A great jubilee but what is the future of the monarchy?

As people return to work after a long bank holiday weekend and business in the Commons and Lords resumes, the difficult question must be asked, what is the future of the monarchy? Although the Queen’s popularity remains strong, the same cannot be said of her successor Prince Charles, especially amongst young people.

Compared to his mother and his son, Charles these days seems dated. It is hard to imagine him doing a sketch with Daniel Craig or Paddington Bear. Despite this, half of people expect him to a good job as monarch, though 75% think Prince William will do a good job.

There is no national mood to abolish the monarchy. But whether the monarch should remain the head of state is a more open question. Especially as Prince Charles has a track record of lobby ministers for his people obsessions. Should we move to a presidential system?

The Queen’s popularity remains undiminished. The Queen has an overall approval rate of 69% (Conservatives 93%; Labour 58%; Lib Dem 75%). She is more popular among women than men, among older people than younger people and more popular in the south than in Scotland. (YouGov survey in mid-May. Popularity calculated by subtracting all negative opinions from all positive opinions.)

The popularity of the next in line for the throne, 74 year-old Prince Charles, is no match for the Queen. His overall approval rating is just 19% (C: 45%; L: 8%; LD: 33%). He is more popular with the over-65s (46%) and unpopular with the under 25s (-27%). His wife, Camilla is even less popular.

Second in line to throne, Prince William fares better with an approval rating of 59% (C: 86%; L: 44%; LD: 61%). He is more popular with the under 25s with an approval of 25%. His wife Catherine enjoys similar ratings.

A recent survey by Ipsos showed that half of people think Prince Charles will do a good job as monarch, one fifth disagree. That’s not a match on Prince William (74% good job; 7% bad job).

It is reported that Prince Charles is considering shrinking the monarchy by cutting the number of official senior royals after the Queen dies. Whether he cuts down the soap-opera of minor royals we must wait and see. Some in the media see the Queen’s balcony yesterday with just the heirs to the throne as a message that the future is a reduced monarchy.

As we saw over the weekend, a major role of the monarchy is pomp, circumstance and partying (as well as having tea with a stuffed bear). The other role of the monarch is titular, signing all government legislation including orders to prorogue parliament and delivering the Speech outlining the government’s agenda whether they agree with what the government is delivering or not.

The Queen has always been discreet about her discussions she has with prime ministers. After a 10-year legal battle, the Guardian uncovered memos showing that Prince Charles made direct and persistent policy demands to Tony Blair and his ministers. It has previously been said that he will continue such “heartfelt interventions” as king. That is dangerous territory for the unelected monarchy. The government changed the law to ensure communications between the monarch and the government are secret.

The question we face now, and I suspect will be sharper in people’s minds after Prince Charles reign, is why don’t we have a fully functional head of state like other countries? The monarchy could withdraw to ceremonial and charitable duties. An elected head of state, a president, could take responsibility for the legislative roles currently taken on by the monarch.

But presidents are unlikely to be satisfied with such limited responsibilities and they will want real power. That would require a rewiring of our democratic system. Including sorting out the House of Lords.

A presidential system would introduce a check on the powers and decisions of the prime minister, and that could only be a good thing. But folk hero President Zelensky aside, there are not many good role models for a president. Obama yes. Trump no. President Blair? President Johnson?

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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15 Comments

  • John Barrett 6th Jun '22 - 2:51pm

    If the monarchy wants to survive, it will have to continue to make a number of changes to avoid much of the criticism that justifiably heads its way. It has already done this a number of times already, such as when income tax started to be paid by the monarch in 1993, Charles slimming down the numbers on the balcony and William and Kate stopping people bowing to them is a start. But it needs to go much further, faster and for instance; to make changes to reduce the numbers of those in the family supported to a greater or lesser degree by the Queen, such as Prince Andrew, to reduce the vast army of staff including valets and butlers, to reduce the numbers of Castles and Palaces at the disposal of the Royals, and much more.

  • nvelope2003 6th Jun '22 - 4:15pm

    We have an elected Prime Minister. Why do we need an elected head of state ? What would he do all day except eat up a lot of taxpayers’ money. Would anyone be interested in such a figure ? Sometimes it is best to leave well alone. The German and Italian presidents are said to cost more than our monarchy but few people even know their names, whereas the Queen is known throughout the world. She is even more popular in the Irish Republic than any of their own politicians ! Prince Charles is a serious man who is concerned about real issues such as the environment but seems to suffer from the fact that he married the wrong woman. On the day that the Conservatives are having a vote to decide the future of the leader who appears to have won a general election for them by telling lies and seemingly continues to do so and the senior law officer is making excuses for his behaviour, perhaps we should be having a look at the type of people who seek elective office and see what can be done to get the right people instead. This what the people seem to be most concerned about.

  • Peter Davies 6th Jun '22 - 4:36pm

    The good role models, should we need one, can be found in ROI and Germany. They are a product of well written constitutions that tightly proscribe the role and which also encourage consensus politics from which figures respected across parties can emerge.

  • Chris Bertram 6th Jun '22 - 4:44pm

    @nvelope2003 – no, we don’t have an “elected prime minister”. The PM is elected to parliament as a constituency MP, same as the rest; he/she becomes PM as leader of their party, who can depose them at any time and provide us with a new PM in between elections and without reference to the public. This, you may remember, is how we first got Boris Johnson as our PM.

    I’m not an out-and-out monarchist; I don’t on the whole like the hereditary principle, but it has mostly provided an element of stability that elected politics simply cannot. I’d be open to the idea of a non-hereditary head of state. But I’m not buying a pig in a poke and saying that we should do away with the monarchy without having a preferred alternative in mind – and just saying “elected president” doesn’t do it for me, I’d need more details concerning eligibility, term of office with or without limits, duties and so on.

    Hope that helps.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jun '22 - 4:53pm

    @nvelope2003

    I think we need a separate elected head of state for ceremonial matters. Which ought to cost us a lot less than the monarchy (the Queen attracts tourists so some tourist revenue comes from that but I don’t see that would continue so much with her eldest offspring)

    And I’m thinking that politicians (or at least those who have served as government ministers) ought not to be eligible to stand for the position of elected head of state – the position should be clearly seen to be impartial – above politics.

  • George Thomas 6th Jun '22 - 4:53pm

    There’s something to be said to having one element of the establishment largely free from debate but figures above suggest that’s wholly to do with how lovable Queen Elizabeth II is rather than the monarchy itself.

    If it is going to continue then some traditions need dropping (Prince Charles is no Prince of Wales) and the way they’re covered by the media needs changing both to respect they’re a family with their own needs and that they’re just a family who are asked to perform a role but otherwise aren’t special.

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 6th Jun '22 - 6:53pm

    “Compared to his mother and his son, Charles these days seems dated. It is hard to imagine him doing a sketch with Daniel Craig or Paddington Bear.”

    Prince Charles did a sketch. Literally. On a stage. In a theatre. With some actors. And it was reasonably funny (obviously Paddington was a trump card).

  • It has been said that the monarch has three rights in terms of consultation with his or her ministers: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. Within those bounds, which are sufficiently broad, the monarch may say whatever he or she pleases. Whether the monarch employs those rights well is another question, though from the point of view of the nation a relatively trivial one, as the ministers are never required to act in response to the monarch’s encouragements or warnings.

    In the best of cases, the monarch acts as the repository of institutional memory and keeper of the nation’s conscience. In the worst case, the monarch is an ill-informed annoyance whom the ministers must endure. But it is not until the monarch attempts to use other tools than those listed above to build his or her own power base that he or she would become a threat to the political stability of the nation.

  • A few more questions for the mix:
    Are they having this conversation in Denmark or the Netherlands or Belgium, or…?
    Where would an elected head of state reside?
    What would happen to the vacated palaces etc?
    What checks and balances would keep the president from becoming an elected dictator like Putin?
    ‘The.. media..needs changing” – who and how is going to do that?
    We don’t have a written constitution: who would draw that up? Who would you trust to do so right now?
    Good luck finding someone ‘above politics’ for the role, btw. Or enthusing voters for anyone who wasn’t already famous for something.

  • The Johnson regime demonstrates the need for a guardian of the constitution which the British monarchy does not provide. The Speaker of the House of Commons probably has less clout than the Chair of the Supreme Court who brings something to the table. However the lack of clarity plays into the hands of a Prime Minister who resists being told what to do by anyone and masks it with perfunctory repeated apologies.
    Personally I have long assumed that we have a perfectly good model on our doorstep, whatever the Irish say about their parliamentarians.

  • I agree wholeheartedly with Andy Boddington on this point. I have long maintained that the main problem with the Monarchy is not that some people like to buy flags and wave them at the sight of a royal in a carriage but that it has led to both the Head of State and the HoL being deprived of real political power, leaving us with a uni-cameral Parliment and an elected dictatorship whenever a party gets a majority in the HoC (and with FPTP it doesn’t even need a majority of the popular vote to achieve that). We are long overdue for a change to an elected president and elected upper chamber, and for the Windsors to be allowed to play a purely celebrity role at their own (not the state’s) expense for the enjoyment of those people who like following celebrities.

  • nvelope2003 7th Jun '22 - 11:11am

    Nonconformistradical: Even a purely ceremonial head of state needs to appeal to the public in some way. Would that person be elected by popular vote? If so there is a danger that someone who was a purely ceremonial figure would get the sort of derisory turnout experienced in the elections for Police and Crime Commissioner and cost a huge amount of money for little benefit. The German President is elected by an electoral college of members of their national and regional parliaments which might be cheaper and at least guarantee a decent turnout. The French and Finnish presidents actually rule their nations with a Prime Minister to do the work. It all sounds like change for the sake of it because its proponents cannot think of anything else to do.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Jun '22 - 1:46pm

    @nvelope2003
    How we could elect a president would be a matter for debate. I’m not in the habit of trying to come up with instant answers – too many politicans are in my view!

    And I wouldn’t regard the continuation of the monarchy while the debate went on as a major problem.

    Clearly given the economic predicament we find ourselves in there are more urgent issues to be addressed

    But I think monarch v elected head of state needs to be part of a constitutional revamp. But there are other constitutional issues which need to be addressed first.

  • This article says the monarchy has only two functions: pomp etc., and being the titular signatory to legislation. How can any follower of the media miss the extraordinary amount of work put in by working royals (e.g. Princess Anne, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Cambridges, etc. etc.) to support and enhance the work of many hundreds of charities, many of them quite unglamorous. To take only two examples, what about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, or the Prince’s Foundation, which alone has created and promoted employment and training for hundreds of thousands of people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including people with learning disabilities, the physically disabled, ex-offenders and many others. The Prince of Wales alone is an active patron of hundreds of charities, and the same is true of other members of the family. In
    any discussion of the role of monarchy, we must surely acknowledge their support for voluntary service, reaching those parts of society that governments and politicians never adequately reach. I am always baffled by statements in the press, that the royal family do no work. Their role in the fabric of British society would be deeply missed — and that is nothing to do with celebrity or tourism. While this, entirely non-political, contribution continues, it is difficult to see how a politically elected replacement would even remotely fill the gap.

  • nvelope2003 8th Jun '22 - 1:35pm

    Nonconformistradical: I think Alice P has said all that needs to be said on this subject. The majority of the people like the idea of the monarchy and until that changes there is little point in these endless debates. We have so many problems in need of solutions that we don’t need solutions in search of a problem. Maybe the Liberal Democrats have run out of ideas and that may be the reason why they do not have a majority in Parliament. People are confused by all this constitutional discussion. What we need is some decent MPs and other leaders who are not motivated by an obsession with reducing their own tax bill but looking for solutions to our real problems such as poverty and prisons bursting with too many people.

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