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Case for a republic is about more than the Queen

7 February 2017

Did you catch the news yesterday?  It was the 65th anniversary of the Queen becoming Britain’s head of state.  There was a lot of nonsense being talked about ‘our sapphire Queen’, making our head of state sound like a character from the latest Disney production.  I told the press that there needs to be a more serious debate, about the Queen’s record and what happens next.  And the need for wider reform.

The bigger picture

The thing is, the case for a republic is about so much more than the Queen.  Yes, hereditary privilege is wrong – and the royals are up to no good.  That’s one reason I told the Independent yesterday that the Queen should retire and make way for an elected successor.
But Republic has a clear vision of a better British democracy.  We see the monarchy as the pin that holds together a rotten system.  Abolish the monarchy and we get a unique opportunity to reshape our democracy and re-balance power between people, parliament and government.
Like in the US, the UK effectively has one person acting as head of state and head of government – that’s the prime minister.  And that’s a problem when so much power is concentrated in the hands of the PM and the constitution is so weak. Unlike in the US Britain’s constitution is made up largely of laws and habits.  Half our parliament is unelected and MPs have limited opportunities to obstruct the PM’s plans.

A new constitution

Republic proposes a British parliamentary republic, one that has:

  • A written constitution that clearly states the people are in charge, and says who has what power;
  • A fully elected parliament, including an upper house that can give parliament more teeth in the face of government demands;
  • The prime minister, as head of government, would still be chosen from MPs in the Commons;
  • An elected head of state, impartial, independent and there to defend the constitution;
  • An end to the royal prerogative and clarity about the powers the government does have.

There is a significant disconnection between the people and our politicians.  Trust in our institutions is at an all-time low.  Government has more or less annexed parliament – instructing it to do its bidding.  We have a parliamentary democracy barely worthy of the name.
Our vision is to take the basic building blocks of Britain’s constitution – and make them truly democratic.  Top to bottom, putting power in the hands of the many, not the few.
Parliament should be able to rebuff and challenge the government.  The people should be able to set limits on the powers of our politicians, through a written constitution.  There should be clarity about who has what power, how they got it and how we get rid of them.  And clarity about the role of referendums is now more important than ever following the Brexit vote.
Drawing all this together, we can elect a separate, independent head of state.  An extra check on the power of the politicians, someone who can speak eloquently for the nation at times of crisis and celebration, defend the constitution – and perhaps decide who gets a state visit.
The Queen is a big part of the problem we’re trying to solve.  A no-show head of state unwilling and unable to perform an independent role and an obstacle to reform.  But the real problem is the concentration of power in the hands of a few – power drawn from the Crown and never curtailed by a peaceful, democratic revolution.  The real solution is abolition of the monarchy and a new parliamentary republican constitution.  
Britain needs its democratic moment.  That once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to radically shift the balance of power – to make true our claim to be a democracy envied the world over.  
That’s what we’re fighting for.

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