Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why I am a republican (rather than a monarchist)

Sometimes it helps to understand a perspective if you write it down. I knew I didn’t support Alternative Voting but it was not until the second or third time that I wrote about it that I was able to fully articulate to my own satisfaction just what it was about AV that I didn’t like.

So, in the same spirit, I thought I might write about why I am a republican and let you find the weakness in my arguments so that I can revisit them and hopefully sharpen them up a bit.

I think the core of the strength of my feeling comes first from 7 years of study (O level, A level and Degree) of British History (actually in truth that should be English history, I am much weaker on Welsh and Scottish history. I can talk about Owen Glendower and King Henry, and about Edward I and Edward II in Wales and Scotland, and about James Ist and VIth but really I am only peripherally aware of much of what went on outside England between 1000 and about 1900! You can blame the education system for that.)

What I did learn about however was the Harrying of the North, the Peasants Revolt, various dreadful taxes to raise money to fight in France or Spain, the Crusades, Culloden, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the witch-finders, the persecution of Catholics, medieval servitude, Henry VIII, Charles I, the enclosures… I could go on, but I am sure you have long since caught up with the sentiment…brutal bullying and subjugation.

Those would be the arguments against absolute monarchy in the days when the King or Queen’s word was the law and we were all at the mercy of their capriciousness (remember Miranda Richardson playing Good Queen Bess in Blackadder? Off with their heads!)

But that is not our modern day monarchy, what we now have foisted upon us is something called a “constitutional monarchy” which is in itself laughable as we don’t have a constitution for anything else that I can see. 1688 saw the introduction of this new form of monarchy, one which has continued to evolve through various permutations to the situation we have today. Where the Queen or King is titular, civic and has no real power but embodies and represents the country (rather like our Lord Mayor does in Liverpool in fact but on a bigger stage). Our monarchs now are expected to be neutral (although the current heir to the throne in the UK can find this difficult as has become apparent over the decades). They can no longer send us to war with (mainly) European countries because they have been unable to have their own way over who they would like to marry, or which jewel they would like to possess, or whose religion they despise, or whose cousin they wish to poke in the eye.

It would be churlish of me not to recognise at this point that we have made some ground up as a country and as a people since Charles I was separated from his crown in a very brutal way.

So, it is to be celebrated that the current monarchy in our country does not have the powers that his or her forebears did. However, that does not change my views that our system in 2011 is nonetheless at least 50 years out of date and needs to go.

I like the analogy with the Lord Mayor (of Liverpool) as that takes me right to the heart of my argument.

Lord Mayors (always Lords, even when they are women) are titular and civic representatives of the people, in fact the LM is “the first citizen” unlike HRH who is not a citizen at all, but above such things. The LM can wear finery and present awards and open fetes, fayres and festivals and generally act as the face of the city (or the people) but does not hold that position for life or by right of birth, but is elected by the people. Technically they are not elected to the civic position by the people as such, but they are elected by the people as councillors and then elevated by their council peers to become the LM for the duration of the term of office (traditionally one year). Contrastingly, the monarch is born into the position, elected by no-one, and serves from the death of the previous monarch until their own death (The King is dead, long live the King).

So my first objection to a monarchy is that it is not an elected position, chosen by the people, who should be able to decide who their first citizen is, their head of state, but is a hereditary position. Which means that even when they are senile, or boorish, or ignorant, or prejudiced we are stuck with them. They are not our choice, they are what we are given.

My second objection is that the job is for life, so even if you are the worst constitutional monarch ever (think of someone like Edward VII), nobody can tip you out of the job or stop you getting it, it is yours by right forever and ever, until you die, and the people can only hope that your successor is better.

Then we come to the riches that we endow upon our monarchs. Consider the Lord Mayor, who is by and large a wonderful representative of the people for their year in office. They do not own the Town Hall or St George’s Hall or the fancy flagstones in Exchange Place. They don’t own the physical chains of office, Frank Prendergast cannot flog the best bling in the armoury to pay off his mortgage, they only wear them and polish them until the next LM comes along. They don’t own the limousine and nor do they employ the staff who wait upon them, who they cannot sack or appoint at will. They don’t move into the upper floors of the Town Hall or the penthouse suite of the nearest 5 star hotel, they return each night to their own respectable homes.

"So unlike the home life of our own dear Queen”

My third objection therefore is to the huge and retained wealth put at the disposal of those individuals who make up our Royal families.

Our monarchs have castles, palaces, huge acreages of land, they have servants and lackeys and flunkeys who they can appoint or sack as they fancy, they have first dibs on the harvests of that land, they decide who gets to visit, to stay and even which bedroom they can sleep in. They have access to huge wealth with which they can decide to buy racehorses or gin or yachts… and they retain those rights from birth until death. Like our LM they get to wear the crown jewels and the tiaras but unlike our LM they can wear them forever, not for just one year – and they can wear them in the bath if they like whereas the LM can only take the city jewels out if the staff are satisfied as to the safety and appropriateness of the occasion.

I think my fourth objection to the monarchy is the one that drives me the hardest. The subservience required, bending the knee, standing up as they enter a room for instance. Some will no doubt say that it is my own arrogance that needs addressing, while others will understand perhaps it is my all encompassing belief in equality, but I really fail to see why I should bend my knee, or curtsey, to members of the Windsor family, when they do not bestow the same privilege on my own family for instance. My mother is a wonderful human being, she is at least as worthy as the Queen, why should anyone, least of all her, be expected to bow down to another as though she were lesser? I have had many invites to garden parties in my time, if you hang around in politics for long enough, they come along like buses, but I won’t ever go, for precisely this reason.

And the fifth reason is that I am bored by people who tell me that tourists visit the UK because of the Queen and the Royal family. We are told that they are vital to our economy. That is tripe. Of course tourists visit Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace etc, but they were already here, visiting York Minster or Bath or dare I say it, the Liverpool Tate or the Beatles Museum. Tourists could visit all the royal palaces in a republic, we don’t have to bulldoze them, wandering around could be pleasurable, with remembrance of things past, like it is with Hampton Court, we don’t have to have ye olde authentic royal actually on the premises as it were…in fact it would be easier to have a proper shufty if the powers that be weren’t worrying that we might come across Brenda eating her cereal out of Tupperware at the breakfast table.

And then I come to Ireland, with Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, wonderful civic heads of state, proving once and for all that you can do the job of a Queen without needing a monarchy. You can be a fabulous representative of your country, welcoming all foreign visitors, living somewhere special, showing off a bit of flash jewellery every now and again while living a good and decent life, without hereditary and state sponsored servitude. Elected by the people, chosen or rejected, as the person they would like to see greeting the USA President next time he or she comes to call, but not foisted upon them.

Of course, in my Republic world, we would not be offered the likes of celebs such as Richard Branson or Alex Ferguson, or Victoria Beckham or god help us, Cilla Black, but ideally some hitherto unknown, decent, thoughtful individual who had something to offer, although I reckon Sue Johnston would do at a pinch. But there are some wonderful people out there who could do a great job, and yes I do think my Mum would be perfect for the job, but please don’t let it be hereditary!

I rest my case I think.


Harry Barnes said...

Support needed - http://dronfieldblather.blogspot.com/2011/06/two-ideas-to-transform-labour-internal.html

Louise Baldock said...

Hi Harry, I have given you a entry of all your own, I hope it helps x

Anonymous said...

Great piece Louise. Just one point I'm not clear on, you raise the issue of citizenship (LM first citizen). One of my main gripes, as a rabid republican, is that as Brits living in a monarchy we are denied the status of citizen and instead have the title "subject" foisted upon us. Ken (Wendy's)

Louise Baldock said...

It's another reason for objecting to the monarchy isn't it. That we are subjects. But I dont see why we cannot say we are citizens? The ceremonies I attend are called British Citizenship ceremonies, so we must be citizens, surely?
Let's simply declare ourselves thus and let anyone stop us!