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.

However, there is another version of elected Head of State where the holder does not run the Government but can act as a unifying presence above party politics. It is a model already used in many counties around the world including our neighbours in Ireland and also in many other countries around the world. These Presidents do not come with a baggage of an extended family and courtiers and usually have limit on how long they stay in office.

While many (but by no means all) have a background in politics, they renounce any political allegiance on taking office allowing them to speak out in a non-partisan way on the issues that confront the nation, acting as uniting force for the country.

Having an Elected Head of Sate would also release those members of both the immediate Royal Family and the extended one from being tied by their accident of birth to the institution of the Monarchy. It would allow the Queen of her descendants to enjoy their considerable private fortune away from the glare of publicity.

Here, as a starting point for discussion, is how I would see how such a President would be elected and what powers they would have:

1. That the United Kingdom should replace its hereditary Monarchy with an elected non-executive President.

2. The President shall have the following powers:
a. Appoints the government on the nomination of the House of Commons
b. Appoints the judiciary on the advice of a Judiciary Appointments Committee
c. Convenes and dissolves Parliament on the advice of Parliament
d. Signs bills into law although they may first refer them to the Supreme Court to rule on the Constitutionality of the proposed law.
e. Represents the state abroad and accredits ambassadors and receives the letters of credence of foreign diplomats.
f. The formal Supreme Commander of the British Army, Royal Navy & the Royal Air Force
g. Power of pardon on the advice of the Government
h. Confer honours on the advice of the Government

3. The position will be elected every 6 years with a maximum of 2 successive terms

4. Candidates can be nominated by:
a. 100 Members of the House of Commons or the Second Chamber from at least three Political Parties or
b. 100 Mayors or Chairs of Principal Local Authorities from at least 3 of the 12 regions of England or the other Constituent Nations of the United Kingdom
c. 5000 electors from at least 3 of the 12 regions of England or the other Constituent Nations of the United Kingdom

5. They will be elected by a popular vote of all electors in the country by Single Transferable Vote.

6. On being elected, they must renounce any political affiliation they hold.

7. The Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords (or Second Chamber) will act as the joint Vice Presidents (in the event of absence abroad of the President or for medical reasons) and joint Acting Presidents in the event of a vacancy through death or resignation of the incumbent President.

This proposal is not meant in anyway as being disrespectful of our current Head of State who has for 70 years given great service to the country nor of her possible successors. However, times change, and I believe we need to move on from an hereditary head of state to one who is elected and accountable.

* Leon Duveen is Chair of Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East, a new group of Lib Dems working to support those trying to a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict and to providing information about these peacemakers.

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32 Comments

  • Christopher Haigh 1st Feb '22 - 3:16pm

    Hi Leon, I don’t like the sound of this at all. The monarchy is a force of good in this country. Please leave it alone

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Feb '22 - 3:37pm

    The present head of state has generally been a force for good – she’s got it wrong sometimes over the years.

    The same cannot be said about some other members of the royal family over the generations.

    But should we be trying to fix everything at once?

    Leon – haven’t we aleady got enough problems in this country to try to sort out without adding one which would be a much lower priority among the public compared with being able to pay their fuel bills, put food on the table and having a system of democracy which works for them rather than for a privileged minority?

  • Nothing should be “left alone”.

    Many within our party will argue that the Union is a force of good, but that does not mean the Liberal Democrats are content to leave it as it is.

    We are the party of radical constitutional reform. We are currently proposing a programme of significant constitutional change including Lords reform, PR, UK federalism and localised devolution. Why should the issue fo the Head of State be one we are afraid to touch?

    Personally, i am frustrated by the lack of conversation on this. No doubt members have a range of views, but it seems odd to me that the party most vocally calling for a new constitutional settlement is perpetually silent when it comes to the monarchy.

    Thank you Leon for your contribution.

  • Not bad for starters. Some model more or less along these lines would let a lot of fresh air into the public arena. One useful rôle for a President can be acting as guardian of the constitution, as in many other organisations. Such a position would get rid of the nonsense of “crown prerogative”, a traditional excuse for government ministers doing whatever they want to do without sufficient debate or transparency. The present Head of State in the UK, it is said, has the power to advise or warn the Prime Minister of the day. It is impossible to determine how much that affects what happens with regard to any given Prime Minister! The introduction of a non-executive president would probably be impossible without a written constitution. Meanwhile let’s salute the Republic of Ireland where successive presidents have a pretty good fist of being a respected Head of State.

  • Chris Moore 1st Feb '22 - 3:48pm

    Bring on 2024! Let’s build a campaign around:

    1. Abolish the monarchy. (Execute the minor royals?)
    2. PR with plenty of fascinating detail about vote-counting methods.
    3. Immediate re-entry to the EU.

    The electorate are going to adore it, particularly when we lose all our seats.

  • Just an aside, am I correct in recalling the present Foreign Secretary, in her Young Lib Dem days, called for the monarchy to be abolished!

  • Andrew Wilkins 1st Feb '22 - 5:00pm

    The Lib Dems need stop thinking about when they “are in government again”. It’s not going to happen as the electorate have time and again demonstrated to the Lib Dems that their obsession with PR and the EU is not important to the electorate. The Lib Dems need to work towards libertarianism – then they may become a viable opposition.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Feb '22 - 5:19pm

    Leon, my friend and colleague, if the party, as one of individuals, have individual views on this,. fine, if it is debated with a decision to have a policy on it, no!

    The party has too many policies on issues that are for conscience or are extremely contentious.

    Abortion, was always a conscience issue. Now, there is a party policy that alienates many.

    The monarchy, or at least the Head of State and her imediate heir and his, ie three or more generations, is necessary now, more, not less. It has real support. It provides an anchor. As an institution, it adapts. As individuals, they appeal. The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, Princess Katherine, all, hugely popular, very able, extremely likeable.

    Name one politician we can describe that way!

  • Or we could focus on a) issues that matter to voters, and; b) on ones that might not be deeply unpopular.
    Andrew W: libertarianism? No thank you. More than enough selfishness in and around Number 10 already, without us going down that path. It wasn’t libertarian voters who swung to us in the two by-election wins, either.

  • John Marriott 1st Feb '22 - 5:34pm

    Forget it, Leon. I’m a Republican, like you. I also class myself as a Liberal. On both scores I’m a member of a minority. I really cannot see any way that the country would ever vote to abolish the Monarchy. Modernise it, yes; but abolish it, especially with William and his family making all the right moves? Now, if the next in line was Prince Andrew or Prince Harry, that might be different. I’m with Chris Moore on this.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Feb '22 - 5:46pm

    Andrew, what has the favouring of libertarianism, here, got to do with an elected Head of State?

    As Cassie suggests, as most do, here, Liberalism is not libertarianism.

    Neither is Conservatism, or Socialism.

    This party has a Libertarian wing to its left and right, on social, issues, and economic ones. The Tories have a rightish libertarian wing, ERG, CREG, that lot. Labour have a few like ex Liberal, Peter Hain, who describe themselves as Libertarian Socialists.

    This is the Liberal Democrat Party.Social liberal, yes, social democrat, great. Libertarian, not really, over all. There is a Libertarian Party. Few are knowledgable about it. You might not realise its there but it is!

  • Brad Barrows 1st Feb '22 - 6:29pm

    Let’s get things in order: At a time when one of the two houses of the legislature is not democratically elected, abolishing or democratising the second chamber is a bigger priority than electing a, largely ceremonial, head of state.

  • Leon Duveen 1st Feb '22 - 7:12pm

    There will never be a “right time” to debate changing the system of appointing/electing our Head of State for some but unless we do start talking about it, how can we progress?
    What the Monarchists ignore is the not so benign side of the Monarch. The Monarch & their Heir have the right to vet legislation before it even gets to Parliament (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/feb/08/royals-vetted-more-than-1000-laws-via-queens-consent), a right they are happy to exercise. Charles’s “Black Spider Memos” to ministers are infamous (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_spider_memos). Why do we have to put up with this?

  • Chris Moore 1st Feb '22 - 7:28pm

    It’s a question of electoral strategy.

    If we have abolish the monarchy in our manifesto, that will be the only one of our policies that the averahe elector will know about

    It will be a sensational vote loser. And we will have no influence over much more pressing matters

  • I’m a proud Liberal and Monarchist, whom I believe does an immense amount of good for the UK and the commonwealth as a whole.

    Yes, we need PR, but not this.

    I do believe that it is the electorate that should get to decide the Prime Minister and not the membership of the Governing Party, technically we elect a Parliamentarian to represent us in Government, not the Party or leader, but in reality that is not how most people vote.

    I, therefore, believe we need a system where when there is to be a change of “Prime Minister” Midterm, the Governing party has a choice, to elect a new leader and call a General Election within say 3 months, or for the Governing party to select their candidates and the entire electorate gets to vote on who is to become the new PM.

    We need a written constitution and we need to start closing this democratic deficit that is faced by so many.
    But abolishing the Monarchy is not part of it in my opinion

  • Suzanne Fletcher 1st Feb '22 - 10:23pm

    Just to (unhelpfully I know) say that I’d really like to put thoughtful comments to this, but just haven’t time right now.
    But to say that it all ought to be part of full constitutional review, and not in isolation. So reform of parliament, voting systems, having a written constitution and so on.
    now when we have the time to do all that I don’t know, but it should be part of a package.
    the only detail I would add is that there is stringent criteria for nomination and very rightly so, but I cannot think of one person who would have such universal support (sorry but I am too old now, so count me out …!)

  • We bored by Johnson? Just a thought …

  • David Goble 2nd Feb '22 - 9:34am

    I feel that the present system is preferable to changing everything at once. As some commentators are saying, we have to think about what matters to most members of the electorate.

    The Royal Family needs to be seen as relevant by members of the public and this is where problems could arise in the future. We have an ageing Queen and the Heir is only a matter of weeks younger than myself. I would suggest that the future lies in going with the suggestions from the Prince of Wales that the monarchy should be slimmed down to, preferably, the line of succession. I would also suggest that the monarch, whoever it may be, should abdicate when they reach State Retirement age and hands over to the next in line. This would ensure that the reigning monarch is always of working age and would, I feel, have many advantages.

    If it became necessary, maybe we could move to an elected Head of State. My problem is that the thought of President Blair or President Johnson leaves me quite frightened!

  • Alison Willott 2nd Feb '22 - 10:04am

    Can we seriously entertain the thought of a President Blair and/or a President Boris Johnson over a scrupulously non-political Queen? They both have a personal following that could scoop the pool over candidates with no such following. Also, anyone who stands for election is going to be divisive, and not welcomed by those who voted for someone else.

  • This idea is a vote-loser and would also be wrong, but thanks for raising it, Leon. The ‘President Blair or Johnson’ point is a pretty good one. There’s no reason to think skilled climbers of the greasy pole of politics would be better as constitutional Head of State than someone trained for the role from birth. The current monarch understands that her role is to serve the country, and so do the next two in line. The danger of a Johnson-style narcissist is too great. And don’t tell us the electorate wouldn’t be that stupid. They already have been! Luckily, the Johnson mistake can be corrected.
    I’m afraid many of the republicans I talk to are motivated fundamentally by envy, and simply can’t get over how unfair it is that someone can have riches and nice houses to live in without earning them. Life isn’t always fair, and the end goal of avoiding dangerously political presidents is worth adding that unfairness to all the others.

  • However, there is a case for a retirement age and better advisers. The Queen should have told Rees Mogg to get on his bike when he turned up asking for her autograph on the bill proroguing Parliament.

  • The monarchy is an archaic institution that should have no place in a modern Britain. However, I fear that all this change would do is transfer yet more power and influence to the Prime Minister.

    We don’t seem to be very good at political reform in the UK; just witness the unedifying spectacle of the House of Lords. Tony Blair’s supposed reform of the House of Lords has simply replaced one set of unelected people with another. This is not democracy.

    To my mind, creation of an elected House of Lords is a necessary precursor to considering an elected President.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Feb '22 - 12:30pm

    If we were starting from scratch this would be an excellent idea. We could have a referendum on abolishing the present monarchy and then replace it with your suggestion. A codified constitution might contain a process for this change though it must be controlled by the electorate.

  • Matt Haines 2nd Feb '22 - 5:27pm

    Yet to see any convincing arguments for keeping the monarchy beyond “waahh, I want to keep it”, or “Oooooh, change is scary”.

    This country deserves better than a monarchy. Elizabeth Windsor has done precisely zero to improve my life, I fail to see why I should support keeping her on place.

    Barbados has more bravery and moral fortitude than we have on this issue, clearly.

  • Paul Barker 2nd Feb '22 - 5:29pm

    I strongly disagree with the idea that we should be aiming to enter Government as a Primary goal – most of Our Voters don’t like it either.

    Our First Aim should be to crack open the stagnant British “System” & the only certain way to do that is to get at least 27% in a General Election. Clearly we are not going to do that at the next Election or the one after that & entering Government would set us back another generation.

    Everything we say & do should be focused on that Long-Term Goal of Breaking Through – the rest is noise.

  • I’m a republican but I can’t see a change happening..This country is a nation of ‘forelock tuggers’; why else would the nonsense pandered by Rees-Mogg be acceptable. A ‘posh voice’ and an ‘air of distain’ trumps common sense every time..

    As for President Johnson/Blair; utter nonsensense..The Irish seem to manage absolutely fine without any ‘Royals’..As for HM being a force for good??? When Johnson sent Rees-Mogg to lie to her she had no option but to acquiesce.. As for the ‘Royal Family’ and the rest of the hangers’ on, umpteen years of ‘East Enders’ have had less scandals.

    Still, keep bowing the head; after all, they are ‘born to rule’,,

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Feb '22 - 7:46pm

    @expats
    I have republican sympathies but now is not the right time to be trying to do away with the monarchy.

    As for Ireland managing fine with a president – didn’t the Irish see quite enough of royalty when the British were oppressing them?

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Feb ’22 – 7:46pm @expats,,,I have republican sympathies but now is not the right time to be trying to do away with the monarchy….

    I don’t think it will ever happen..The ‘Firm’ are better at re-inventing themselves than the Tory party. HM has done a pretty good job even though, like a ‘lamplighter’, it’s completely outdated and pointless.
    Charles won’t last too long and Kate and William are the likeable face of a disfunctional bunch so I can’t see their position ever being threatened ..

    Nope! Like it or not the country will continue with a monarch as head of state and thus the farce of peers and knights of the realm..

  • Christine Headley 3rd Feb '22 - 12:10am

    I’m a republican, too, but I don’t see it coming any time soon. There are a lot more important and less controversial things to tackle in our first, second and third parliaments. And it won’t use STV, as that needs more than one successful candidate. Alternative Vote is the thing in these circumstances.

  • Chris Moore 3rd Feb '22 - 6:49am

    I’m a republican too. But most potential and actual LD voters are not.

    The LDs are not a debating society. We are a political party trying to be electable to be able to introduce liberal policies.

    Abolish the monarchy would be a massive vote loser. It would completely dominate our electoral campaign, as gay sex did in 2017 and Revoke in 2019. We would have yet another self-inflicted disaster.

    We have to prioritise and think strategically and psephologically. There is no room for more naivety and self-indulgence.

  • Cutting the monarchy down to essentially one figure and ensuring that he/she is just a symbolic figure would be something to do eventually. It should not be the Queen calling someone to try to form a government. That should be a Constitutional Court. Residual powers should go and a bit of land reform would not go amiss.

    The Royal Family was invented by an ad agency in the 60’s and does not exist anywhere else. It has too much potential to go horribly wrong as it has. Harry and Meghan are effectively running a privatised rival in North America, hanging onto billionaires.

    But policy should be focused on the economy and public services. Doing things better than the Tories and different to Labour.

    An active Industrial Policy like Germany’s would pay huge benefits, as would bringing back Cable’s 1.5m modern Apprenticeships and genuinely greening the economy. We should run a mile from extreme market solutions. They never were popular and some of the Orange Book people went too far down that road. The Tories are like the Sun. They burnt up Nick Clegg’s party after decades of building, then did much the same to the DUP. The SNP and the Greens were wise enough not to repeat the mistake of close coalition with a single much larger party

  • I believe that, when considering options for ‘radical’ reform,
    we should first ask ourselves three questions in the following sequence:

    1. What are the fundamental requirements
    which the current arrangements are considered to resolve?

    2. What would be the best arrangements to resolve those fundamental requirements?

    3. What should we do with the (now redundant) current arrangements
    (i.e. other than simply abolishing them)?

    With regard to the Monarchy as Head of State:

    1. The fundamental requirements are to provide
    a back-stop for ‘due diligence’ over the democratic governance of the UK.

    2. The best arrangements would be a top-down hierarchy of sovereignty:

    a. The electorate should be deemed to be fully-sovereign.

    b. The Commons should be empowered
    to provide a fully-proportional proxy for the electorate.

    c. The Speaker(s) of the Commons should be empowered
    to passively articulate and enforce the will of the sovereign electorate
    (via the senior Commons, and over the junior Executive).
    As such, they should be deemed to be acting as the Head(s) of State.

    d. The Political Chief Executive (and the rest of the Political Executive)
    should be deemed to be junior to the Commons
    and to the Speaker(s) of the Commons acting as the Head(s) of State.

    3. The Monarchy should be re-deployed to the tourist industry
    as a purely-ceremonial state public relations institution.

    I have submitted an extended version of this comment
    as a separate contribution.to LibDemVoice.

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