Political Promise

Brace Yourselves for a Year of Royal Wedding Mania

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Today’s news has been dominated by the announcement that Prince William is to marry his partner Kate Middleton. As good a piece of celebrity news this is, it brings to light a long standing issue with British democracy…we still have a monarchy, says David Radestock.

There are numerous arguments for keeping the monarchy. They provide valuable tourist revenue as millions flood to witness sights considered quintessentially British. They help preserve the history and culture of a country that many consider as being engulfed by the EU, immigration and globalisation. Perhaps the strongest argument is that having a head of state that is separated from the political sphere prevents any chance of tyranny. However all these issues become nonsensical when considered against the negative effect the monarchy has on the progress of British democracy.

The country currently suffers from ‘elected dictatorship’. The lack of separation between the executive and legislature ensures that the government enjoys unprecedented power over the legislative agenda, with a strong whip system almost guaranteeing the safe passage of major bills. Even coalition has not significantly weakened this trend. As of 8th November 89 coalition MPs had broken ranks in the current parliament. Despite this relatively high rate, the smallest government majority was still 58. It is extremely rare for a government to be fully held to account by the House of Commons, let alone by the unelected and ineffective House of Lords.

Change is undoubtedly needed. And this is where the existence of the monarchy is an issue. To effectively rebalance the powers of our elected representatives, a split is needed between the executive and legislature. This could be achieved by moving the executive away from the legislature in the current system but would be accomplished far more effectively by abolishing the monarchy and completely separating the executive and legislature.

Firstly, this would allow a level of scrutiny that is made impossible by the current system. This would improve the quality of legislation and governance, cutting down on sleaze and unnecessary and wasteful laws. It may initially slow down the passage of bills that are currently forced through by an over powerful executive but in the long term would mean less post-implementation corrections need to be made. More scrutiny would also go a long way to restoring some of the trust that has been lost as politics sinks deeper into media obsessed partisanship.

A legislature independent from other branches of government would also make MPs more accountable to constituents rather than to their party. While a whip system would still clearly exist, MPs would be more able to rebel on grounds of morals, or the wishes of their constituents. Allowing MPs more freedom is not the only way a separation would aid governance. By electing the executive separately, constituents would pay more attention to their local candidates rather than simply vote for the party they believed had the best leader. While this may not occur to a perfect degree, it would certainly help localise politics in a way that improves engagement.

Electing the executive separately would also give the ‘president’ a nationwide mandate, something the Prime Minister does not currently posses. David Cameron was elected by 33,973 people in his constituency of Witney. While it would be naïve to suggest this does not give him a mandate, a nationwide election would increase the power and accountability of the position and strengthen the notion of democracy in the country.

Enhancing democracy, scrutiny, accountability and engagement would do far more than slightly adjusting the voting system or reducing the number of MPs by some arbitrary number. It would restore trust in politics, repair the relationship between the governed and governing and lead to a longer term approach that could radically improve the country. The monarchy would be a small price to pay.

  1. Why does splitting the executive and the legislature involve the monarchy David? If the only argument against the monarchy is the fact that it is a stumbling block to constitutional reform (constitutional reform- Parliament Acts, human rights act, appointed Lords… where was the monarchy then?) then your argument is weak I’m afraid.

    Do you not think a presidential executive will not have flaws? Elected by his peers, the Prime Minister is ultimately accountable to the poeple, through their local representatives (you only need to ask your MP and he can send a letter to the PM, whereas you need to go through six people to get to the US president, and at least three to speak to London Mayor Boris Johnson) The rivalry, squabbling and horse-trading between executive and legislature in the US is the reason why nothing ever gets done (see 40 years to enact a healthcare bill)

    More elections, more complicated ballot papers and more bloody politicians will fuel more apathy than an apparent lack of democracy. At the end of the day, under the current system, your vote equals one vote. Why need any more than that?

  2. A split would involve the monarchy because the ‘president’ would become the head of state. The monarchy would be pointless when a single, separate, state-leading figure was established. Maintaining a monarchy in this system would simply be increasing the layers of governance.

    The presidential system undoubtedly has flaws, as does any system. However the ‘rivalry, squabbling and horse-trading’ is only part of the problem. The biggest issue in the US is the polarized nature of the political parties and the success of the right in shifting the debate away from the centre ground. Here in the UK, both political parties and the public are more centrist and so this would not be as big of a problem.

    As for more elections and politicians, I believe the public would see the new system as more effective and their representatives as more able to represent their views, thus increasing engagement.

  3. I support the monarchy because the fact of the matter is NO one will ever be qualified to be the head of state. Politicians will never ever get 100% of the vote, so when the vote is split usually 60 – 40 or 50 – 50, that kind of flimsy electoral mandate undermines what it means to be the head of state – unity, solidarity, the head… can’t really claim that if 50% voted for you or 60% votes were wasted to losing candidates.

    Unelected positions are not unusualy in democracies. Take our Supreme Court judges for example, they are not elected, so what? Our ambassadors and high commisioners are not elected. Senior members of the civil service are unelected and yet influence our policies. There are many many official positions or positions of authority that are unelected. Prying open the head of state position to vulgar elections which will always degenerate into a mudslinging contest will be a travesty to our democracy and national unity and image.

    Politicians should be denied further access into positions of power. Given the mess of the various scandals in the House of Commons with the Expenses one being most recent… why expose the head of state position to that filth? Ordinary citizens should be wary when politicians want more power, openning the head of state to elections is wanting access to more power.

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