For a long time I have believed in the need to abolish the monarchy and convert our constitution into a republic with an elected head of state, and in recent months have joined the campaign group Republic. As an institution the Royal Family is inconsistent with a 21st century democracy. Our head of state should be elected by the people of this country, not hold the role by virtue of birth. Inherited privilege and power is an anachronism that is wrong in principle and bad for British politics. It sends a clear message that being born into certain families and of a certain social class affords you the right to certain positions in life irrespective of your merit, ethics, or abilities. It reinforces the belief of many former public school students that certain jobs are theirs as a right. In terms of the head of state it also means that the incumbent is accountable to no one. It surely cannot be right no one can challenge and call into question anything done by the head of state, even if those actions were only symbolic.
A couple of weeks ago Republic asked its supporters to write to their MPs and ask them two questions: 1. Do you agree that the monarchy should be replaced, perhaps sometime after the Queen’s reign is over? 2. Whether or not you support the monarchy, do you accept that in this day and age there should at least be a referendum on whether to keep the monarchy? Would you support a referendum being held at some point after the Queen’s death? Rather than send an email I chose to ask Chris Loder, the MP for West Dorset, these question via Twitter. Doing it via this medium would make more people aware that he had been asked these questions, I reasoned, and provide him with an opportunity to make an open statement.
Well, my reasoning here achieved it’s desired outcome. But rather than reply via Twitter he chose to make a statement to the press, a statement that said he was “dismayed” and “shocked” by my asking these questions of him. He said: “The Queen is grieving. Barely a month after (she) lost her husband…a sitting councillor is pushing for the end of the monarchy. This is an unbelievable mark of disrespect.” There are a number of points here that need responding to. First, I asked the question of Chris Loder, not the Queen. I was seeking his opinion of the monarchy. I some how doubt that, in the unlikely event the Queen became aware of my tweet, she would have been shocked. I’m fairly confident that she is aware of Republic’s campaign. Second, is it really so shocking that a sitting councillor should have an opinion on the monarchy? I can only presume that he is of the belief that sitting councillors can campaign on any matter providing that it’s nothing to do with the monarch. Third, how is asking the above questions “an unbelievable mark of disrespect”? What is actually disrespectful about them? Perhaps he still holds onto something akin to the medieval notion of the divine right kings, that merely looking at them (or asking questions about them) somehow contaminates their divine being?
Of more note, however, were the two elements of irony in his reply. He accused me of subverting and undermining the monarchy “at every opportunity for political gain”! The only way I could make political gain from asking these questions was if the majority of the voters in my ward (or in West Dorset if I’m fortunate enough to contest another general election against him) were in favour of a republic and decided to support me rather than another candidate in any future election. No, the only person making political gain was him, by making a statement to the press, by finding an opportunity to further develop his image of the culturally conservative rural farmer.
In further endorsing this image he also said: “When I was elected, I proudly swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen. I’d like to reassure everyone that I will not be reneging on this oath”. Does he not see the irony of such a statement? Surely in any democracy worthy of the name his first allegiance should be to the people he represents? Such a statement clearly implies that he gives the will of the monarch greater weight than the will of the people of West Dorset! This is just another example of how the monarchy is wrong in principle and bad for British politics. Even if this oath is only regarded symbolically, as a traditional statement that has little meaning in actuality, it still implies that the monarch’s will is above that of the people. This is bad for our politics. It is bad for democracy.