Tag Archives: monarchy

The question of monarchy

“Well, I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.”

I don’t think any of us would have invented our current constitutional setup from scratch. It is something that has evolved over hundreds of years, emerging from a bloody history that includes the execution of monarchs and civil war, as well as the Glorious Revolution. And like all evolved creatures it bears redundant remnants of its past.

However there are some very beneficial features of the system that we have inherited:

  • It has given us a stable parliamentary democracy, which is rightly envied, and copied, across the world. The formal power of the aristocracy and the wealthy are severely curtailed.
  • There is clear separation between the Head of State and Government, to the extent that the Head of State is effectively banned from taking part in any political activities. This is coupled with clear separation between Government and Judiciary.
  • The smooth transition of power from one Government to another is pretty much guaranteed.
  • The (normal) longevity of the Head of State gives them a perspective on the nation and the world that few others can emulate, and this can inform Prime Ministers (who are, of course, free to ignore it).
  • The ceremonial and historical aspects of the monarchy are hugely popular and act as a focus for community cohesion.

However there are still some problems.

  • The legacy of Empire is still problematic, marked as it was by slavery, abuse and cultural annihilation, and for many the monarchy represents all that was wrong with imperialism.
  • The House of Lords still exists in a form that has echoes of its feudal past. Its scrutiny role is essential, and the inclusion of cross benchers with real expertise is undoubtedly a good thing. The question is how to create an elected chamber which is not just a pale reflection of the Commons.
  • Members of the Royal Family (as opposed to the office of the Monarch, which is funded by income from the Crown Estates) have accumulated vast personal wealth.
  • The wealthy from all sectors of society can still wield substantial soft power over Government.
Posted in Op-eds | 21 Comments

Life resumes…..

It’s been an intense 11 days  since the Queen died.

For many people, a national bereavement takes a similar pattern to any other. The adrenaline gets you through to the funeral and it’s only afterwards that you have to adjust to the loss and its consequences. However we may feel about Queen Elizabeth’s legacy or, indeed, the institution of monarchy itself, it will take some time to get used to the new normal, not least because we have a brand new monarch and a brand new Government.

Anyone under the age of about 75 will not be able to remember having any other monarch than Queen Elizabeth. It’s  astonishing that we have had two Queens, covering 134 of the last 185 years. Both reigned during periods of intense social and economic change. I was thinking about this yesterday  as I woke up and looked up exactly how long they had been on the throne. Victoria had been on the throne for 63 years, 7 months and 2 days – and Elizabeth for 70 years, 7 months and 2 days. In all the wall to wall coverage I’ve absorbed since 8th September, I hadn’t heard that mentioned. Or maybe I’m the only one that finds it worthy of note.

We haven’t in any sort of memory had a new Head of State and Prime Minister in such quick succession. Elizabeth had wartime giant Winston Churchill as her first PM. When George V died, Stanley Baldwin was on his third prime ministerial stint. The last liberal Prime Minister, Asquith, had a couple of years under his belt before Edward VII died and Viscount Melbourne was extremely experienced when the 19 year old Victoria acceded.

The new King Charles has had decades to learn his trade and he has acknowledged that he can’t be as vocal on issues close to his heart as he was as Prince of Wales. A climate change denying Government is bound to be a test.

The cost of living emergency has not gone away. It is biting the most vulnerable every single day.  Inflation may have dipped a tiny bit down to 9.9% in August but households are still finding that the basics in life are a lot more expensive than they were last year before you even think about heating your house.

The last big political announcement was Liz Truss’s plan to deal with meteoric energy price rises. She intends to limit price rise so that the average household will pay no more than £2500. It’s likely you will pay more if you live in an energy inefficient, damp house. That includes many people on low incomes in private lets and social housing.

Ed Davey called Truss’s plan a “phony freeze” saying:

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British Monarchy in 2022 – a Polish perspective

It was June 2012. It seems like yesterday, however it has been 10 years since I had the opportunity to meet the Queen. I just left the hospital where I was treated for kidney stones. Although I felt weak and under the weather, I wanted to be ready for the big occasion.

June 2012 was also a busy month at work. In actual fact, it was a busy year for the UK as we were hosting the Olympic Games whereas Poland and Ukraine were organising the European Championship in football.

The Queen came to Hatfield House to visit her cousin. I was selected to be one of only 30 people from Hertfordshire, who had the opportunity to meet her. Our conversation lasted maybe 60-90 seconds. The Queen asked about my origins and whether I liked living in the UK. I must admit that I was surprised that despite her age, she looked “sharp”, focused and in good health.

The dust has settled after the Bank Holiday Weekend and the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. It might be a good moment to think about the role and relevance of the monarchy in the UK in 2022.

I will never forget a “corridor conversation” with a good friend of mine, who comes originally from Trinidad and Tobago. She said that as a child, instead of learning about the history of her beautiful country, she was taught the history of Great Britain. Quite a recent visit to the Caribbean islands by Prince William and Duchess Kate demonstrates how strongly, in some cases, the resentment towards monarchy is embedded in the mind-set of some of the former British colonies. Painful history of British dominance, which often resulted in the suffering of indigenous population, is amplified by the huge drive of many countries across the globe for independence and self-government.

This is not only a “British problem”. France, Belgium or Portugal, particularly in Africa, also shows how hard it is to maintain the importance of any monarchy in the XXI century. The most recent royal scandals in the UK and Spain also show how difficult it might be to change that perception in the future. I must admit that as a Pole, who has been living in the UK for the last 17 years, the “public hierarchy” is still deeply enrooted in our society. Is it right to inherit your status or position only because you were born into a particular social fabric?

Poland lost its last King in 1795. This is when Poland disappeared from the map of Europe. We only re-gained our independence in 1918. Until the XVIII century, Poland also had a long history of monarchy, however due to our recent history, it is almost a forgotten subject.

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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?

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Towards an elected Head of State

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Whenever Lib Dems talk about what we would want to do when we are in Government again, Constitutional Reform always comes up. PR for elections to the Commons, an Elected Second Chamber and Devolution to the English Regions are the normal areas that get mentioned. I would like to raise another are we should also be talking about as part of a new constitutional settlement, electing our Head of State.

Having a Hereditary Monarch is something that should not fit well with a Party that believes in rejecting “all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, caste, heritage, class, religion or belief, age, disability, sex, gender or sexual orientation’ and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.”

Yet when raised, many seem to think that the only alternative is to have an Executive President as in the USA, Russia or France.

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Observations of an Ex pat – Constitutional tiff

Who said what when and to whom in the British Royal Family is dominating world headlines? Bullying, racism, misogyny, mental health…. They are all urgent and material topics, and it is important that the Queen – and by extension – the Royal Family reflect the concerns of the society at whose apex they stand.

But there is a wider constitutional issue at stake. And it is complicated by the role of the monarchy; the obtuseness of the unwritten British constitution; the British class system; and the problems of investing a part of the constitution in a physical person.

Posted in Op-eds | 20 Comments

Harry and Meghan are getting married. Vince is happy for them…

As a mixed race person, once divorced and a Catholic, I think that Meghan Markle will add a bit of diversity to our Royal Family, and she seems pretty grounded (she’ll need to be with our tabloid press!).

Vince Cable has added his thoughts via Twitter;

But what do our readers think? Over to you, everyone…

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A powerful drama that must not become reality

 

Many of you will have seem the recent television adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s play, King Charles III.

Beautifully and movingly written, in Shakespearean style blank verse, the play is set in the near future, when “King Charles III” has just inherited the throne.

Charles is asked to sign a piece of legislation that would severely limit the freedom of the press. He refuses to do so. He is portrayed as principled and conflicted. He has no wish to cause a constitutional crisis. His conscience just will not allow him to sign.

When Parliament plan to proceed with the legislation anyway, Charles uses his legal right to dissolve Parliament.

I will not give away any “spoilers” about how this fictional situation is resolved. But the play made me wonder how likely it is that such a situation could occur in real life. The worrying fact is that it is quite possible. I am not suggesting that Prince Charles, when he becomes king, would ever behave like his fictional counterpart in this play. But unless the rules are changed, some future monarch could easily do so.

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Royal access to official secrets must stop

In recent days it has been revealed that Prince Charles and Prince William have access to UK official secrets. Charles “routinely receives” secret documents including Cabinet papers. It is not clear whether access stops at the two of them.

This is entirely inappropriate and should cease.

In a democracy, control of the state rests, or should rest, with the elected government. A monarch’s role is purely ceremonial and should entail no real control over any part of the state. The Queen (or William, Charles, George or another person who may succeed her) is unqualified to exercise power, has not been chosen by the people to do so, is subject to few checks and balances and is not accountable to the electorate.

Ministers, officials and others sometimes need access to official secrets to do their work, although almost none have unfettered access. An individual can see secret material relevant to their duties. As members of the Royal Family, William and Charles have no public duties to which secret material could be relevant.

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Opinion: On black spiders, royalty and liberalism

The release last week of Prince Charles’ letters to Ministers – the so-called “black spider letters” – offers a once in a lifetime window (and one unlikely to be repeated, thanks to the 2011 amendments to the Freedom if Information Act exempting royal correspondence from FoI disclosure – inexplicably supported by our party in coalition) into the workings of the British ‘system’, and the influence of the royals in the process of our ‘democratic government’.

I hope that, as liberals, all Liberal Democrats would agree that political power derives from the exercise of the people’s democratic rights at the ballot box, and that no-one should be able to exercise political power, nor exert undue influence on the political process, simply by virtue of birth or connections. This is why we have argued for democratic reform of the House of Lords, for example.

Yet, in the black spider letters we see both the absolute expectation of Charles that his views are relevant, important and to be listened to, as well as the sycophantic grovelling of ‘commoner’ Ministers towards the royal point of view (that “I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant” sign-off of Charles Clarke must surely stick in the craw of every socialist).

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Opinion: Liberal Democrats should support abolishing the Monarchy – and it is the right time to do so

I am a keen student of history, and have no shortage of fascination with the British Monarchy, its colourful progress, and its chequered evolution. And I do believe it has evolved, as often with grace as with indignity. In that sense, I have a certain level of ‘respect’ for the Monarchy, and certainly for some of the figures who constitute it at present. Yet, as far back as I can remember, I have though it should be abolished. Why?

Rather than lay out all the old arguments, I will focus solely on one argument for Abolition. I will do this, because it is (I believe) a liberal principle, and because I think it is hugely persuasive, and rarely aired. It is this: for the fair treatment of the Royal Family themselves, current and yet unborn, that we must abolish the Monarchy.

The British Royal Family, whatever it may once have been, is now a captive family. The institution consists at its peak of a household who are held, for our perceived benefit, in the gaze of the public eye and a web of constitutional precedent.  The Windsor family consists of real individuals, and we should never forget that. I know many will sneer at my concern for a very rich household, with all life’s advantages… but is that really their position?

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Opinion: Reform of the Duchy of Cornwall – on the cards?

Lord Berkeley’s “Rights of the Sovereign and Duchy of Cornwall Bill” is due to have its second reading in the Lords on 8 November. He has been quoted as saying he wants to “provoke a debate”, and it may be supposed that Bill is likely to be defeated at its second reading. As it would affect the Prince’s private interests, it would require his consent in order to progress. He has given his consent to several bills in the past, according to the Parliament website. It is surprising how many bills require his consent. This is

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Majority of Lib Dem members back monarchy – but 40% would prefer UK to become a Republic

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

44% want Charles as King, 9% prefer Wills: 40% want neither

Thinking about the future monarch, which of the following would you prefer?
Prince Charles - Some rights reserved by University Hospitals Birmingham

    44% – Prince Charles should succeed as King after Queen Elizabeth II

    9% – Prince William should succeed as King after Queen Elizabeth II instead of Prince Charles

    40% – Neither – there should be no monarch after Queen Elizabeth II

    6% – Don’t know

By 53% to 40%, our sample of Lib Dem members opt for monarchy over a republic. As ever, though, those headline figures include a span of opinion revealed in the comments.

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Opinion: Liberal Democrats for a republic

Liberal Democrats believe in democracy. Indeed ‘Democrats’ is in our title.

We believe in representative democracy, from parish councils to (though we’re still fighting for it) the House of Lords.

We believe those who make the laws of our land should be voted for by the people of our land.
Government of, for and by the people.

We believe this should be extended to those occupying the highest positions in British Government.

If we believe, as we rightly do, that no peer of the realm should be able to be a legislator just because of who they were born to or who …

Posted in Op-eds | 52 Comments

Opinion: Should the Queen speak out on the Belfast flag issue?

Queen Elizabeth IIThe pictures of the Queen joining the Cabinet meeting were charming. They conveyed a reassuring image of a stable democracy with a historic back-stop. Almost always we want the democratic element to prevail, but there are perhaps very limited issues and occasions when the monarchy can make a difference. The Queen inviting Harold Macmillan to form a government rather than Rab Butler in 1957 is the occasion often quoted. It did actually make a political difference, since Harold Wilson was later reported as having feared that Rab Butler may well have won the 1964 election.

Northern Ireland may be another occasion when the monarchy could make a

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Opinion: The case for a Republic – and why Lib Dems should support it

This is a long fought argument and, maybe, one that everyone that will read this is tired of hearing. Nonetheless, it is an argument that all liberals should support.

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.

Posted in Op-eds | 23 Comments

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

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Opinion: Why I am a royalist

There’s nothing democratic about the royal family. They are the descendants of a thug who defeated another thug to become the despot of these Isles. If that was all there was to them, I would be the first in the queue to get rid of them.

The greatest invention in the history of the world is not the wheel, or fire, or the scientific method: it’s democracy and the rule of law. What’s wonderful about democracy is he principle it establishes, that everyone, no matter their colour or creed, is of equal worth. That each person has the same number of …

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Nick Clegg’s praises Queen’s dignity, calm and wisdom

It’s now time to pack away the bunting and force ourselves back to the daily grind after the double bank holiday.

The Voice thought you might be interested to see Nick Clegg’s official message on the Diamond Jubilee, though, which is available on his You Tube channel here.

He says she is a Queen famous for her quiet steeliness but he’s always been struck by her great warmth and her rare ability to put everyone she meets at ease.

He praises her wisdom, calm and dignity in a rapidly changing world – and wishes us all a good time celebrating.

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Opinion: Liberal Democrats should make the case for an elected head of state

I’m proud to be in a party that values freedom and democracy above all else. We passionately campaign for equality of opportunity, and a world in which success is based on a person’s own merits rather than privilege and nepotism. We want to reform the outdated electoral system, and object to an unelected House of Lords, described by Nick Clegg as “an affront to the principles of openness which underpin a modern democracy”.

That is why I, like many other Liberal Democrats, cannot support a system of monarchy whereby power is inherited and all but one family is excluded from …

Posted in Op-eds | 94 Comments
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