1. a form of government in which the people or their elected representatives possess the supreme power
In this sense of the word, I am a republican. This definition offers a positive image. An system of government based on democratic principles where people hold genuine power.
Too often however, the Republican movement in the UK confuses this positive image of genuine democracy with simply being ‘anti-monarchy’. I am as guilty as the next blogger for this. I have written highlighting royal corruption and how they too often over-step their constitutional position.
Equally, if you currently visit the campaign organisation Republic’s website, you are met with a banner advertising the ‘Abolish the Duchy‘ campaign. Is this what republicanism is about? Maybe in part, but it has to be so much more.
If we want real participative democracy, we have to move beyond just an anti-monarch rhetoric. We have to show the benefits that republicanism has to offer as well as what needs replacing and up-dating in our system.
To Republic’s credit, they do outline in some detail a Presidential system that they wish to see replace the current system. This however rarely makes it into the press releases let alone the public consciousness. The case for democracy is no where near as press friendly as good old fashioned royal bashing.
When making a positive case for democracy, we cannot completely shy away from the fact that in a future republic, almost by definition, a monarch will not hold a position of power or even a symbolic position as ‘head of state’.
Just as a monarch can play no role in a future republic, nor can an unelected chamber within our parliament. The current House of Lords is as offensive to the concept of democracy as the monarchy is. Why do republicans spend so much time attacking the monarchy and so little the House of Lords?
Having an entire chamber of non-elected lords is not democratic. Having reserved seats within this chamber for bishops, or indeed any faith leader is equally as undesirable. Your historical institutional power should bear no resemblance to the weight of influence you have in the modern decision making process. Is this too radical a sentiment?
It is not just me making these ‘radical’ arguments. Recent polls show that 69% of people support the principle of an elected second chamber.
It is with absolute despair then that I have watched as the reform of the lords has been kicked into the political long grass once more. Labour failed in this respect for 13 years. The Liberal Democrats have, despite their best efforts, been unable to follow through in their pledge on electoral reform.
This failure to deliver Lords reform with such public support is a symptom of our broken system – our democracy is not working.
Unlike Lords reform, the anti-monarch sentiments of republicanism hold much less support within the British population. 69% of the population stated in a recent poll that they thought we would be worse off without the monarchy. Would the public vote in a referendum to keep the monarch as unelected head of state? Possibly, although of course the irony is that we don’t know because we have never been asked!
At the heart of my republican beliefs is a very simple, positive idea – that those who make the rules that govern us and those who represent us abroad should be democratically elected (as proportionally as possible). This is our future we are talking about. I think we should have an equal say in how we shape it.
Without shying away from the inherent incompatibility of the monarchy and republicanism we need to ensure that our positive vision of a truly participative democracy is what people associate with our campaign.
Living in a republic is not about denying our history and the role the monarchy (and the Lords) played in shaping this country. It is however about enabling all to equally have a say in shaping our future.