to have any, with entertainment.

What we need is a national lottery to choose the monarch. One Brit would be chosen randomly every few years to serve as the country’s figurehead and live a life of luxury, should they wish to. One popular possibility might be to limit the position to over-60s. As a limited precedent, Sweden lets a different citizen run “the country’s official Twitter account” each week. An entrenched class system would no longer be the symbol we present to the world.

Every citizen would know that they, or their children, are as likely as anyone else to be head of state. The position would shine a spotlight around the country. People’s accents, appearances, preferences, skills and backgrounds would be represented in proportion to what Britain is really like. We might spend less time worrying about one privileged family and more worrying about every family; about whether all our potential kings and queens can read, and are free from poverty, ill-health and abuse.

It would highlight the need to limit any remaining powers and ensure that the lucky citizen isn’t dictating policy or evading tax. The role would be entirely ceremonial so merit and accountability – beyond certain guidelines – are unnecessary: it’s an ideal use of sortition. The other Commonwealth Realms and the Church of England can act as they please, but I’d suggest they can all do better.

It’s laughable, yes, but that’s largely the point. Laughter is good, and any republican proposal that is devoid of fun is not going to get very far, however principled. Politicians and written constitutions are not going to excite but it isn’t the hereditary principle itself that the majority support. We need popular but liberal alternatives to King Charles III and perhaps monarchy by lottery ticks all the right boxes.

* Adam Corlett is economist analyst at the Resolution Foundation, and writes here in a personal capacity as a party member.

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15 Comments

  • Perhaps your suggestion isn’t laughable enough, Adam. Why not randomly choose one of the inhabitants of Chester Zoo to be monarch? That would liven up the state opening of parliament.

  • We would do far better to prevent politics as a career and instead choose MPs as we do members of a jury. Fixed , relatively short terms, and no further political involvement once term completed would solve many problems. A professional permanent Civil Service to maintain consistency and procedural correctness.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Jun '12 - 6:55pm

    Sounds like young Adam has been putting fertilizer on his grass roots! ;-)

  • Richard Dean 14th Jun '12 - 7:13pm

    Do we actually have a monarchy? I don’t think we do, not in any sense of being ruled by a monarch. Our monarch’s role is ceremonial and emotional, and it seems that this is somehow enhanced by the idea of the monarchy as a family – and in some sense the Windsors are an ordinary family with ordinary troubles. So heredity is part of the role. The role also requires skills and is enhanced by experience, and there may even be an economic benefit in terms of tourism and fees for TV rights for weddings etc. What might be the comparative advantages of having an elected or even randomly chosen president with powers?

  • The trouble is that both sides – monarchists and republicans – are so rigid and stubborn that they’re unwilling to listen to the other side’s argument. I don’t hold particularly strong beliefs about who the head of state should be, so I’ll post my observations about both sides.

    While both are fully entitled to their opinions, the level of their arguments are extremely shallow. Republicans take the monarchy so literally as if they have absolute power in this country (Swaziland is about the only remaining absolute monarchy in the world, I think). Also the movement can’t get off the ground whilst some of its most prominent cheerleaders include humorless killjoys like Peter Tatchell. A guy who conveys nothing but false victimhood. I have a couple of friends who vote Tory and are Republicans so it’s a much broader church than left-wingers.

    As for the monarchists, their main rebuttal is the cliched “would you rather have President Blair?” line. A pretty big assumption that Tony Blair would ever want to return to politics in this country.

  • Adam >One Brit would be chosen randomly every few years to serve as the country’s figurehead …
    >One popular possibility might be to limit the position to over-60s

    Wasn’t there an actual lottery winner with an electronic tag on his ankle?!
    As if some of the gaffes Prince Philip has come out with aren’t embarrassing enough, you could end up with (if it were truly random), an incontinent alcoholic, a convicted murderer or rapist who’d served their time, an outright racist, or someone with the table manners of a pig welcoming the US president and other world leaders as the representative of Britain.
    Not sure it would do much for our world standing!

    Neil >As for the monarchists, their main rebuttal is the cliched “would you rather have President Blair?” line. A pretty big assumption that Tony Blair would ever want to return to politics in this country.

    Blair is just an illustration. You can substitute ‘Galloway’ or ‘Johnson’ or whichever politician the other person really dislikes to make the same point.

  • “Neil >As for the monarchists, their main rebuttal is the cliched “would you rather have President Blair?” line. A pretty big assumption that Tony Blair would ever want to return to politics in this country.

    Blair is just an illustration. You can substitute ‘Galloway’ or ‘Johnson’ or whichever politician the other person really dislikes to make the same point.”

    If this country, hypothetically, did become a republic, pretty sure a lot of people would elect Boris Johnson as president if he stood. The man’s popularity transcends Tory support.

  • >If this country, hypothetically, did become a republic, pretty sure a lot of people would elect Boris Johnson as president if he stood.

    Which is about the best reason to keep the monarchy I can think of.

  • If we want a realistic republican demand it should be nothing more than this: The monarchy should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

    Personally: I do not want a single elected head of state. I want a messy diverse nation with cabinet government at its core. And I want *all* the profits from ‘crown’ land to go towards education and tackling poverty.

  • Dave G Fawcett 15th Jun '12 - 1:04pm

    I’m an instinctive republican, but one who recognises that monarchists are in a huge majority in Britain and will be for many years to come. What is needed perhaps is a way to ‘legitimise’ the monarchy by testing the will of the people on a regular basis. At the accession of the next monarch and every monarch thereafter let’s have a plebiscite to confirm (or otherwise) the new monarch and then a referendum at every general election asking the question ‘monarchy or republic?’
    Such a solution would legitimise the monarchy, give the public a say in tat legitimisation and allow for the removal of the monarchy at some date in the – probably very distant – future.

  • Mary – you’re thinking of “Franchise” by Isaac Asimov. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franchise_%28Asimov%29
    I remember reading that too – probably as a teenager.

    My own reasons for being a constitutional monarchist, besides being relieved that Thatcher could not become President, (an even bigger fear than President Blair at one time), were strengthened by a visit to the USA many years ago. I offended an American by saying I would not want to meet their then President (Reagan IIRR). I realised the benefit we have of being able to dislike, oppose and even castigate our Prime Minister without being rude to our head of state. Not that the latter is a hanging offence (or worse) any more, but many people are offended by disrespect for the Queen, whereas saying Cameron is a /whatever/ is considered normal political rhetoric.

  • Mary, the story you are thinking of is “Franchise” by Isaac Asimov. In the story, the statistical science of polling has advanced to such an extent that the mood of the entire nation can (it is claimed) be assessed from an analysis of the opinions of a single, computer-selected individual who is supposedly representative of the average of the entire nation. In this scenario it is not the individual’s personal preference with regard to a candidate that is consulted, but his or her responses to a broad-ranging opinion survey including questions about the price of eggs; the winner might be somebody whom the Voter personally would not have chosen, but the computer can deduce from his or her reactions who ‘the People’ *would* have voted for.

  • Adam Corlett 16th Jun '12 - 6:21pm

    Cassie: I’d be happy to give judges the discretion to bar convicted criminals from ever becoming monarch, in the same way they might in future be temporarily denied the vote.

    Here’s another poll. http://yougov.co.uk/news/2012/06/15/monarchy-vs-government/ The alternative it gives – “an elected head of state” is as unpopular as ever. If republicans want a different answer, maybe it’s time to start asking a different question.

    The poll also shows that people think the Queen is more in touch with ordinary Britons than the accountable representatives that they elected. I don’t think she’d come off quite so well against “ordinary Britons” themselves!

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