Our head of state
Every country has a head of state, whether it is a president or a monarch. In many countries the head of state is a different person to the head of government, who is often referred to as prime minister. This is true of monarchies like Britain, Sweden and Denmark as well as republics like Ireland, Germany and Poland.
After 60 years, we're so used to the Queen as head of state that we often assume the way she carries out the role is the only way it can – or should – be done.
But because the Queen is unelected, there are important jobs she can't do – ones that an elected head of state, chosen by and answerable to the people, could.
When prime minister Boris Johnson asked the Queen to prorogue parliament (suspend it for several days) it was clear that the Queen has no indepent role to play. For the first time the Queen's real job, which is to do what the PM tells her, was highlighted on prime time TV. Whatever you think about Brexit, it can't be right that the head of state is there for no reason other than do the PM's bidding.
What is a head of state for?
The phrase “ceremonial head of state” can be misleading. It suggests that the role is purely for decoration, when it is actually a crucial part of the political system.
Because an elected head of state's neutrality is prescribed by law, they can be genuinely independent of government, acting as an impartial referee of the political system and an extra check on the power of government.
If there's a risk that a new law may breach fundamental rights or principles, for example, a head of state may refer it to the Supreme Court. Or if there is widespread public opposition to a bill, the president may consult the people in a referendum. These powers are rarely used, but vitally important in a democracy.
Aside from these formal functions, a president represents their country on the world stage and takes a leading role at times of national celebration, uncertainty or tragedy. In carrying out these parts of the job, an elected head of state knows they will be held to account for their words and actions, providing a strong incentive to be unifying and inclusive.
If a president attempts to overreach their powers, there's a clear process for removing them from office - unlike a monarch. And a president is paid a straightforward annual salary, usually with a small office and one official residence; the public is not expected to fund their extended family or maintain multiple homes.
Republic calls for a constitutional head of state
What we get
A constitutional monarch is a puppet head of state. A king or queen has no democratic legitimacy so they can never act independently of government; they simply do what they're told. Ministers can do almost anything they like – including taking away our rights and liberties – safe in the knowledge that there is no final check on their power.
This lack of legitimacy also means that the Queen retreats from the head of state's role in representing and speaking for the British people. This has been made very clear by events surrounding Brexit in the second half of 2019. But it's always been the case. Think of her 60 years in office - she hasn't celebrated with the nation after great achievements or offered words of hope at times of crisis. She hasn't got to know her people or let them get to know her. And there is a good reason for this – a monarch survives by staying silent, keeping their head down and making only the blandest public statements.
We think Britain deserves better than that