By Chris Summers
BBC News Website
2005 will be an election year in Britain. As she enjoys Christmas with her family at Sandringham, the Queen can rest easy that the future of the monarchy will not be on the political agenda. But should it be?
"You're lucky. You don't have to worry about voters"
Pressure group Republic has urged politicians on all sides to engage in a debate over the future of the monarchy, which they claim is an anachronism in a modern, democratic society.
Stephen Pound MP, one of several Labour backbenchers who support the aims of Republic, told the BBC News website: "Most MPs keep very quiet on the subject. They don't want to stick their head above the parapet.
"But I say 'Let's get it out in the open and let's have a proper discussion about the issue'."
'Queen has played a blinder'
The MP for Ealing North said few would doubt the Queen had "played a blinder" but there was no reason why the monarchy could not stay in a ceremonial role with an elected head of state.
Labour is expected to push through the removal of the 92 remaining hereditary members of the House of Lords early in the next Parliament, if elected, but it has no interest in touching the monarchy's position.
A Labour spokesman told the BBC News website: "We are fully supportive of the Royal Family and believe they do a lot of hard work for this country as ambassadors for Britain.
Tony Banks MP, a Republic supporter, crosses his fingers as he swears the oath of allegiance
"We don't believe in any change to the present system and this is not an issue that has been raised in any significant form during our National Policy Forum consultation process or during The Big Conversation."
The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats also confirmed they had no plans to address the subject in their election manifesto.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said it was a very emotive subject and added: "We would be happy to debate the issue but it's difficult to do if the government will not table the parliamentary time."
As for the SNP, it has proposed that the Queen would remain head of state when Scotland became independent. They would then offer Scots a referendum on becoming a republic.
Republic's spokesman, Professor Stephen Haseler, said: "None of the parties have addressed the issue.
'Archaic and feudal'
"It's rather like the old adage about the elephant in the room. Everybody knows it's there but nobody wants to say anything."
Prof Haseler said: "Very few people still believe that in the modern day the eldest son should inherit the title of head of state. It's archaic and feudal. We are landed with it because of history."
Getting rid of the hereditary peers in the House of Lords is "another nail in the coffin of the monarchy" and the issue will be unavoidable after the Queen dies, he said.
Ireland's President Mary Robinson was a popular figure
An opinion poll conducted by Mori on behalf of Republic earlier this year suggested only 47% of Britons would want to keep the monarchy following the passing of the Queen.
But 55% would prefer Prince Charles to become King rather than Britain getting an elected head of state, which polled only 31%.
Prof Haseler said the resistance towards the idea of an elected head of state stemmed partly from a natural hostility towards the role of a president.
But he said: "We would like to see something like the Irish model, in which the president was an elected ceremonial head of state as well as the guardian of the constitution.
"Mary Robinson was particularly popular when she was president."
But Professor Bob Worcester, founder of pollsters Mori, told the BBC News website there was a widespread misconception among the "liberal media" that the popularity of the monarchy was on the wane.
He said: "Our most recent polls suggest only one in five Britons are in favour of abolishing the monarchy and replacing them with an elected head of state - and that figure has remained stable for some time."
Prof Worcester added: "The reason for that is a mixture of fondness for royalty and suspicion of the presidential system. People acknowledge the stability that it brings and recognise the magnificent job the Queen has done."
He admitted the Queen had a "personal vote" of her own but he said that beneath that there was a bedrock of support for the institution of the monarchy itself.
Prof Worcester said: "I wouldn't be surprised if Australia becomes a republic but that is because of a number of factors, including the fact that they feel hard done by by the old country."
And the same fate may await the UK, thinks Mr Pound.
"When the present Queen, God bless her, dies I think the Royal Family will implode in on itself anyway," he said.
Thank you for your e-mails. The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:
Wake up, 'there is no future in England's dreaming!' This is the 21st Century and it's time the privileges and wealth of this parasitic family were reclaimed for the people. However, the problem runs much deeper than the Royal Family. They are simply the most visual aspect of an out-dated and floundering social structure.
The hierarchal class structure of Britain still exists and still causes injustice to millions. We may all be equal but don't kid yourself that those who run our country are doing anything to make society reflect this. Why would they? They are the people with the power and the money, they wouldn't want to jeopardise their supposed superiority.
It's about time our country took a good look at itself and wondered why so many people are turning away from it and why people from all the generations feel alienated. It's about time we realised that Britain is for everyone in it and not those who simply fit the historical mould and have the money to pay for it. It's everybody's Britain!
Joe Dodsworth, United Kingdom
Strange that among a collection of individuals who swear allegiance to the queen, there should be some who are proposing abolishing her. If such individuals who cannot keep to their promise are indicative of elected representatives thank God we have a monarchy. The monarchy are trained from birth to represent this country, which probably explains why they appear to do so much better at it than those who seek power through elected means.
Colin Mack, Reading, UK
The monarchy-republic debate is a red herring used by professional politicians to divert attention from the much more important question: whether Britain (and other countries) should become democracies. The world's only fully democratic country - Switzerland - is a beacon of hope to all of those of us who long for the day when citizens rather than corrupt professional politicians have the right to initiate, and vote directly upon, the laws that affect their everyday life.
No royalty? Tut tut. No Royal Navy, Royal Air force, Royal Marines, no royal weddings, no royal nothing. What would the rest of the world do? The Brits are the best at pomp and circumstance. Want a good parade? Roll out the bands, fire the guns, and watch 'em march smart and steadfast. Up the Royals.
I consider myself progressive and very far to the left on the political spectrum. However, I have great respect for the monarchy because it is not an inherent part of the law-making legal structure - it is simply a symbolic office. Indeed, there are numerous other European nations with similar political systems - with the monarch as the symbolic head of state at the top. The Netherlands is considered one of the most liberal and progressive nations in not only Europe, but the world, and yet they have a monarchy as well. Brits opposed to monarchy need to reassess their objections because a thoroughly democratic nation is perfectly able to have a hereditary monarch as head of state.
Ben Haley, Edinburgh, UK
As always, if it isn't broke, don't fix it.... I prefer to have Liz in my wallet any day as opposed to any other world leader - fanatical or not.
Society will always want a leading family. The only way to avoid tasteless competitions won by vulgar people is to have a position that, in general, people cannot aspire to but do respect. That is why we have a non-political invited Royal Family.
Josephine Bennington, UK
I have to say that the Queen's speech doesn't register on my list of things to see at Xmas. The lack of expression in her voice makes me think "Why does she even bother?". It doesn't endear her to the public whatsoever and seems to have become less popular all round in my opinion. However, I do
think that they should play some sort of role in society in the future. They bring in so much revenue for the UK that it would leave a big hole in that respect. Also, what would they do themselves? What skills do they have to survive without servants etc? They are forever moaning about the restrictions the media places on their lives, but without the media, they would be more or less obsolete.
Louise Kelly, England
I am 16 years of age and I am as modern as one can be. However, I do feel that the Royal Family does play an important role. The Royal Family is what makes Britain unique from the rest of the world. I personally think that to no longer have the Royal Family would be a great shame. I know that I don't only speak for myself in this subject as many of my friends - my age - also believes that the Royal Family plays a big part in Britain today and should remain. All I can hope for is that the Royal Family is here to stay!
Joseph A, England
Please, please let's change this historical anachronism. The monarchy represents Britain's cruel imperialistic past and unless this is shaken off the British will continue to have a misplaced sense of superiority - all the while the world outside British shores continues achieving higher levels of excellence in arts, sciences, technology, business and spirituality. Britain needs to take its place alongside the world's peoples as equal partner and accelerate its achievements.
Omar Mughal, UK
Please remember she's our Queen too. Not that we see too much of her. When the royals do pay us a visit, tens of millions of dollars are spent catering to their every need; they expect it and no doubt demand it. We also get saddled with the bill to bring them from Britain. What do we get out of it? Well they finally pave the main road from the airport to the city centre. A heavy price to pay for removal of those ancient potholes. I would like to see a head of state replace the "tribe" of royals that feel the Commonwealth owes them a living. The Queen spoke of tolerance, I didn't see much of that in the royals' treatment of Princess Diana. Over the years their performance justifies the abolition of the monarchy. They've let us down and ceased to be "royal."
Allan (ex Wales), Vancouver, Canada
Living next to a country with a president as head of state, makes one very leery of anything other than the present monarchy of Britain, which is also the head of state of Canada. God Save the Queen!
Eritch van Rustomssen, Canada
How can a family whose history is the history of the country, whose head, the Queen has 50 years of political experience, has worked with seven prime ministers and has the respect of leaders across the globe be replaced by someone like John Prescott? Does Republic seriously believe an elected head of state is an improvement?
Most of us here in the US would gladly trade ours for yours, thank you very much.
Paul Hollingsworth, USA
The monarchy really ought to go. Not because monarchy is a particularly faulty institution but because the status quo allows the power of the prime minister to be a virtual dictatorship. If the monarchy were abolished there would have to be a serious thinking on our constitution and the powers of government, probably resulting in a new Bill of Rights and some form of definition of governments' powers. Could explain why all PMs are royalists! If we had a president, the model would have to be Ireland
Ralph Metcalfe, England
Would you swap the Queen for Bush, Clinton, Chirac, Mitterrand...? No. And least of all for Blair!
As an American, I can easily see the value of the stability and sense of continuity that the monarchy brings to this country. I often find myself wishing for unpoliticised decisions that only a hereditary monarch could make. I would very much miss the Queen's speech - this year's was rather a triumph and not the sort of thing an elected official would ever bother with. We needed to hear it, however, and I was grateful for the sentiment.
Lisa, Cambridge, UK
The monarchy defines Britain. Being British is not a question of ethnic origin, or place of birth, or any of the things which many nations use to define nationality; it's a question of owing allegiance to the monarch as one's sovereign. Without the monarch, there is no Britain. To abolish the monarch is to abolish Britain.
David Jackson, UK
Its time the UK moved on and got rid of this outdated, feudal, medieval nonsense. If they are kept, however, then they should be stripped of the lavish lifestyle and made to give up some, if not all of the palaces they seem to require and identify more with the people who foot the bill for this circus.
Thomas Lowry, UK
Prof Worcester is quite correct. There is no desire to change or abolish the monarchy except in the mind of the liberal media and its about time they realised that - unless of course they would prefer President Thatcher to be head of state.
This should have nothing to do with personalities; it should be a matter of political principle. In a modern and supposedly democratic society it is quite absurd that our official head of state is unelected. One day I hope this country will be grown-up enough to realise that the monarchy is nothing but a sad relic from the feudal era that has no place in 21st Century Britain. All good patriots should want to be recognised as citizens of this great land, not the subjects of Elizabeth Windsor.
Jak Graves, UK
I believe that the monarchy as it stands should remain the same. For over 300 years our country has remained much more stable than any of our European counterparts mainly due to the strong political establishments within our country - the monarchy is one of these. Are republicans seriously saying that they would prefer to abolish the most powerful institution in our country? What would happen to our fond memories of great rulers like Queen Victoria and Henry VIII? Yes, like in Russia they would become fragments of our imagination and our past. Our monarchy is what makes us unique from others, and it is the last remaining symbol of our great imperial past - but it is something that we don't having to remember by looking into a history book; the Queen is constantly performing important duties and roles at the moment. The fact of the matter is that without Britain the Queen cannot rule; and Britain without a Queen cannot truly be the Britain I know.
Myles Larrington, UK
Although I feel that the debate on monarchical reign is a hackneyed one, I feel that the hereditary gain of power, real or ceremonial, is something to be confined to history. I feel it is not the public's responsibility to pay for the upkeep of those who do not benefit them in any major way.
Tim, Denmark (temporarily left England)
I'm a Brit living in the USA since 1996. You do not realise until you live away what a huge PR role the Royal Family provides for Britain around the world. It is a reminder to the world of our former nation and the subsequent reach of our cultural and business ties across the globe. We need to poll tourists and see how much economic benefit we get from the monarchy which I believe is one of the most lucrative "franchises" anywhere!
Darren Wood, USA
The Queen is the best argument for retaining the monarchy. Most of the population can not remember a time without her, but when she is gone, people will ask serious questions: what do we actually need a monarch for? And if we must have one, can parliament simply bypass Charles and appoint someone else?
Vincent Coles, London
I really don't understand why people are so desperate to get rid of the Queen. Ok, the monarchy is a bit old-fashioned and costs money, but it is a much bigger tourist draw than any other forms of government, costs a hell of a lot less than the current government and causes a lot less trouble. At least the Queen behaves herself, and at his worst Prince Charles behaves much better than the average MP.
Marjorie Martindale, United Kingdom
There is nothing democratic about a monarchy. It is about time that we became a democracy before the likes of George Bush invades us. In Britain people seem to be inherently conservative and don't want to have a change. They don't want to stand on their own feet and take responsibility for their own actions. Should we just laugh when the likes of the Duke of Edinburgh makes a gaffe and insults others and say 'That's royalty for you'?
Andrew McSorland, Scotland
The monarchy has a special place in the history of our country. Labour and others wish to dismantle it for their own ends. We should give more power to the monarchy and we wouldn't have people like Blair taking us to war on a lie.
Thomas Davison, England