openDemocracyUK

Congratulations to the Queen, but her successor must be elected

As the Queen becomes the longest reigning monarch the UK has ever had, it's time to learn lessons from Ireland and move on from the monarchy.

Maggie Chapman
8 September 2015
retirement party_0.jpg

Scottish Young Greens retirement party for Mrs Windsor

Today the Queen becomes the longest serving British Monarch. She happens to be up in Scotland opening a new rail link, and the Scottish Young Greens are marking the occassion by hosting a retirement party for her outside the Royal residence in Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace.

It’s difficult for any republican to make the case against one of the most popular public figures of our age. But the Queen’s personal approval ratings hide the fundamental problems with the monarchy. She will hand the crown over to Prince Charles – who does not enjoy her popularity.

There are many royalists who argue that the crown should pass to Prince William. They seem to have misunderstood the principle of monarchy. The point is that you don’t get to choose who inherits the throne. And with Charles’ widespread unpopularity will fall one of the key arguments against having a democratic head of state – that members of the royal family are loved and politicians are loathed. The reason the Queen is held in such high regard is that she assiduously avoids her opinions becoming public. She may not even have any opinions, for all we know. This self-denying ordinance is a remarkable feat. The only thing more difficult than working out the Queen’s opinions on matters of public significance is thinking of another public figure about whom we know less.

Yet we could have so much more. Our nearest neighbours, Ireland, have had two very significant presidents in the past 20 years. Not because they avoided their opinions becoming public, but because they have made significant and positive changes to Irish society. Mary Robinson helped to break the patriarchal structures of Irish public life. Her career subsequent to being president has been perhaps even more distinguished, becoming the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.

The current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins (known popularly simply as Michael D.) has promoted gay rights and given greater prominence to his work for peace and justice around the world. He is a published poet, who has helped to promote Irish culture at home and abroad and sets a great example for what we could expect from an elected president.

There are plenty of strong arguments against the monarchy. We cannot be a democratic society until we have democratised our governance. With more than half our parliamentarians appointed, not elected, and a Head of State who has inherited the role, it is no surprise our society and economy is so unequal.

But perhaps the strongest argument for me is that we miss the opportunity to have a Head of State who can make a huge positive difference to our society and our world. So when the Queen does retire, we can have someone, in Prince Charles, who has a track record of using his position to impose his opinions on government. Or we could have someone we choose who could help to change our society for the better. Democracy is something we need to have more of in our workplaces, in our communities. But it’s vital we have a democratically elected Head of State.

So I wish the Queen a happy retirement, and I’ll be working hard for an elected replacement. A president like Mary Robinson or Michael D. Higgins will make a much greater difference than Prince Charles ever could. It’s time to put democracy at the heart of our state.

Please donate to OurKingdom here to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.

Who's getting rich from COVID-19?

Boris Johnson's government stands accused of 'COVID cronyism', after handing out staggering sums of money to controversial private firms to fight COVID-19. Often the terms of these deals are kept secret, with no value-for-money checks or penalties for repeated failures which cost lives. And many major contracts have gone directly to key Tory donors and allies – without competition.

As COVID rates across the country surge, how can we hold our leaders accountable? Meet the lawyers, journalists and politicians leading the charge in our free live discussion on Thursday 1 October at 5pm UK time.

Hear from:

Dawn Butler Labour MP for Brent Central and member of the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology

Peter Geoghegan Investigations editor, openDemocracy, and author of 'Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics'

Jolyon Maugham Barrister and founder of the Good Law Project.

Peter Smith Procurement expert and author of 'Bad Buying: How Organisations Waste Billions through Failures, Frauds and F*ck-ups'

Chair: Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief of openDemocracy

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData