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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
'Time for a UK president?'
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By Hilary Wainwright
Founding member of Charter 88
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The Queen Mother's death last month provoked a wave of public support for the once beleaguered Royal Family. So what does the future hold for our monarchy?

In the second of a series, Hilary Wainwright, founding member of the constitutional reform pressure group Charter 88, says the Queen Mother was the last obstacle to a republic.

"My parents woke me to watch Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. I felt I should bring my sons to witness this piece of history," said one spectator queuing to view the Queen Mother's coffin.

The Queen Mother's lying-in-state
A "piece of history": The Queen Mother's lying-in-state
Why history? Because she was the longest living royal and had seen through virtually a whole century? Or because her death marks the passing of an institution: the constitutional monarchy.

In fact, as Princess Royal, with her husband King George, she behaved unconstitutionally in welcoming Chamberlain's appeasement plan and urging the government to do the same. Apt then, if the death of a royal who directly interfered in politics should cause the final fraying of the cords which bind Britain's democratic institutions to royalty.


Visions of the Monarchy

In our three-part series, writers assess the Royal Family's future
  Wednesday - Historian Andrew Roberts on why the Monarchy has never been so popular

  • Thursday - Author Hilary Wainwright says republicanism will return   Friday - Economist Michael Jacobs on why modernisation is still important
  • It is the role of the monarchy in the workings of Britain's unwritten but deeply entrenched constitution which must at this stage be the main issue, not whether we want an hereditary and dysfunctional family as the country's titular head.

    Whether and how to choose the incumbent of a purely honorary position could be sorted after we rid our constitution of any political role for the crown, albeit carried out by the Prime Minister in the royal name.

    This will require a thoroughgoing democratic debate across the country to arrive at written rules governing the rights of legislature and of the people over the executive, that is, the government.

    The notion of the "Crown in parliament" and related to it, the royal prerogative, has given the executive, especially the Prime Minister too much scope to define its own rules.

    Queen and Tony Blair
    Has Blair "used" the monarchy to enhance his power?
    Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair have used what Walter Bagehot described as this "dignified" part of the constitution, to enhance their own power and diminish that of parliament and hence the people.

    The recall of parliament to eulogise the Queen Mum is a good case in point. The decision to recall during recess is the prime minister's, acting on the royal prerogative, as is the decision to go to war - possibly with a meeting of the Privy Council.

    Tony Blair's recall of MPs not to debate whether we should go to war on Iraq or what action to take when Israel's military action is threatening the human rights of a whole people, but to doff their hats in an outpouring of sanctimonious sentiment, vividly symbolised MPs' - and hence our own - lack of rights.

    Calls for accountability

    MPs behaved like courtiers when what we need is democratic watchdogs, who having briefly paid their respects to an elderly and revered public figure, could hold an increasingly presidential prime minister to account.

    Charles cannot embody Bagehot's "dignified" part of the British constitution. And this is not because of his love life. It is because the democratic demand for accountable government has grown so strong that if we do not get it, politicians will lose their democratic mandate.

    Queen in Parliament
    The Queen at the State Opening of Parliament
    And until we rid politics of royal institutions, British governments will always be protected against democratic pressures. The supposed dignity of the nominal royal role in the affairs of state has become visibly demeaning for many people.

    A widely recognised crisis of parliamentary democracy is spurring reform. The death of the Queen Mother takes away one the last taboos on tackling the anti-democratic core of Britain's peculiar system.

    This is not "off with their heads" republicanism; it is "get out of our democratic space" republicanism.

    The first step is to separate crown from parliament and draw up a written constitution. Scottish and Welsh devolution has begun the process, debate about the English regions will continue it. An elected titular head of state might be a logical conclusion.


    Has enthusiasm for the monarchy increased?

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    Talking PointTALKING POINT
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