The monarchy is an integral part of Britain’s constitutional fabric: laws are not passed until they have received royal assent; ministers hold their offices courtesy of the crown; MPs speak in the chamber by addressing their remarks to the monarch’s representative (the Speaker); and the monarch is the head of the armed forces. Yet while these constitutional niceties have lip service paid to them, in reality it is the government of the day that really controls the country, in conjunction with the European Commission. Thus, debates about whether we should have a monarchical state or republic lack urgency, as Britain would neither dive into destruction nor soar into the clouds were we to abolish the monarchy. Therefore, the debate ultimately boils down to little more than personal preference.
Graham Smith, head of the republican lobby group Republic, is not a fan of the monarchy. Fair enough. Yet he fails to make much of a case for a republic in his latest attack on Prince Charles, in which he accuses the prince of ‘political meddling’, amongst other things.
His Royal Highness is slated for “meddling in politics”, after the prince wrote a letter to the Qatari owners of Chelsea barracks, complaining that the proposed redevelopment by the architect and Labour peer Lord Rogers was hideous. Prince Charles wanted the building to be redone in a more neo-classical style. Lord Rogers, best known in Britain for the building below, then complained that Prince Charles was interfering in a planning process which was ‘open and democratic’.
Now, for me, this seems to boil down to a matter of taste. Which design does one prefer? Prince Charles didn’t actually interfere in the planning process, he merely wrote to the owners of the site, and expressed his opinion. Mr. Smith thinks this wrong, not realising the irony of one unelected person voicing their opinion that another unelected person shouldn’t voice their opinion. Mr. Smith does make a good point about how Prince Charles’ role must change once he becomes king, but he doesn’t even allow for that possibility.
The main focus of Mr. Smith’s attack seems to be that since he doesn’t like Prince Charles, we shouldn’t have a monarchy. It is a bad idea to argue for systems on the basis of whether you like the potential head of state. Otherwise Mr. Smith and his supporters may find themselves cheering for the prospect of a President Brown, then a President Cameron. Or maybe even a President Blair? Nor are Republic, as far as I know, campaigning for a withdrawal from the EU, on the basis that significant number of our laws now emanate from the undemocratic European Commission.
Thus the debate comes down to personal preference. Do you feel that it is sufficiently worthwhile to significantly change a constitution that has worked well, in order to have an elected head of state?
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