Monday, February 06, 2006

The Monarchy: What's Cameron up to now?

So, Dave wants to reform the powers of the Queen does he? Remove the PMs power to declare war without Parliamentary approval? Check the prerogative powers exercised by Ministers? Dave mate, are you sure you're not really a Whig? What are you doing in the Conservative Party? Changing the way the constitution doesn't work so that people may respect it more?

Now, I'm sure I've heard this sort of styling before. Wait, I know I have; as John of the excellent Atlantic Rift reminds me, Blair came to power promising radical constitutional reforms, decentralisations and updates. What did we actually get though? A glorified County Council for Scotland, that can be overridden on a whim by Westminster, an even less powerfull assembly in Wales, which Peter Hain seems set on fuckig up further. Prescott proposed some White Elephants for the northern 'Regions' (when did England aquire Regions, anyway? What was wrong with me being a Provincial? And since when did Wiltshire folk have much in common with us Devon and Cornwall lunatics? They're far too posh for the likes of us). Oh, we also got a badly implemented and partially suspended Human Rights Act (which gave us nothing we didn't already have, just made it easier to get to), and, um, a London Mayor?

So, Dave is copying the Blair style on all fronts. Promise reforms, updates, changes. Make politics 'better' and 'more appealing'. All the sort of thing he knows that people like me want to hear. Exactly the same sort of thing that Blair said in order to appeal to people like me. Thing is, he's being to blatent. Dave mate? We know you're only vote whoring, we know the Tory party will commit to real constitutional reform at roughly the same time Satan has to buy some de-icer. Back to John:
The continuing failure of politicians of all stripes to admit to their own complicity in this one is a source of constant frustration to me. Britain doesn’t have a constitution, just a set of conventions that governments can ignore at will. All power resides in the Crown-in-Parliament and thus, in any government with a large enough majority, in the PM.

To blame the Blair government for creating this mess is roughly on a par with blaming India for climate change.
So, what's needed? Well, Owen, awhileback, summarised the reasons he opposes the current 'settlement' when it comes to the monarch, precis:
  1. Royal prerogative gives extensive, unaccountable power to the executive.
  2. The monarchy has real political power to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister.
  3. The monarchy interferes in our day-to-day political life.
  4. The monarchy perpetuates the class system and undermines the proper recognition of merit
  5. The monarchy undermines our reputation abroad and is bad for business (even tourism).
  6. The monarchy makes it impossible to separate Church and State
As I've said as an aside before, I'm a convert to the principles of constitutional monarchy. I detailed them a bit more last October, in a comment to a post DK put up about the virtues of the monarchy:
Anyway, as a former republican turned constitutional monarchist, on virtually all points I agree. Two exceptions. 1) powers; she's not a figurehead, she chooses to not use her powers, because that's not the done thing. But a lot of the stuff done in her name by prerogative. That and she has personally chosen one PM and sacked another. 2) Tourism benefits; genuinely, an own goal royalist argument, you (we) have to not use it, a) Paris has no monarchy, but has great tourism revenue; get rid of the monarchy, open the palaces, increase tourism. b) there are some seriously good studies out there that show it has little to no net benefit, and may actually be counter productive and create a net loss to tourism.

Like I said; I used to be a republican; when you change your mind substantially, then you tend to know the reasons pretty well.

[DK-What, then, made you change your mind?]

A study of history, a reading of Burke, and specifically, a study of the democratisation of post-Franco Spain. By accepting Juan Carlos as King, the republican/socialist opposition that became the next government forstalled a civil war. By insisting on democratic elections and effectively insisting on the British model, Juan Carlos ensured the Right would accept the socialist govt; they'd sworn to accept him as King. Juan Carlos pretty much made modern Spain; he could've taken absolute power, but instead became a great King.

I hate US-style Presidential systems of government; if you're going to have a ceremonial head of state with no real powers, you might as well accept a monarch where you have one and simply make sure the system is reformed to remove the legitimate grievances of the republicans. I plan to write it all up coherently at some point. I plan to write up a lot of things.
Never did get around to writing the full article. Consider this the start. I'm a strong supporter of the idea of a representative, Parliamentary democracy. Such a system requires a ceremonial head of state. We've got a monarch, the insitution itself is popular. So we may as well keep it.

But the institution is deeply flawed. Do we really want the Queen to retain the power (legally) to sack the Prime Minister and call an election on a whim? The 'unwritten' constitutional assumes she (or a successor) would never do it. But her representative in Australia did in 1975. She has the same powers, laid out in the same way.

If Dave is serious, if he really wants to appeal to reformers like myself, then he needs to do more to convince us than throwing us a bone and saying the right thing. Ming Campbell is promising a proper constitutional convention. It's needed.

Dave? If you're serious, sign up for it, make it a genuine cross-party affair? Oh, wait, you're not serious, are you. You're just vote whoring. I'd love to think I'm wrong. But, um, once burnt...


Jonn Elledge said...

I think the problem is that Britain is a deeply (small c) conservative nation. When it comes to constitutional reform, the mantra seems to be "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

In Scotland and (to a lesser extent) Greater London, there was a feeling that something needed to be done, and that they should exist as seperate constitutional entities. In Wales, that feeling was weaker, but still strong enough to create something.

In the north east people simply weren't bothered enough to see the point of changing anything, so they voted 'no'. Like I said, if it ain't broke, don't fix it...

...and while politics geeks like us may spend our days worrying about the seperation of powers or the westlothian question, most people simply don't think there's a problem.

Sadly, I suspect that to get a proper constitutional settlement we'd need some kind of crisis. Best hope for that at the moment would be a hung parliament where the LibDems can push for one.

Thanks for links and adjectives, though.

BondWoman said...

First time I've visited your blog mate and it looks interesting and I will be back. Two things though: the nation state, recognised by the United Nations and other states, is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Nothing less, and nothing more. Secondly, can't you kick the white on black design into touch. I've had to nag and nag old BondBloke who does all these things over at our place about having a light background and dark typing, and finally i got my own way. I'd like it if all the blogs I like to read followed suit! But the content looks great, and I will be back to interact.

MatGB said...

Thanks for the supportive comment but, um, just because that's what's recognised, doesn't mean it's what I want; I'm British, not UKish. Note the complete lack of St Patrick's cross on the flag at the top (hidden by the design, but it's just George and Andrew). I've no interest in the 1801 Act, in my view it was one of the bigger mistakes this great nation has made over the years.

Oh yeah; I like white on black, I might change it when I figure out how to code my own template from scratch, but until I do it'll have to stay; too many tweaks so far...

Devil's Kitchen said...

Many web designers advocate the white on black. Because white is more photons fired at your eyes, and black less, the white actually stands out on the black background better than the other way around.

For me, though, the apeothis of this concept is Daring Fireball: the warm grey is just dark enough to enable easy reading, but without the sharp contrast of the w/b combo.

Matt, just alter the styles in your template. 'Tis a piece of piss (especially with your template).