Democracy and republics are not synonymous with each other, the United Kingdom is a Parliamentary Democracy with a Constitutional Monarchy that serves as a safeguard of our democracy. There are many institutions and individuals that are not directly elected but still play an important role in society such as the courts, police and civil service. These positions come with different degrees of power and influence, but none are elected and this is partly to ensure that they remain as neutral as possible. Having a monarchy allows us to have a neutral Head of State above party politics at the same time as having a democratically elected Parliament and Government which decide national policies and run the country. The monarchy continues to exist today because it has the overwhelming support of the people (as shown in opinion polls), and at the last General Election in May 2010 over 90% of the votes went to political parties that support the continuation of the monarchy. There would only be a democratic mandate to abolish the monarchy if a majority of the votes went to political parties and MPs that support abolition, and after a referendum was held with a majority of the population voting in favour of becoming a republic. Republics around the world do not view the United Kingdom or other constitutional monarchies as “undemocratic” nations. Constitutional monarchies are amongst the most advanced nations in the world and occupy top positions in international rankings in these areas, including the 2010 Democracy Index which had 7 constitutional monarchies in the top 10 list of countries, including in position 1 and 3. Monarchy is clearly not a barrier to democracy and whilst there are many ways our own democracy could be improved, we do not need to abolish one of our oldest institutions that most people support and care about.
The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy and the vast majority of elected British MPs support our constitutional monarchy. Opinion polling consistently shows strong public support for the monarchy, with support for a republic lingering at around 20% or less – meaning a referendum is not in demand. There have only ever been two nationwide referendums in this country (one on membership of the European Economic Community and one on the Alternative Vote). This means we did not have a referendum to form the United Kingdom, to have a parliament, a prime minister or any other institution of the state (nor did the vast majority of other countries). For there to be a referendum there must first be a demand and necessity to justify a referendum, which at present there is not. Furthermore a referendum is very expensive to organise, and as those who feel strongly about becoming a republic would not change their views, even when the result favoured the monarchy, what would really be the point?
There is a big difference between being Head of State in a republic and a Monarch in a constitutional monarchy. The Queen would certainly not stand to be a President and it is highly unlikely that other members of the Royal Family would either. An election would politicalise the office of Head of State and make it far harder for them to represent the whole nation. Politicians will usually always dominate any election as all political parties descend into fighting for party advantage rather than what is best for the nation. An election is not needed to prove the popularity of the Queen as it is clearly demonstrated throughout the country by people’s actions.
There is no evidence to suggest this would be the case. A political president will usually appeal to people who share that persons political beliefs and would put off people with opposing views. This is very different to the Queen and our constitutional monarchy which serve as a symbol of our heritage and national unity. According to polls, the monarchy has support from a majority of people in all different age groups, all parts of the country, and by a majority of supporters of the 3 main UK political parties that secured almost 90% of the vote in May 2010. The monarchy is clearly more unifying than a President which makes it easier for the Queen to represent the nation, as does the fact Monarchs reign for far longer than a President who would usually serve for just a few years. For example, on Remembrance Sunday the Queen leads the whole nation in remembrance of those who have fallen in war whilst the political party leaders line up alongside each other and pay their respects more as equals. In a republic, the political Head of State would often lead the nation and be the focus of attention which can be divisive for their political opponents especially if it is near election time when such a position can be exploited.
Republicans often use the idea of a celebrity figure becoming head of state to avoid facing the fact that: in a republic, on almost all occasions, in almost all republics around the world; the Head of State is and always will be a politician – the same would apply here. The fact republicans see the need to mislead people by pretending we would not end up with politicians shows how flawed all republican systems are. The reality is that republics are very much about politicians and giving political parties another chance to compete with each other for more power and control. Even if we think that the United Kingdom will be an exception to the rule and always try to elect non politicians, it is very unclear how this will really work. Most celebrities would not even want to run for an election, many mentioned are actually supporters of constitutional monarchy anyway, and many celebrities also tend to get involved in politics, either being outspoken against certain parties, donating to political parties or backing certain political campaigns including in the recent referendum on changing the British voting system. Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family remain neutral on such matters so even against celebrities as potential presidents (which are extremely unlikely), constitutional monarchy is still the more unifying option to provide a neutral Head of State above party politics. If it was regularly a celebrity President, would we really want to turn the Head of State position into some form of X factor competition? Whilst people may be huge fans of someone’s writing, acting or singing, it does not mean they are fit to be Head of State or would have peoples support.
There are some republics such as the United States of America where one person is both Head of State and Head of Government, any proposal to simply merge the positions, even if it was keeping the title Prime minister rather than using the name President, would be a bad thing for a number of reasons. First of all it is simply wrong to have the power of both positions in a single persons hands, it can lead to a conflict of interests and is often difficult for some people when it comes to loyalty, for example in the United States all serving soldiers pledge to follow the orders of the President as Commander in Chief, whereas in our system whilst policy is determined by the Prime Minister and Parliament, soldiers pledge loyalty to Crown not politicians. Merging the positions would require fundamental constitutional change that would be extremely complex, time consuming and expensive to implement and yet would result in far less actually getting done for the people of this country. At present the Prime Minister focuses on running the country, meanwhile the Queen and other member of the Royal family are able to carry out duties such as giving recognition to individuals, organisations, charities and local communities on behalf of the whole nation. The Prime Minister simply would not have the time for such a role, and it would result in 1000s of engagements currently performed around the country by the Royal Family being scrapped, less people honoured with awards, less recognition given to our armed forces and less overseas visits to boost trade and foreign relations etc. That would surely be a bad thing?
Only The Queen is Head of State. However, one of the foremost benefits of Constitutional Monarchy is that the Royal Family are there to support the Queen in her role, and carry out important engagements for the nation on her behalf. This enables greater recognition to be given to individuals, charities and local communities. In comparison, a republic’s Head of State is in most cases a singular politician, and their reach is much more limited. For example, the President of the Republic of Ireland carried out several hundred engagements last year, but the Royal family were able to carry out around 3000. Even when less senior Royals attend events, it attracts great interest and is appreciated by many people.
People will always have their own personal views on different individuals, but it is important to remember that in a republic the same thing will apply. Presidents of republics will often be disliked by many of the people, and will never have the unanimous support of the population. For example, America has a population of over 300 million yet only around 69 million people voted for President Obama to win the 2008 election, with 59 million Americans voting for his opponent. Since the election the popularity of the victor has inevitably declined – meaning a president can never claim to wholly represent the population. Prince Charles has been Heir to the throne for many decades, in that time he has carried out thousands of duties on behalf of the Queen and the nation, and gained a huge amount of experience and knowledge. In the year 2010-11 he carried out more engagements than the President of Ireland, despite not even being Head of State. He has also done a huge amount to help others through his numerous charities; including the Prince’s Trust which supports 10,000s of young people in the United Kingdom every year. Whilst Prince Charles regularly speaks out on matters such as the environment, he remains above party politics – as do all members of the Royal Family. He is not a member of a political party, he does not campaign for a political party and he does not even vote in elections. He clearly has unrivaled experience in the role of future Head of State, and a greater understanding of neutrality than any politician.