Those who follow me on Twitter will know I’m often enlisted in arguments with republicans on all manner of topics. Almost invariably, however, over the nature of monarchy. Whilst it’s easy to scorn and berate Monarchy for being old fashioned, very little do we have the opportunity to compare Monarchy like-for-like with a republic.
I tend to look at the republican position from the position of the proposed alternative, rather than through the flaws of monarchy. It’s all very well and good to denigrate monarchy, but if you have nothing better to put in its place then there’s no point in having the debate in the first place.
When I’m allowed to debate this point (republicans are insatiably eager to discuss the pitfalls of a monarchy, but hardly ever the merits and mechanics of a republic), the debate never seems to get very far because quite frankly – the arguments are an insult to the intelligence.
What is the alternative? “An elected president,” they retort, chosen by the people. “Great,” I always respond, “but how is politicising the office of head of state and making the office part of the political establishment a better system than what we have now?”
The natural response I find to this splits into two parts. Firstly there are those who say ‘it’s the price we pay for democracy’ (though never care to explain why we should pay this price if it’s the difference between giving all the power to the politicians and having a neutral figure to prevent unconstitutional behaviour) and then there are those who, for some reason I can’t quite comprehend, seem to think that the president wouldn’t be a politician. “Oh no,” they say, “we’ll have a fair system where anyone can be Head of State – it won’t be a politician!”
It’s at this point that the basis of the argument collapses. Anyone, really? As anybody who’s thought it through can plainly see political parties are an integral part of any election, least of all for a president. And with political parties comes patronage. Why? Because candidates will always need funding for election campaigns, they will always need the backing of established organisations. Without this, the running for president would simply be an exercise in who could spend the most money, thus making it a plutocracy rather than democracy.
Another thing republicans don’t care to discuss is the divisive nature of presidents. Just by virtue of being elected for their views and principles, any president would inherently create division and disunity – there will after all always be opposition to a candidate.
It’s all well and good saying a president would give up their political allegiance when taking office, but this means nothing in practice. There will always be people who voted for other candidates and their opinions, views and allegiance don’t disappear when they win elections and alienate those who didn’t vote for them, something that cannot happen with Monarchy because party patronage and divisive candidates are not involved!
One particularly demonstrably ludicrous claim purported by those in favour of a British republic is the idea that an elected president would in some way be able to act as a barrier in politics to prevent and correct unconstitutional behaviour. Leaving aside the obvious problem with having a referee who is also one of the players and what that would mean for their independence from the Government, the obvious remedy for a malevolent parliament seeking to carry on doing as it pleases is to vote a president out as soon as he starts exercising powers. Political referee? More like the football.
No system is perfect, Monarchy certainly isn’t, and this is something I routinely acknowledge (much to the chagrin of republicans). Of course, it means the head of state isn’t elected, but there are patently legitimate reasons why this is a good idea and no amount of dogmatism from republicans about how presidencies are so inherently and infinitely divine and wonderful can change that.
Monarchy works because it offers everyone the same representation, regardless of politics. Whether you’d vote Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP, Conservative or for that matter Monster Raving Loony Party, the monarchy no more represents the supporters of one party than any other. Which goes to show how much worse off you’d be in a republic when you find your candidate loses out and you end up with some ostensibly “representative” party member, because “that’s democracy”.
There’s a lot to be said for having a Head of State who’s not party of the political establishment of the day. A position of independence, neutrality and objectivity which couldn’t be achieved by a politician in the office. Not to mention the ability for the sovereign to act to preserve democracy, should any government ‘go rogue’ and exceed their powers, without fear of being kicked out of office with the ease a president can be.
You can deride and revile Monarchy all you want, but when it comes to the alternatives, I know which side of the fence I’m on!
Republican? Challenge me on Twitter @CourtierUK.