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 a researcher at CentreForum.