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The season of snark

I am a Republican.

Not that kind of Republican, I hasten to add: remember, this is a British blog, and American political distinctions do not apply.

Rather, I'm a republican insofar as I'm in favour of government based on the consent of the people, rather than the divine right of kings (or, in our case, a queen).

I am reminded of this today because on Tuesday this week, William Windsor and Kate Middleton announced they were getting hitched, which — as Bill is second in line to the throne, right behind his dad, Speaker-to-Vegetables — has triggered a locust-like media feeding frenzy as banal as it is ridiculous.

Lest you imagine that I've got a hate on for the Windsors, let me make this clear: I don't.

Insofar as the UK has an unelected ceremonial head-of-state for life, I think Elizabeth Windsor has made an excellent fist out of what must be an increasingly onerous job — she's 84, still manages nearly 500 public engagements a year after nearly seventy years in office, and hasn't once been caught out with a rent boy on Clapham Common or receiving brown paper envelopes stuffed with purple drinking vouchers. Compared to your average politician she's a paragon of incorruptibility — although this shouldn't be too surprising, because she already owns everything. (What are you going to bribe her with: a small middle eastern oil state? Paraguay? What is the acceptable back-hander to offer a woman whose great-granny owned a quarter of the entire planet?)

The royal family may be expensive to run, but they're a net asset to the national bottom line ("because tourists are money", as Johnny Rotten put it). They keep the tabloids distracted by providing useful employment for vapid, snobbish hacks, and they don't do much harm (unless you count fashion crimes).

However.

In case you, gentle reader, are not British but, perhaps, American, I have one big beef with the royal family:

I didn't get to vote for them.

Let me unpack that for you.

There is no democratic accountability in monarchy. As a system of government, in undiluted form it most resembles a hereditary dictatorship — current poster-child: Kim Jong-Il. The form we have in the UK is not undiluted: Parliament asserted its supremacy with extreme prejudice in 1649, and again in 1688, and ever since then the British monarchy has been a constitutional, rather than an absolute one — a situation that leaves odd constitutional echoes, such as the fact that we have a Royal Navy but we a British Army (loyal to Parliament, and not under royal command).

Nevertheless ...

To use a metaphor: let us postulate the existence in the ante-bellum Deep South of benevolent, morally righteous slaveowners who did not flog or rape or oppress their slaves. (I know, I know ... it's a thought experiment, okay?) Would that be enough to exculpate the institution of slavery? I'm pretty sure the answer lies somewhere been "no!" and "hell, no!" Slavery is an inherently oppressive institution because it deprives a class of victims of their most basic right to autonomy, and the failure of a [hypothetical] individual slave-owner to be corrupted does not invalidate this oppressive nature of the system.

Similarly, the existence of benevolent, incorruptible, morally righteous monarchs who do not tyrannise their subjects citizens does not redeem the institution of monarchy.

Both slavery and monarchy are affronts to the principle that all people are equal in law. They may differ in detail of degree or circumstance — after all, is anyone seriously comparing Elizabeth Windsor to Kim Jong-Il, or Henry VIII? — but the very existence of the institution is, in and of itself, dehumanizing.

And so, when I see the news coverage of Kate and Wills' Big Day Out, while I don't wish them anything but happiness as individuals, I'd be a lot happier if they'd offer us a wedding present — in the shape of a solemn undertaking that, should Parliament and the British people finally drag themselves kicking and screaming out of the middle ages and get around to voting for an Abolition of the Monarchy Act, they will obey the will of the people.

255 Comments

1:

If we're going to be all Republican about the monarchy then we should insult them properly and use their correct surname which is Mountbatten-Windsor. (Cos Phil the Greek was a Mountbatten).

And best of luck to the happy couple, and may they have many happy years together.

2:

So, when you see a political institution that works, a part of the machinery of government that quietly and reasonably efficiently gets the job done, your first instinct is to abolish it?

Are you _sure_ you are not a capital 'R' Republican?

Personally, I find principles work best when they are reality-based. When the existence of facts that go against the principle is treated as a challenge to at least the scope and details of the principle.

Not an excuse to go and try change the facts.

3:

nearly seventy years in office

It's almost sixty years since she acceded to the throne. However, since that was well before either you or even I was born, it's a minor slip.

And indeed, good luck to the young Windsors (William being a Prince, he is not a Mountbatten-Windsor - qf http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/41948/supplements/1003).

5:

She's been doing ceremonial duties in public since she was 16 -- 68 years, which is close enough to seven decades for my purposes.

6:

"...has triggered a locust-like media feeding frenzy as banal as it is ridiculous."

Imagine how this comes across in America.
Winner of the UK genetic power/money lottery to marry... er... someone.

7:

Ah - I had thought that being a Prince, he was of the House of Windsor, but technically didn't have a surname. In the army, both William and Harry are referred to as Lt. Wales.

If he renounced his title, I had assumed that he would then be a Mountbatten-Windsor, but the Gazette article you link to would seem to suggest he is just a Windsor. However, it's worded a little vaguely.

8:

Agree totally on the media frenzy; enormously tiresome and already has me fed up with the whole affair, although I wish the couple themselves all the best. Entirely predictable though, sadly.

However, on the abolition of the monarchy - do the royal family hold any effective power to block this anyway? As the monarch has such slight actual power these days, I'm fairly happy with this system of government - and as you point out, they're a net asset economically.

Whilst I understand your point about the sheer existence of the monarchy being dehumanising - well, perhaps. But I think the majority are pragmatic enough to accept that we preserve the monarchy for its heritage and historic significance, rather than any support of its effectiveness as a system of government.

Whether we'll eventually come to a point where we vote to remove the royals; who knows. I think there's more urgent priorities in reviewing our system of government, not least reforming the House of Lords. In all honesty, though - do you think if a political party argued, campaigned and won an election on the basic of republican anti-monarchy reform, the royals would oppose them? Because I don't.

9:

Let me guess ... you're American, right?

10:

So you'd get rid of the Windsors and their net benefit just because you didn't vote for them? You chipping in the balance?

Get a television. Take a look at the other fame-addled wrecks people obsess over. The Queen has been a star and her grandkids could do stellar work too. Less said about Charlie, the other Charlie, the better.

11:

Ah, I hadn't realise you were counting from that point. In which case, yes.

12:

On the other hand, democracy gives you people like Snippy, Thatcher, and Blair.

It's enough to make you wish for magical talking white horses.

13:

My main feeling about the Royal Family is apathetic surprise at their continued existence and perceived importance.

14:

(I'm another American looking at the N.H.S., sane environmental policies, and the British drawdown in Iraq and thinking maybe the grass is maybe greener with you lot (except for the wacky libel laws and the security cameras everywhere). With that admission made, here goes.)

British lefty Charles Stross, meet American lefty Matt Yglesias:

"[I]t seems inevitable in any country for some individual to end up serving the functional role of the king. Humans are hierarchical primates by nature and have a kind of fascination with power and dignity. This is somewhat inevitable, but it also cuts against the grain of a democracy. And under constitutional monarchy, you can mitigate the harm posed by displacing the mystique of power onto the powerless monarch."

I think Yglesias has the better argument here: Like Augustus maintaining the forms of the Roman Republic and declining to call himself "rex" while becoming a de facto dictator, the American "Imperial Presidency" has amassed scary, scary "national security" and war-mongering powers while bleating about "democracy" the whole time. Having the human drive to bow and scrape before an alpha dog redirected toward some powerless twit in a morning coat might stop the tendency of American presidents to turn themselves into Caesar. You Brits have a crazy system, but humans are a crazy lot, so from over here, it looks like it works pretty well.

15:

Hear, hear! I'm Canadian, and agree that it's time we disposed of the monarchy once and for all. (And possibly we could take the UK's lead and work on getting that Senate of ours to actually be elected by someone who isn't the PM, hmm?)

I strongly suspect the various Republican movements will gather strength after Her Majesty's passing. I mean, seriously? That guy as king?

The adorable old mean lady who lives on our money is one thing, but the awareness that we didn't sign up for this is going to dawn on the subjects of the Commonwealth Realms as soon as Other Charlie opens his mouth.

16:

Forgot to include this before clicking submit: The obvious counterexample to my point would be someone like Mussolini, who became a dictator under a monarchy. So you might be right on that score, too. But I remain curious what you think of Yglesias's argument.

17:

(Debating internally whether or not the existence of the Kardashians is inherently dehumanizing)

18:

I often (once a year or so) have a pub conversation about the royal family. It usually goes Charlie is a right Charlie so we should get rid of them once Elizabeth dies.

It then becomes a question of who would replace them as the "ceremonial" elected President. Clearly this would end up being either a popular politician (Blair or Boris are the only real options) or someone else who is famous. David Beckham or Simon Cowell anyone?

Given those suggestions I usually look back and think that keeping the royal family is not a bad option. Especially as William appears to be clueful and found a wife who understands and accepts what she is letting herself in for.

19:

But how to retain the economic value of the popular distraction? Perhaps a reality-TV contest show?

20:

oops I meant to include Jordan on that list.

I wouldn't usually reply to myself but the sheer horror of that possibility needs to include it.

21:

I am already tired of the royal wedding. People are already selling souveniers...

22:

Far be it from me to put words in Our Host's mouth, but I think that many of his issues with the Royal Family would disappear if he and the rest of the UK citizenry were given the opportunity to vote on abolishment of the Monarchy. If, as a result of such a vote, the populace decided to keep it, say for another twenty or thirty years, with revotes being held at the end of each period, then he'd be less annoyed with them at the institutional level.

23:

As an American, I do envy your having a very visible head of state that's not your head of government. The ceremonial respect that accretes around the office of the Presidency in the US really distorts American politics; it'd be great having the president treated as just some politician.

I know there are plenty of countries with elected heads of state, but the monarchy really does seem to work awfully well for that purpose.

24:

I see two practical advantages to having a constitutional monarchy.

(1) The head of government is not the head of state. This reduces the prestige of the head of government and makes it harder for them to abuse their powers.

(2) The kind of person who joins the armed forces as an officer often finds it easier to feel loyalty to a monarch than an elected politician or an abstract such as a flag or constitution. This can make them more likely to resist coup attempts - see for example the role of Spain's King Juan Carlos during the 1981 attempted coup.

It may seem paradoxical but I am indeed arguing that the existence of the monarchy can be a safeguard for democracy.

25:

The first tweet I saw on Tuesday was:-

"Somewhere in China, someone with a warehouse of Prince William & Kate Middleton teacups is heaving a sigh of relief"

26:

I'm going to take the deliberately contrarian point of view.

I'm fine with a totally ceremonial monarchy. Mostly that's because I get tired of America's lame celebrity attempts at the same (yep, I'm a Yank). I furthermore have no qualms with forcing disgustingly rich people to make 500 public appearances per year, live their lives in public and so forth, mostly because it beats the alternative.

Remember, of course, that I live in a country where the wealth inequality is now worse than that of Argentina. In other words, the US is the world's biggest Banana Republic. That might explain some of our politics.

At the moment, I'm all for giving those hyper-rich people ceremonial royal titles, tying them to hugely expensive estates they can't unload ('cause they're like, historic and stuff), and making them responsible for a grinding schedule of public appearances and worthy causes. It beats having them scurry around in shadowy boardrooms, screwing up our politics and economy.

But then again, I'm your type of republican too, I suspect.

Long live the Queen. She's earned that long life of hers.

27:

They signify, and by their continuance justify, the fundamental injustice of the British aristocracy and class system. Kick them out, because it's just wrong. Not, for heaven's sake, because we don't like the next guy (who I dare say will do a reasonable job as monarch, just as his mother has). That would miss the point.

Of course once we get rid of them we will only have a stupid and unjust money-based class system, like the Americans. That doesn't mean we should tolerate the injustice of the current system.

28:

There’s an idea: make it mandatory that if you have a certain amount of wealth, you are given a noble title and extensive ceremonial responsibilities, and required to spend your life hounded by paparazzi! I’m sorry, Duke Gates, you’re going to need to give away a lot more of your Microsoft-derived fortune to your charitable foundation if you want to cut down on the number of ribbon-cuttings you have to attend...

29:

FWIW:
1) There *were* "benevolent" slave-owners in the ante-bellum South. We can't really guess how many, but they were more than a few. And you are right, this did not exculpate slavery. It's just that it didn't need to be a thought experiment when you could have used history.

2) I think you're confusing things. DON'T do away with the monarchy, in it's current form. You might end up with an imperial presidency, which is much worse. When people yield their loyalty to something that's powerless, this isn't as bad as when they yield their loyalty to something that's potent. The fact that the head of your royal family is still called a King or a Queen doesn't make them an autocrat, it makes them the symbol of an autocrat. It's much safer to yield the loyalty to a symbol then to a real autocrat. And people seem to have a need to yield it to some such entity.

3) Yes, I'm an UStatian. (You could pronounce it as the tube between the ear and the mouth.) This means I don't see all the problems with the monarchy, but I sure see problems with a president given lots of power. (I'm not sure what terminology you'd use. Probably not president. But the name is irrelevant.)

OTOH, perhaps a Prime Minister isn't subject to the corrupting influences that a president is. I just don't think that's the way to bet.

30:

the tendency of American presidents to turn themselves into Caesar

I suspect that you can only say that because you have no idea how actual Caesars acted. Yes, American Presidents have arrogated themselves some worrying powers. No, they don't really resemble genuine Caesars.

You Brits have a crazy system, but humans are a crazy lot, so from over here, it looks like it works pretty well

Since, of course, the British PMs have avoided arrogating themselves scary powers as well...

Oh, right.

31:

One thought on the "Royal Family promotes tourism" argument - other countries that have ditched their monarchy have tourism too, arguably more and better because nowhere is off limits. So I don't think that holds water.

And I don't think that the elected President would be a Blair or a celebrity. The country does have other well known and more or less respected figures who don't trail political baggage or celebrity contempt. How about President Hawking or Dawkins, for example?

32:

I don't understand the defacto difference between an elected head of state who has no power and a heredity monarchy which has no power?

Except another election which nobody will care about because it means nothing.

In otherwords it's an interesting pile of hypothetical twaddle but who cares?

33:
right behind his dad, Speaker-to-Vegetables
Could be worse, he could be Speaker-to-Meat.

They keep the tabloids distracted by providing useful employment for vapid, snobbish hacks,
This may not be a good thing, because it frees the politicians and money-boys from some of the scrutiny they might otherwise undergo. At this point it seems like the only oversight on government is the hunt for sexual scandal; if that's all we've got, we should have as much as we can get.

34:

Some of the family (less directly in line for the throne) uses "Mountbatten-Windsor", the others just "Windsor". Either name is totally made up. The full name would otherwise be something like:

"the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg-Battenberg-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha."

With maybe a Hanover in there somewhere. Perhaps not quite totally British, but we shouldn't discriminate against immigrants, right?

(Prince Phillip's father was a Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg who married a Battenberg; Phillip married Elizabeth of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Prince Albert's house). Victoria was a Hanover.)

35:

David @30:

An out of order reply:

Yes, American Presidents have arrogated themselves some worrying powers. No, they don't really resemble genuine Caesars.

Of course. I lapsed into purple-prose hyperbole there. The whole Augustus point got my mind in that groove, I guess. But it sounds like we're in agreement about the "worrying powers" thing, which was the key point about the American presidency.

I suspect that you can only say that because you have no idea how actual Caesars acted

I only know what I've read in Suetonius, Tacitus, Seneca, Cicero, and Gibbon. Never met any Caesars personally or anything, no.

Since, of course, the British PMs have avoided arrogating themselves scary powers as well

Also a fair point. But here's my point: Having a sovereignty-symbol who is also an executive strikes me as an invitation to idolization. While Blair, Brown, and Cameron weren't exactly out there smashing CCTV cameras, at least they weren't landing on aircraft carriers in stuffed jockstraps.

A ceremonial monarch doesn't always prevent executive aggrandizement, but it strikes me as being (at the very thin margin where this whole topic isn't a complete waste of time in that it's what a Marxist sort would mostly-rightly deride as epiphenomenal) more likely to help than hurt. A ceremonial presidency on the Irish, German, or Israeli model might do the same job, but I suspect a hereditary monarchy does a better job of both providing a harmless outlet for the authoritarian impulses in human nature (which tend to fancy fanciness like crowns and whatnot), and of producing a steady supply of absurdity as a salutary reminder that our social structures, libertarian claims to the contrary, aren't even remotely meritocratic.

36:

If you did get rid of the Royal Family as monarchs and made them just private citizens with a rather interesting background, what then? It seems like that would just be the first step in a rather larger reform of the British government.

What about making the Monarchy purely ceremonial like the Emperor of Japan?

Or maybe going a Vatican route and making Buckingham palace and the gardens a separate country?

37:

[it's an interesting pile of hypothetical twaddle but who cares?]

I don't think it is. Arguably, in the UK, the Prime Minister has far too much personal power - an unelected monarch can't be a real check, because they're not elected, are they, and have no mandate? The same goes for the House of Lords. So when the PM uses his majority in Parliament to pass the Suppression of Science Fiction Act 2012, or whatever, the Queen can't really refuse to sign it. At best she can warn him to be very careful.

A properly designed presidential system might have a better chance.

38:

I mostly agree with you, and, of course, as an American, I'm a republican.

I say "mostly" because there is one factor that, under some circumstances, can mitigate the harm done by monarchy: "voting with one's feet." Under conditions where people who find the local regime oppressive can pick up and go somewhere else, without an excessive cost or inconvenience, the local regime will be under pressure not to do too much harm. This is, for example, the deal that apartment and house tenants have with their property managers . . . and, barring situations such as company towns, this works to limit abusive behavior. On the other hand, a monarchy so small that it was trivial to pick up and leave—say, the Kingdom of Devon and Cornwall, or the Principality of Wales—probably would be uneconomically small as a provider of the major governmental services.

I was struck, though, by the argument of a Rothbardian libertarian that, if the state cannot be abolished, a privately owned state (that is, a monarchy) will be run more rationally than a publicly owned one, because decreases in the capital value of the monarchy will be felt without dilution by the monarch. It's a nice theory, but since it predicts the thriving libertarian societies of Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, and the brutally oppressive regimes of parliamentary Great Britain and the republican United States, I find it empirically questionable.

39:

Or another option -- what about an elective monarchy? That takes care of your complaint about not getting to vote....

40:

say "mostly" because there is one factor that, under some circumstances, can mitigate the harm done by monarchy: "voting with one's feet." Under conditions where people who find the local regime oppressive can pick up and go somewhere else, without an excessive cost or inconvenience, the local regime will be under pressure not to do too much harm.

Unfortunately we can't do that. The whole of the developed world has been throwing up immigration barriers so high that even skilled professionals and high-end creative types can't easily acquire residency permits, much less citizenship. We're not so much trapped by governments shooting us if we try to leave as we are by other governments deporting us if we try to arrive.

41:

Charlie @40:

If it's specifically hereditary monarchy you wanted to vote against with your feet, couldn't you, as a citizen of the EU, just move to conveniently Anglophone Ireland? Housing prices are cheaper there lately....

42:

I've thought for a while that the governmental structure of Australia was a sensible one for the UK. You'd probably need to divide England into several states though.

43:

Regarding checks and balances. Unfortunately in order to abolish the monarchy you'd have to seriously reform the house of commons and the power of the prime minister. That's somewhat like Turkeys voting for Christmas it's not very likely to happen. And when it comes down to it the majority of British people are perfectly happy with the present system.

The trouble is I don't see whats so wrong with a system thats served us for god knows how many hundreds of years and is capable of incremental change as no doubt we'll see in the av referendum. We rip it up and replace it with something else and are you really sure that something else will be better?

44:

Australia's had a republician debate bubbling along for a long time now that gets a mention with every election or royal news. While I agree in principle with the republician arguement I think its big flaw is the their solution - taking an element of government that's been working pretty well for a long time (you have afterall spent the last 800 years beating the monarchy into something mostly harmless) and replacing it with something that looks ... American? French? I shudder at the thought of the public figures over here that'd want to be head of state.

45:


Here in the USA there seems to be a sizable demographic that conflates the presidency with a King. They just gotta have a daddy.

I think this was evident in how many people followed GW Bush off a cliff for his foreign policy.

So sometimes I've wondered if your royal family has been a useful bleed-off valve to suck some of the stupid out of your democracy. Serious voters vote, while idiots remain distracted by the shiny crown.

46:

...perhaps my understanding of the British political system is flawed (I'm a Yank, I'll admit), but does it really still count as a monarchy if the monarchs are effectively powerless?

Having the title and all the pomp and ceremony is fairly harmless if that's ALL they have (and a whopping amount of cash, of course, but...). From this side of the Atlantic, it seems as if the royal family's effectively been neutered to the status of "celebrity by birth." A far cry from the days when a monarch was equivalent to a tyrant.

But if that isn't really equivalent anymore, then aren't they not only monarchs by mere tradition? Like re-enactors, living out the fantasies of a forgotten time.

47:

Been re-reading Ken Macleod's Fall Quartet again? I kid Charlie - I know you barely have time to do anything except write and research these days.

For those unfamiliar with it The Star Fraction was one of the more entertaining to read (but it'd be terrifying to live under) accounts of a SF Republican Britain, followed by a counter-revolution.

Anyway, as a yank in flyover country, I get some damn odd looks when I say I wish we'd curtail the powers of the imperial presidency. Its getting freaking ridiculous.

48:

This is what keeps me (so far) from giving the Home Office another pile of money to move from Indefinite Leave to Remain on to citizenship. There's a new-since-2004 pledge ("I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.") which isn't too bad. But there's an oath as well ("I, [name], [swear by Almighty God] [do solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm and declare] that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors, according to law.") that sticks in the craw a bit. I'll eventually do it, I'm sure, and use that "according to law" codicil as my reationalisation fig leaf. But still.

49:

I don't know is this is accurate or not (please correct me, I like facts), but it's my understanding that the Royals live off the Parliamentary dole in exchange for letting the British government collect the rent on the Crown lands. Now, I can easily see arguing ownership of them; ok, John Lackland had an acquisitive streak bordering on the Texan obsession with 'the part that joins on to my place', but should that necessarily translate into polo ponies for the current generation?

However, I can't remember the name of the book or the author, but I really, really loved the novel that put the Royals into Council flats and see how they managed in what people laughingly call Real Life. I will admit, I was not surprised (HERE BE SPOILERS!) that the Queen Mum found a kindly bookie, Princess Anne acquired a horse, or that someone in a black limousine took Diana away to a better life somewhere (there are women who have a real knack for that kind of thing).

But I am glad we have to make do with Miley Cyrus (though I still remember through the mists of time how Nixon decided he wanted Ruritanian White House Guards, and made himself a laughing stock. That was just plain good fun).

51:

In my mind, the likely harm caused by an attempt at major governmental reform in the current political climate vastly exceeds the likely harm caused by retaining ER II and her wacky brood.

52:

It's No Use ..I've striven against doing this ..But ..Sob ! .. Alas and Alack ..Miscievious ? Moi? Surely Not ? ...

Your fellow Professional Author of Imaginative Fiction has been quoted as saying ...

" Lord Archer has dismissed people who complain about the cost of Prince William and Kate Middleton's forthcoming wedding as "curmudgeons".

It is reported that Prince Charles will fund the event, although the taxpayer's bill for security could reach £20m.

But Lord Archer, an author and ex-Conservative deputy chairman, said the wedding would receive global coverage and bring "millions" to the UK economy.

The Royal Family was a "great benefit to Great Britain Limited", he added. "

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11787914


All of these problems aforementioned in this thread could be solved by Scottish Independence.

Charlie, your adopted Nation was only linked to England by dint of the Scottish King of the time being offered the Prize of England and departing hence on the High Road to Riches to England leaving poverty stricken Scotland far behind as he took all of Those Who Mattered to HIM at that time to the Promised Land.

Become a free ..of the U.K. .. nation again and you don't have to have an English Adopted Royal descendant as Head Of State.

If we have to have a Head of State as a Royal Divine Rite of Persons to the U.K. - which really means /England/London - then it should be on a basis of The Divine Right of Kings being decided by free entry competition to Gladiatorial Combat .. if the King/Queen-ship is worth anything at all then surely it is worth trial by combat to the Death?

Forget about the tourist revenue brought to the U.K. by a Royal Wedding. Just think how much would be brought into the kingdom by a Last, Royal, Person Standing fight to the Death.

My own motives are so selfless and ... yes, Generous ! .. I do hereby renounce any share that I might otherwise claim to Media Rights for the Concept for this, the Ultimate, Ultimate Fighting Tournament.

Think how much Sky T.V. would pay for the rights !

Economic problems? Ha! Forget them as our Heroic Royals earn their pay in shed Blue Blood after the manner of the Kings of Yore.

53:

As ever a very interesting thread.I used to be a really staunch (British) republican until the idea of president Thatcher (or latterly Tebbit, Blair etc...)struck me like a cold shower - given how few checks and balanceswe in the uk have on our executive i would feel that changing the top without changing the underlying structures is more important ( c.f. how undemocratic the model for mayors being imposed on local authorities are (ref:Doncaster;london) the day that cameron has appointed 54 new members of the house of lords - based on celebrity and how much they have bribed our main politicalparties - when he wants to remove 50 members of the legislature is to me a much more immediate affront to what ought to be a democratic system.

54:

I havn't read every post, since I aught to be going to bed right now, but I thought the problem with having a monarchy, such as it is, is that the Prime Minister basically has the monarchical powers delegated to them, hence our woefully unrepresentative democracy.
Therefore, if we got rid of the monarchy as a functioning part of the political system, we can do so and make it a bit more responsive and democratic.

About the only reason I see for keeping them in the job is that it saves having to have a circus every 4 or 10 or whatever years as we get a new president.

55:

Re splittign England into several states - it is an issue with the paranoid anti-EU right wingers that the EU wants to supress the glorious motherland and dismember it into several regions. Part of that plan was of course the setting up of a north of england parliament, which happily was defeated in referendum, the northerners being sensible enough to know it was a waste of time having such a thing.

56:
I don't understand the defacto difference between an elected head of state who has no power and a heredity monarchy which has no power?

A hereditary monarchy which has no power is cruel to the monarchs. I think this is a reasonable price to pay for the benefits they bring in reducing the danger of giving loyalty to someone with power: but, still, the poor bastards didn't ask to be born into the goldfish bowl they inhabit.

At least Middleton has a choice.

57:

Really? People are objecting to the idea of removing the Queen because you don't like the person who might get elected in a hypothetical election?

If you want Elizabeth Windsor to be head of state then vote her as such.

If you don't want President Blair but he gets elected anyway then tough. That's how democracy works. You get another chance to convince other people of your views in X years time. Yes complain, protest and ferment revolution but don't say that it would be better if we left choosing the head of state to God (to be honest I don't think that it's really God doing the picking).

'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...'

Can I be head of state? 'No' you say? Well not all Britons have equal rights then do they?

These aren't new ideas. These are ideas that are several hundred years old.

58:

This sort of thing is where the accretion of ages we call the British constitution gets fun. The Crown has enormous power: it is the fount of all law, controls the legislature (in its position as, presently, the Queen-in-Parliament), appoints the Privy Council, including the minor subcommittee called the Cabinet, owns alli land in the UK, without exception...

... but the Crown has for many, many centuries been a legal fiction, even before the rebalancings Charlie referred to earlier, until by now the Queen has no powers she can use more than once. In some respects she has less power than one of us (though of course she gets to talk to prime ministers weekly so in other ways she has a lot more). I'm not even sure how much of the cash the senior royals own is actually theirs, as opposed to being property of the Crown. Figuring it out would doubtless be very unpleasant.

59:

Queenie is an example of the law of opposite expectations - you expect one setup to be the best, but find its opposite actually works better in practice.

Take religion. Separation of church and state makes sense; keep those religious nutters out of power. In contrast a state church should be terrible. However the reality delivers massive religious interference in politics and even education when there is supposed to be separation; and a generally agnostic country where religion is like an old, musty, discarded blanket that has no power.

Focus on stuff that's not working, not stuff that is. If Charlie ever became king I don't think the monarchy would survive 3 years, and would die without much effort. Meanwhile there are real issues to discuss. It's just not important.

Oh, and as an aside for our american insurrectionists; 'President Blair' was seen as a cutting insult...

60:

My problem with Prince William is that every time someone on the TV said that, I kept looking up to see what was going on with the county around my city.

As to tourists and money, my small historic city works hard on that. We have a pavilion that has dances, bands, and farmer's markets during mild weather and an ice rink in the winter (with a roof, so you have the outdoor weather, but not hit by rain or snow). Just about every other week through the entire year we have something to do in Old Town; tomorrow has the Gallery Walk. On the really popular weekends, like the parades, we have people park a good distance away and move them with school buses.

61:

Tom @35:

So you agree with all of my points, but...well, it's not clear.

62:

although if you think about it. laughing Lizzie has got power,,, if she were to say ' We
care not for this , Bin Laden man, We want him dead'
I dare say people would have a go.

63:

The republican model which failed to pass in the 1999 referendum here in Australia was pretty much perfect, as far as I'm concerned.

Currently, the Queen's powers are exercised in Australia by the Governor-General. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister alone, and no recommendation has ever been ignored (nor, by convention, is it likely that one ever will be).

The 1999 model suggested that the Governor-General be replaced by a President with the same powers (i.e. head of state, but not head of government), appointed by a two-thirds majority of the federal Parliament. This solution would have made minimal change to our system of government and it would have almost certainly ensured that the position of President would never become a political reward.

In fact, under this model, we'd have no electioneering for President and no political bullshit surrounding the position, as would certainly happen if the President were directly elected. I'm also reminded of the fact that our Governor-General from 2001-2003, Peter Hollingworth (an Anglican archbishop), is widely believed to have been chosen by then-Prime Minister John Howard because his wife Janette pushed for it out of personal piety.

This sort of thing, true or not (and Hollingworth did have the sort of achievements that qualify one for the position despite the child abuse scandal that led to his resignation), would never happen under the 1999 model, because getting a two-thirds majority of Parliament to agree on a candidate with any kind of bias or controversy attached to their name would be impossible.

If the United Kingdom could reform their upper house to something resembling our state-based Senate, a similar model could work for you too.

64:

I should add that our Senate is elected via proportional representation, while our House of Representatives uses geographical electorates and a single transferable vote system. We also have compulsory voting. Basically what I'm saying is that our electoral system is much better than that of either the U.S. or the U.K.! ;)

65:

Nice snarking. Speaking for us Republicans in the US, with our butts still smarting from the ass-kicking we received from the Monachists in the last election, we are behind you 100%.
It's the same old story. The haves, born with the silver, gold or platinum spoons in their mouths, against the rest of us. The fight continues ...

66:

It isn't the Royal family that is the problem. It is their hereditary position that supports the continuance rest of the hereditary class system of titles and privilege. Without the monarchy, the rest of the system has no justification for it's existence.

The super wealthy in the the US may aspire to recreate such hereditary position, but their ability to exclude others is not a patch on the English system.

The monarchy is just the head of a pernicious British class system that should be ended.
If Oliver Cromwell had been more like the PR that reveres him today, Britain might have actually have permanently abolished the monarchy more than a century before the US.

67:

JDC @ 48: In a neat little inversion, the sort of jiggery-pokery with oaths is precisely what prevented my British-born (County Durham) grandmother from formally becoming an Australian citizen. In her case, it was because Mr Keating's government decided to remove the oath of loyalty to the British crown from the Australian citizenship rigmarole, and also started getting a bit more cautious about who they were giving passports to. Of course, by that time she was in her seventies and she'd been an Australian resident since approximately age fourteen, so she just got given a statement of equivalence (basically saying "you've been here so long it doesn't make any odds, so we'll let you retain an Aussie passport even though you're not formally a citizen") and stopped having such interesting arguments with the Department of Immigration and Foreign Affairs.

Christopher Adams @ 63: I can remember that particular referendum, and to be honest the main reason it failed was because it most definitely didn't have bipartisan support - it was a sort of "Clayton's" republic proposed by the Howard Liberals because John Howard is as fervent a monarchist as you can get and still be living outside an absolute monarchical state. Further, if you actually read the Australian constitution, the Governor-General at present is gifted with a huge amount of power - power which, under the conventions governing our Washminster hybrid system, is promptly delegated down a couple of rungs to the Government as a whole. All it would take for our system of government to fall in a heap would be for one power-hungry and constitutionally knowledgeable megalomaniac to get into the GG's position (for example, ooh, John Winston Howard?) and we could see our current vague democracy turning into the worst type of dictatorship, because the delegation isn't actually written into the constitution.

So the simple expedient of "for Governor-General substitute President throughout" fix of turning Australia into a republic isn't the one I'd pick. To give the man credit, Howard was politically savvy enough to know most of the Australian public weren't ready to choose models, so by skipping the question forward from "should Australia become a republic? (and we'll discuss the details of what and how later)" to "should Australia become This Type of Republic? (and we'll start implementing it as soon as the results are in)" he was able to get the response he was after. Namely, no.

However, I do agree with you @64 that our electoral system (to be specific, the system which declares the who, where, what, why, when and how of elections) is a damn sight better than anything in either the UK or the US. For a start, we appear to be one of the few countries in the world which takes the whole process seriously enough to have set up an entire government agency (the Australian Electoral Commission) to deal with the entire business from go to whoa (including such details as voter registration, polling places, polling booths and so forth).

68:

Got to disagree with our gracious host on this one. Who can you think of that would do a better (or as good a) job of it than Liz does? Is there any possibility that that person could get elected? Who do you think is most likely to get elected?

Theoretically I don't like the institution but in practise it works so I'll spend my energy on things that are currently broken.

69:

"The whole of the developed world has been throwing up immigration barriers so high that even skilled professionals and high-end creative types can't easily acquire residency permits..."

The exception to this is New Zealand. Which is why I can live here and not in the U.S. And N.Z. adores having people from the U.K. move here.
This place is great.

70:

1) Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of Alfred the Great, so all this pseudo-Hun-hating labelling really won't do.
2) For a counter-example to Charlie's very polite rant:
I suggest, very strongly that you read this or re-read it, even!

71:

From a purely economic point of view, is it *worth* getting rid of the monarchy? How much would it cost not only the UK but the rest of the Commonwealth to change from a hereditary monarchy to something else?

From what I understand of the British Parliament it'd be better start with the House of Lords, dump that, and get an actual elected Senate/Upper House. Once that's done then move on to the Head of State -- and really, do you actually need Someone In Charge?

FWIW I'm Australian.

72:

Who can you think of that would do a better (or as good a) job of it than Liz does? Is there any possibility that that person could get elected?

That's easy: I think most Brits would vote for one Elizabeth Windsor without a second thought, if she stood for election as president.

My point isn't that she's doing a bad job or needs replacing: it's that the existence of the monarchy as an institution creates two tiers of citizens -- one tier who are eligible to be head of state, and another tier consisting of the rest of us.

73:

Charlie, did you seriously just dismiss Soru's thoughtful, articulate comment on the basis that he's an American?

Don't you know that no true scotsman would use an ad-hominem argument?

74:

Actually I dismissed it because it's a damn stupid argument.

(The Monarchy, as a component of the British parliamentary system, is eminently replaceable because it doesn't do anything -- it's just a ceremonial post. If it tried to do anything it would trigger a nasty constitutional crisis. It's not actually "a part of the machinery of government that quietly and reasonably efficiently gets the job done", it's a placeholder. Opening schools, launching ships, and doing lunch with foreign potentates are all tasks that can be done by -- well, by anyone with time to do them and reasonably pleasant table manners.)

75:

@ 66
Oliver Cromwell was a truly evil man.
Agreed Charles I was totally untrustworthy, and needed removing from office, but, as usual, we got something worse.
The puritans, then and now, really are not nice people to know.

Reverting to the main subject, I'm afriad Charlie is doing what an awful lot of people, including generals, do.
Attacking YESTERDAY'S enemy.
I take his point about most of the money we subvent to the EU is returned to us in subsidies of one sort or another but...
If you are talking about unnacountable government, and bullying bureaucracy, and politicians on the take, well...
Did any of us get to vote on who the Council of Ministers are?
No.
Did any of us get to vote for who the Commissioners are?
No.
Do we get any say in their decisions, handed down, ex cathedra?
No.
Do we get a chance to veto their stupid restrictions and decisions?
No.
Do we get any chance at all to rein in their corrupt and underhand financial dealings, especially the personal cheating that makes our recent MP's expenses scandal look like taking 75p from the petty cash?
No.
Do we get a chance to decide whather, as von Rompouy said last week: "The day of the Nation-State is over" or not?
No.

THERE is your massive, unelected, unaccountable, corrupt, bureaucratic monster.
And what is anyone doing about it, apart from right-wing semi-nutters like UKIP?
Nothing.

76:

I've thought before that having a nice well presented member of the public doing that sort of job, welcoming important visitors etc, would be a nice bit of background scenery in a novel. Say when the Imperial America's representatives visit anarcho-socialist Scotland or something like that. It would perhaps be a bit blunt though.

77:

...a woman whose great-granny owned a quarter of the entire planet?

You missed a generation there. Great-great-grandmother.

78:

Mr. Stross,

Would you be satisfied with a written constitution that specified that a popularly-elected ceremonial King or Queen would serve a twenty-year term with zero constitutional power? Does the actual title matter? After all, Idi Amin called himself President of Uganda.

79:

I suppose Charles will do a "reasonable job," but I don't think he'll do as well as his mother has. He's had a lot more trouble with the press, for one thing. He's admitted to adultery and has been divorced once. He's demonstrated that he can be a bloody fool with his ongoing support for "alternative medicine." Offhand the only blot I can think of on Elizabeth's record is her choice of consort.

80:

Sorry, Greg, I have to interrupt your anti-EU ranting with a smidgen of actual facts.

Did any of us get to vote on who the Council of Ministers are? No.

Technically, sort of yes. They're ministers, which in most countries would mean that someone had voted for them. In Britain, they're appointed by the Crown (and effectively selected by the PM), who is voted for by the Parliamentary party... so in the UK in particular we don't vote for them. In most other places in Europe, they do, and the problem here is not Europe, it's the UK's system of unelected ministers.

The EU Parliament and Commissioners are a bigger problem: the former has no democratic mandate at all and the latter is populated by jokes and has-beens and voted for in an incredibly desultory manner... but is always trying to get more power from nation-states on the grounds that the EU Parliament is democratic. That its democratic mandate is less convincing than that of any of the EU's constituent nation-states, by quite a long way, is something the Parliamentarians don't mention too loudly.

81:

Elizabeth II is a direct descendant of Alfred the Great, so all this pseudo-Hun-hating labelling really won't do.
Knowing almost nothing about you, there's a reasonable chance that you are a direct descendant of Alfred the Great. That goes for almost everyone likely to read this thread.

82:

I pay very little attention to royalty--it took a friend a while to explain to me who exactly had announced their engagement this week. But those who do pay attention don't seem wholly enamoured of her record, from this stupid-soap-opera point of view. In fact, that same friend had a couple of gripes about ER's having meddled somehow in the W-an'-K romance. Also, wasn't there something about ruining her sister's life?

All this is besides the point, which is that the hereditary principle is wrong and the monarchy is the keystone of that principle.

83:

Charlie said (incidentally, did anyone else have a moment of confusion up the thread when someone wrote "when Charlie is King" and imagine Our Host in enthroned in ermine?)

"The Monarchy, as a component of the British parliamentary system, is eminently replaceable because it doesn't do anything..."

Which is exactly why it needs to be replaced. Because it doesn't and can't, do anything there is nobody and nothing to check the PM - our system evolved to include both an active PM and an active monarch: the PM is effectively the monarch's representative so in theory the monarch ought to be able to reel him or her in (hence the weekly meetings). But it would be ridiculous for an unelected monarch to do that. So the existence of the monarch cloaks the fact that the PM is in practice an elected monarch. (I know that Parliament could in principle keep the PM in check - but given his power of patronage and necessary grip on the ruling party, that will never happen).

In other words, it's neither a harmless, quirky relic, nor a useful symbolic feature quietly getting on with its business: its existence is actually causing harm, day by day.

84:

hal: yes, that'd satisfy me. Decouple the institution from heredity and I'd be okay with even a full-life term (subject to recall for abuse of office or serious crimes).

85:

Do you really want to see the Windsors running around campaigning with their hands out for money? Starring in attack ads? Cozying up to the money boys because only thus can you run a campaign?

I didn't get to vote for Miss America, either. It doesn't bother me one bit. She's doing PR so who cares?
Come to think of it, I didn't really vote for the First Lady either, except indirectly.

Ditto the English royals, unless they have powers in the real world that I, as a Yank, know nothing about.

86:

"My point isn't that she's doing a bad job or needs replacing: it's that the existence of the monarchy as an institution creates two tiers of citizens -- one tier who are eligible to be head of state, and another tier consisting of the rest of us."

Dumping the monarchy won't necessarily fix that; even in American there's two classes of citizen - native-born and naturalized; only members of one class can become President. That's approx 13% of the US population who are "second class". I would argue that this is worse than having 99.999% of the UK people being "second class".

From a contrarian point of view I might also take your argument to an extreme and point out that, despite the religious beliefs of our Left-pondian friends, not all men are created equal. Accidents of birth create inequalities; the royal family is merely the outlier of this situation.

87:

1. Attack ads are illegal here. Running them will get your election overturned -- as happened to Phil Woolas last month.

2. Election spending in the UK is capped, at such a low level that an entire national level general election spend by all candidates in all parties combined is a lot less than a single candidate will spend in contesting a single Congressional seat in the USA. Breaking your cap or false accounting will get you a spell in prison: overspending on an election campaign is a criminal offence.

3. In any case: direct popular elections aren't necessary. You could choose the head of state by having the prime minister nominate, and 70% of the house of commons support. Or by lottery. Or jury duty.

What I'm objecting to is the principle that some folks can be head of state, and others can't -- by accident of birth.

88:

"Accident of birth" -- yes, see above.

NB: I didn't post this entry with the intent of ragging on one of the flaws in the US constitution, but you can take it as read that I don't approve of that particular restriction on the presidency. Although I will note in passing that it has kept Arnold Schwartzenegger out of what would otherwise be a logical career progression ...

89:

@ 79
Have you seen Phil the Greek's WWII record?
I suggest you shut up.

Charlie @ 84
But that's what we've got!
Why do you think Edward VIII was thrown out? Wallis Simpson was a distraction and a screen. Edward's pro-Nazi sympathies made him unacceptable, and, as soon as there was a good excuse - out he went...

90:

"The Crown ... owns all land in the UK, without exception..."

Two exceptions, technically - the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, which are owned by the monarch and the monarch's eldest son, respectively, rather than by the Crown.

91:

I am particularly happy with the Canada having a King or Queen and more specifically a Governor General , working on their behalf in theory. Democracy is a funny thing, it runs well for long periods of time with short intense bursts insanity. I think the short term dicatorial power that Prime Ministers have by issuing Orders in Council is very well balanced by the at the pleasure of their Majesty that PM's rule by. The irritation that a hereditary monarchy provides to the civil libertarians is more than out weighed by the calming influence that a brave GG or Monarch can extert when the fundament impacts the oscilating rotary device.

92:

I don't mind the monarchy. It doesn't do any harm, and it adds a bit of eccentric local colour to the place ("Lemme get this right. You call yourselves 'subjects', but for centuries were freer and richer than any people who called themselves 'citizens'. Huh?"). Just saying.

Greg Tingey @75:
Oliver Cromwell was a truly evil man.

No. Oliver Cromwell was the least bad alternative available (a tough, uncompromising, principled bastard) at one of the pivotal points of British history. All the other options available (the self-enriching Parliaments, Rule of the Saints, French-backed Stuart restoration, a cabal of major-generals, etc.) were objectively worse.

Cromwell held the British Isles together until sense and sanity could finally prevail and the idea of constitutional monarchism could take hold. One striking example of his unique character: what other dictator ever _encouraged_ the Jewish people to settle in his country?

Did OC break heads? Yes.
Did he *enjoy* doing so? No, despite centuries of self-pitying Irish propaganda to the contrary.
Was there any other option? No. Really, no.

We're in full agreement on the vile hydra that is the EU though...

93:

@ 92
"The Jews" were here already actually ....
Cromwell, being a good christian, abolished christmas, and closed all the theatres, etc .... and you, yourself, labelled him "dictator". Quite.
I've got a lot of time for Fairfax, myself.

94:

I know where you're coming from, but unfortunately republicanism means having a politician as head of of state. Whilst you do get to vote for them, there is no way you're ever going to get anything other than a politician as head of state; they're a gang of crooks and they've got it stitched up.

So I'm sticking with the accident of birth. If you stare at it for long enough the randomness makes it almost look fair. And you don't have Blair gurning in your face forever.

95:

Oddly, during the Bliar and Clown years I was thinking exactly the opposite - why couldn't she take over and oust the brainless oafs from Parliament!
Given that the MPs are a smoke screen for all the people in whitehall who actually do all the work, why not just have them report to the Queen. That'd save us a HUGE amount of money!

On a more serious note (and before I get lynched!), I remember reading somewhere that the Royal Family, as our Head of State, costs us (considerably) less than the US President or indeed the French President, and that's before we get back the tourist attraction they provide.

But if your main beef is that you didn't vote for them I guess there's not much a Royalist can say against that.
Personally, I rather like the anachronism of having a Monarchy and I don't have a problem with it being hereditary, much as I didn't have a problem with the House of Lords. I LIKE the fact that they are, for the most part, outside the political world, and therefore not tarnished by Parliament, which I fear will ALWAYS have a sordid underbelly to feed the tabloids.

I also think Charles will be a good king, but that William will be better.
Best of luck to Kate and Wills, but even as a staunch royalist I'm already tired of the coverage of the wedding.

96:

It is not possible to offer a counter factual to the argument that OC was "least bad alternative available".

After his death obviously a lot of people disagreed with that assessment as he was exhumed from his tomb at Westminster and his head removed. Somehow between then and now, he seems to have been given a makeover and I think I saw that a recent poll showed him as one of the greatest heroes of England. Churchill's history of Britain is far less complimentary.

Since the US revolution managed to work without a monarchy, it seems strange to think that Britain wanted a restored monarchy, rather than some other form of leadership. It isn't as though there were no other models known to choose from.

97:

Popular is not necessarily the same as good, and unpopular is not the same as bad.

I read most of Antonia Fraser's biography of Cromwell this year, and even allowing for artistic licence, I don't see how people can portray him as evil and so on. In fact its rather hard now to see what all the fuss was about, given the circumstances.

98:

Cromwell was a good politician in bad times and was a better than good soldier who knew how to make compromises lest his entire power base should fall apart. See here ..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cromwell,_Our_Chief_of_Men

1973, is a biography of Oliver Cromwell .. '

1973 .. As long ago as that! How time doth flee.

Of course Oliver Cromwell is justly hated in some quarters : it is perfectly understandable that the losers should hate the winners ...


"Quintus Sulpicius conferred with the Gallic chieftain Brennus and together they agreed upon the price, one thousand pounds' weight of gold. Insult was added to what was already sufficiently disgraceful, for the weights which the Gauls brought for weighing the metal were heavier than standard, and when the Roman commander objected the insolent barbarian flung his sword into the scale, saying 'Vae Victis-- 'Woe to the vanquished!"

A sadder thing in modern terms is how the study of History has been devalued in the British National school curriculum in recent years. It is amazing that kids actually know far more about the history of their favorite football team than they do of the history of their own country.Certainly my own very intelligent nephews knew next to nothing about the British Civil War when they were teenagers ten years ago.

99:

"British civil war"?

Which one? There were several -- even during the 1640s!

100:

Maybe you should go REALLY reactionary, and adopt an idea from the Aglo-Saxons: Have the monarch be elected from anyone within second-cousin of the current monarch by the "Council of Elders". (I've probably got the details wrong, but I'm sure of the general idea.) Anyone close enough to the throne was qualified, but you needed to be approved by the council. (I'm not too clear on which council...but in these days it could perhaps be the House of Lords.)

Since the purpose is to be ceremonial, don't stint. Dig up old customs to use in the process, winnowing them to the most unusual and photogenic. This gives you enough candidates to select someone appropriate for a ceremonial post, and enough continuity to properly reach in and twang the "tradition!" heart strings. And it could be done to "properly respect our ancient heritage". Just be careful that the office remains ceremonial. (Though it might be nice is a monarch *could* refuse to sign a law. This would need to be overrideable, of course. But now we're moving towards having the office NOT be ceremonial. And that's dangerous.)

Still, it needs to be easier to overturn bad laws. (I live in the US, and I know whereof I speak.)

FWIW, if you didn't already HAVE a monarch, then I sure wouldn't recommend one, but since you have, and have the system working pretty well, only minimal tampering seems reasonable. Debugging politics is dangerous, difficult, expensive, and time consuming.

101:

I thought England has had at least 3 civil wars, starting with Stephen and Matilda, then the wars of the Roses, and then that bust up in the 1640's. I think there might be one or two other occaisions which come close, but its a little tricky to define things. How do you describe Eddie the 2nd being murdered and his son taking over?

As for Scotland, it usually had a civil war every time a new King came along...

102:

I'm with Charlie on the main question, and I think I'd be in favour of a President on a 7 year term, with Lizzie W eligible to run (I'd probably vote for her, too). But I disagree on the point that the monarchy do nothing: yes they do. It's just coming out about the role that the Queen played in telling Brown to stay on for longer than he wanted after the last general election, for example.

As for Phil the Greek's WW2 record redeeming his failings, _lots_ of people had impressive WW2 records: Leonard Cheshire, Bill Slim, Denis Healy and Frank Pakenham, but also Enoch Powell, Roy Farran, David Stirling and Harold Challenor... Being good at driving a destroyer doesn't necessary qualify you as prince consort.

103:

I like were your going with this but why a "Council of Elders", too stuffy, too old school. We need to bring this thing into the 21st century, pimp it out or sex it up as (I think) you people would say. How about a version of Idol meets Survivor? Every week some one gets voted off. Think of the ratings, the exposure, the cross product tie ins, THE MONEY. You would create half a dozen tabloid stars out of the losers alone.

Speaking of money, if this wedding thing makes as much money as you say, are you sure you want to limit it to just 2 for the 2 boys? Hang with me here, I'm just brainstorming but I have one word for you, just one, dont say anything, just let it sink in.

Harem......Yeah, why not? Then you can have a wedding every spring. Man, that would be the ultimate franchise. Look I like tradition as much as the next guy, turkey and pumpkin pie and egg nogg and all that crap but come one people, your leaving money on the table with the current setup. All you have to do just reach out and get it. Your deserve it, dont let the haters talk you out of what is yours by right.

Just reach out and take the money......

104:

As a republican (actually, I'd settle for an elected monarchy) who has stood for Parliament, I've looked at that oath very hard (MPs have to take it). It's worth pointing out that "according to law" was added in 1689 to make it very clear to the new monarchs precisely where the power lay.

If elected, I would preface the oath with "Recalling that the Parliament of which I am now a member makes the laws" - a number of MPs already make prefatory remarks like "as a committed republican and under duress" (Jeremy Corbyn).

105:

As an American, let me just say "be very careful what you wish for."

The Monarchy lets your prime minister step aside and ignore all the media driven hooplah around the royals, while in the mean time our president has to take part in incredibly ridiculous political theater precisely because we are not a monarchy.

106:

Oh, come now .. you knew very well that I meant the Cromwellian Civil War, but, fair enough, our United Kingdom does have a Bloody History of Civil Wars and you could include the Wars of The Roses and even .. if you stretch 'War ' bit .. the Border Wars ...

http://www.edgeguide.co.uk/cumbria/borderwars.html

So I should have stated which CIVIL war I meant.

107:

I thought the main requirement for the job was being nice to the monarch and providing, umm, the wherewithall to continue the line. Of course in real life they get dragged into politics, but in theory they don't matter that much.

108:

Charlie, I'm not sure why you're so keen on a republic. Constitutional monarchy in which an elected parliament is sovereign is a stable yet flexible form of government. Legislative programs get passed and implemented. Periods of transition occur without too much disruption. What's not to like? You want an American-style "checks and balances" system the default state of which is gridlock? You want government departments and regulatory institutions to freeze up as lines of authority are constantly in flux due to election cycles, party warfare on appropriation committees, circus-like confirmation hearings every time you want to staff a key office? Please.

109:

@ 101
Eward II wasn't murdered!
Nasty little secret - he was smuggled out about 2 years later, and met his son in (I think) Antwerp, about 5 years after that.
He was very glad not to be "king" any more ....

Cromwell was, a PURITAN.
Got that yet?
No enjoyment, no fun, a religious god-told-me-to-do-it person.
We really don't want them.
Any time, any where.

110:

If it tried to do anything it would trigger a nasty constitutional crisis.

Which is, of course, the thing that it does.

Having a constitutional crisis when someone tries to break the constitution is a _good_ thing. Or should everyone take all the circuit breakers out of their home? After all, they just sit there doing nothing, and if they did do anything it would cause an electrical supply crisis.

A written constitution is all very well, and does some of the same job. But a written constitution won't phone the President up and say 'can you pop over, I think we need to have a chat...'.

At the very least, having some old lady arrested is a more noticeable threshold to cross than switching to a new interpretation of some bit of vintage legalese.

p.s. I'm not american.

111:

Any sources for that?

Every history I've read says that Edward II was killed in prison after he was deposed. He was murdered by having a red-hot poker shoved where the sun don't shine.

The only thing I've read that says otherwise is the historical mystery "The Death of a King", by P.C. Doherty.

112:

Speaking as an American, and well cognizant of the easy mistakes a foreigner can make when discussing another's form of government. My biggest concern about the British system vs. the US system has far more to do with the nearly (from a US point of view) dictatorial powers that the British PM has.
The recent budget cuts, which seem to be certain to be passed, would never pass an American system without vigorous debate and ripe corruption. I find a unicameral legislature being the only deciding factor in making laws and budgets slight scary.
The American House of Representatives changes control every few years, and both Democrats and Republicans have their kinda crazy wish lists. I'm thankful for an obstructionist Senate and a veto pen of either party before things are enacted. It makes change slow, but usually makes sure the debate is at least aired.
I do prefer the hollywood royalty system though, we vote with out pocketbook, and they are usually hotter.

113:

Another example of "self-pitying Irish propaganda"?

"We have seen the many ties which at one time or another have joined the inhabitants of the Western islands, and even in Ireland itself offered a tolerable way of life to Protestants and Catholics alike. Upon all of these Cromwell's record was a lasting bane. By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. "Hell or Connaught" were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred "The Curse of Cromwell on you." The consequences of Cromwell's rule in Ireland have distressed and at times distracted English politics down even to the present day. To heal them baffled the skill and loyalties of successive generations. They became for a time a potent obstacle to the harmony of the English-speaking people through-out the world. Upon all of us there still lies 'the curse of Cromwell'." Winston S. Churchill, 1957, A History of the English Speaking Peoples: The Age of Revolution, Dodd, Mead and Company: New York (p. 9).

114:

Who would you vote for, as elected king, Richard Branson or Richard Dawkins?

115:

are they the windsors or are they the lower-slough's?

116:

First, although I agree with you wholeheartedly (regicide is the least exceptionable form of homicide), in the spirit of contrarianism I feel I ought to throw in a link to an abstract I glanced at last week arguing that constitutional monarchies are better at fostering women's participation in politics. I don't think the historical observation justifies maintaining archaic nonsense, but, as an American, I can tell you that combining the position of head of state and head of government has its problems. There's always an urge to invest someone with the symbolic power of sovereignty, and I'd like to understand better how things work in countries which split those two roles.

Second, a note on slavery. There certainly were some slaveholders who were nicer than others. Both Uncle Tom's Cabin and Beloved spend a lot of time on plantations run by kindly masters. Brutality is easy to condemn, and brutality was a mainstay of the slave system, but there's something to be gained by analyzing the system operating at its idealized best. Slavery carried on by people with good intentions, operating in the way its apologists described, is a horrible, inhumane system. To argue for revolution instead of reform, it helps to show that even at its best the system doesn't work.

117:

@ 111
Try reading "The greatest Traitor": an account of Richard Mortimer, Earl of March.
There are also documents, which came to light some years ago, which show that Edward II was kept alive, and smuggled out after about 2 years.
Don't read too much into Marlowe's play!

@ 113
A virtual proscription of the catholic church"
Damned right.
If you really want to attack "Monarchy" the RC church is the place to start. Probably an even more evil organisation than its religious competitor, the communist party. The way, after 1922, Ireland threw of the "shackles of British oppression" and immediately bound itself, even more tightly into the clutching grip of Rome is a sickening story.
It looks as if that country's tragedy is about to be repeated - they have just thrown off the RC (what with the paedophile and industrial school horrors) and now they are about to become economic slaves of the EU commission and the IMF

118:

I think strange women lying in ponds should be a system of government.

Personally I don't mind being in a monarchy, its unusual, has lots of silly ceremonial bits and it keeps a frankly barking family from doing too much damage, Plus it brings in tourists, lots of the actual crown estates are used for the national good.
Added bonus is we don't have to suffer yet more political skullduggery every 4 years to vote for someone even less well equipped for the job of "not making us look like complete twats to Johhny Foreigner" than the family whose sole job it is.

119:

Naw, there's no way the border wars count as civil wars, since they were between two soveriegn kings.

Hmmm, interesting about Edward the second. The author in question is Ian MOrtimer, who has written the book "The time travellers guide to medieval England", which a lot of people like, so can be said to know something about the subject. But I'd need to see what other scholars think of his opinions and research first. His stuff seems to depend upon a couple of letters from the 1330's and the usual linkages which as in all too many of these cases, resemble those of the Templars were gnostic worshippers type.

120:

There's another issue which was touched on by Nix @56, but not IMHO given the attention it deserves: the current institution of monarchy is monstrously cruel to the Royal Family, as eloquently argued by Johann Hari here.

121:

Did any of us get to vote on who the Council of Ministers are?


Yes, there are no non-democratic states in the EU, so somebody elected all of them.

Did any of us get to vote for who the Commissioners are?

Yes, but at the moment only in a negative sense. The European Parliament has a veto over their appointments, both as a slate and as individuals. Commissioners have to pass through a confirmation hearing in the EP.

Do we get any say in their decisions, handed down, ex cathedra?

Yes. All but the most trivial European Union business is now dealt with under co-decision, so that the Commission's proposals go to the Parliament, which can amend them or indeed vote them down. And, of course, the Council of Ministers has the final word.

Do we get a chance to veto their stupid restrictions and decisions?

Yes, on issues that require unanimity in the Council, and on all other things in the Parliament. I mean, you've got to get a majority to block something but that's democracy, right?

Do we get any chance at all to rein in their corrupt and underhand financial dealings, especially the personal cheating that makes our recent MP's expenses scandal look like taking 75p from the petty cash?

Well, the EP has the power of the purse over the EU budget but then the EU budget isn't actually very big. There is a whole machinery dedicated to internal controls. I really wonder what most national budgets would look like if they were subject to external audit - don't you?

Do we get a chance to decide whather, as von Rompouy said last week: "The day of the Nation-State is over" or not?
No.

Well, that's a statement of opinion you're entirely free to debate.

122:

(Seriously, if you want to be a pompous buffoon with a small chance of one day being minister for paperclips, go ahead and run for the Commons. If you want actual influence as a legislator in your own right over genuinely important things, get into the European Parliament. Nobody anywhere else in Europe thinks it's a joke.)

123:
Since the US revolution managed to work without a monarchy, it seems strange to think that Britain wanted a restored monarchy, rather than some other form of leadership. It isn't as though there were no other models known to choose from.
Date of signing of US Constitution: 1788 Date of French Revolution: 1789 Date of Restoration: 1660

I don't think they'd invented time machines back then. (Similarly, Victoria stupidly chose not to use the Internet to help keep an eye on the Empire.)

124:

Liz Saxe-Coburg Windsor may be incorruptible, Charlie, but there is evidence to suggest that at least one of her children isn't. How rich is the Duke of York, again?

125:

121
The corruption of MEP's and the commission and the fact that their books have not been passed by the auditors for 10(?) years now gives one pause for thought.
The oversight and control of the Eu is missing, in a way that national parliaments do have.
I may add that my "ant-Europeanism" is recent. I have switched sides because of what I see a a betrayal of the EU project into a bureaucratic nightmare, goverened by unnacountable apparatchiks, from what was a group of democratic nation-states, acting in common interests, and removing internal divisions and impedences to free travel (and Britain DOESN'T have that) and free trade.
Petty example: I have an allotment plot, and inside the EU, you can ONLY buy seed which has gone through the EU procedures, which have been deliberately set up to favour the big, commercial growers, so obscure and old varieties are forbidden, on pain of huge fines.
To whose benefir, other than gross commercial interests is this?
This story can be replicated hunderds of times across the EU.
I don't know how true the following is (kifted from elsewhere), but I suspect there is at least some truth in all of the statements:
[ Begin quote ]
There has never been a single year in which British receipts from the EU matched our payments, or in which our exports to the EU exceeded our imports from the EU. Thus we are paying other EU countries to export their products to us.
During that period:
1. Coal from British mines has been substantially replaced by coal from Polish mines.
2. We now have no fishing fleet. French, Spanish and Portuguese trawlers now fish in our waters and our fish stocks are severely depleted.
3. British steel plants have been substantially replaced by German steel plants
4. British coal mines have closed and Britain is now a major importer of European coal.
5. France now owns more British power stations than Britain. When the power runs out the first cuts will be in Britain.
6. EU membership has resulted in vast numbers of British jobs being transferred to other EU countries.
[ endquote ]
Discuss?

126:

The problem with the royals is that they are now basically zoo animals....Paraded around, let out on a leash to open hospital wings and office suites.

Let's rehabilitate them. Then release them back into the wild where they can engage in the behaviours they evolved to excel in: raising armies, imposing taxation, killing each other to get to the throne. They'd be happier, and we'd have better gossip.

Of course, we'd have to give them some natural predators or we'd be overrun with the little royal bastards. The true natural predator of a royal is not the more-recently evolved republican; it is another royal.

There are many pretender lineages still extant. All we need to do is give them a leg, and then stand back. I for one would love to see the descendants of the Stuarts or the Savoys battling it out for supremacy with the Windsors.

Now, that would bring in some tourists! And some betting money too.

Plus other countries who now have only Liz Windsor for head of state would suddenly have other choices they could back.

127:

As Greg said:
"The corruption of MEP's and the commission and the fact that their books have not been passed by the auditors for 10(?) years now gives one pause for thought."

So, on the one hand, a system that you don't like that sort of works - The British Monarchy - and on the other hand a system that is corrupt to its very core - The EU 'Government'.
So, which should we concentrate our efforts on improving?

Someone touched on the idea of a referendum too.
Lets peak at other referendums of late. The Lisbon Treaty, for example. Now we didn't get to vote on this one (thanks to some pretty underhand manoeuvres by Clown mostly) but the Irish did.
They voted no.
Then they had another referendum the next year and voted yes!
Presumably they'll have another vote next year and take the best of three?

The problem is those calling for a referendum will continue to do so until they get the result they want and there will then be no more referendums. Indeed, once the Monarchy is sufficiently dismantled there isn't really any meaningful way to, er, re-mantle it (assuming anyone would ever want to!).
That seems somewhat one-sided to me and will ultimately result in the (permanent) removal of the monarchy at some point. It seems inevitable, which kinda undermines the whole point of a referendum?

128:

Not really between 'Sovereign Kings ' as such but rather a more messy .. 'war' against TERRORISTS ..er, Between Terrorists with the terrorists being Family and Extended Clan related, with the Capo De Kingship being involved as sponsors from time to time.

All very horribly reminiscent of the US of Avian/NATO? border wars in Afghanistan of the past few decades


For a fictional view on the British/Scottish English ..who cares,since it's My Clan and Family First .. Border Wars I do recommend Patrica Finney in her other self as P F Chisholm ...


" A FAMINE OF HORSES

By P F Chisholm

(first in the Carey series) Carlisle, 1592.

The only law on the Scottish border is the elegant Sir Robert Carey newly appointed Deputy Warden and his seven dubious henchmen.

His first case is dealing with the corpse of the youngest, dearest and most violent member of the notorious Graham clan. And then there is the question of the horses. Hundreds of horses being stolen from all over the Border.

Refreshing, startling. Sunday Telegraph "

http://www.patricia-finney.co.uk/

She is pretty good as Herself - Patricia Finney -too, in the Le Carre ish trilogy that follows on from " FIREDRAKE’S EYE "

Of course for fact you can't beat " The Steel Bonnets " ...


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Steel-Bonnets-Anglo-Scottish-Border-Reivers/dp/0002727463

But then you already knew that didn't you?


129:

" Cromwell was, a PURITAN. Got that yet? "

If there isn't a U-Tube video based upon the famous Cyndi Lauper song and Titled .. " PURITANs Just Wanna Have Fun " then there is no Justice in this world ..I don't dare look on U-Tube for fear of disappointment ... if we can have ..

Jane Austen's Fight Club ..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2PM0om2El8

Then why not ?

" PURITANs Just Wanna Have Fun "

130:

I see a simple solution: hold an election for the post of Princess of Wales, with (say) a ten-year term. Anyone from any of the countries Mrs Windsor currently governs would be free to stand, and then when Mrs Windsor dies the winner inherits her position and we hold an election for a new Prince of Wales. Ten years later, we do it all over again.

The Princess and King (and their partners get the other titles, of course) would get a very generous salary and some grace-and-favour residences, just like the Prime Minister does, but would be constitutionally barred from any other employment. They'll have enough to do holding garden parties and cutting ribbons, in any case.

We could always extend the principle to the minor royal posts, but to be honest I'd just prefer to abolish them all. The existing incumbents can just step down to a life of duking, counting, or whatever.

131:

@125: Where was this lifted from?

>Thus we are paying other EU countries to export their products to us.

This is so common that there's even a word for it: 'trade'. It's the cornerstone of economy.

>During that period:
>1. Coal from British mines has been substantially replaced by coal from Polish mines.

Because the Polish stole our mines, no doubt?

>2. We now have no fishing fleet. French, Spanish and Portuguese trawlers now fish in our waters and our fish stocks are severely depleted.

So in fact you advocate for stronger EU control over fishing regulations?

>3. British steel plants have been substantially replaced by German steel plants

Hardly surprising given your next point - you shouldn't really expect other countries to pay for coal and iron ore to be shipped to Britain (not known as a source of cheap land and labour), processed, and then shipped back again.

>4. British coal mines have closed and Britain is now a major importer of European coal.

It would be ludicrous to import coal from further afield just to spite the EU. Given that nobody feels it's economically worthwhile to scrape the bottom of the coal barrel in this country, is this so much worse than the alternative of going without coal at all? I can see the argument, and personally I'm a staunch supporter of nuclear power, but then there's your next point...

>5. France now owns more British power stations than Britain. When the power runs out the first cuts will be in Britain.

Also not exactly surprising given that Britain has almost the highest population density in Europe and it's impossible to find anywhere you could conceivably build a power station without a decade of protests and campaigning. Should the EU just step in and declare martial law so that we can force the British people to allow power stations to be built in their 'back yard'?

>6. EU membership has resulted in vast numbers of British jobs being transferred to other EU countries.

Not sure what this is supposed to mean so I'll leave that one alone.

132:
>6. EU membership has resulted in vast numbers of British jobs being transferred to other EU countries.

Not sure what this is supposed to mean so I'll leave that one alone.

It means Greg has swallowed Rupert Murdoch's lies and spin wholesale: it's the British equivalent of the US birther/truther cognitive malfunction. No point arguing, I'm afraid. Like the Koch Brothers in the USA, Murdoch's got a firm grasp on the revanchist psychology of the nostalgic British right and knows how to massage it for maximum bile (and profit).

(There are legitimate grounds for criticizing the EU, including the appalling audit shennanigans and the democratic deficit in some of the component institutions, but overall I'll give the EU a B- or B grade for political effectiveness -- it's far more useful than most of us realize -- and an A* for fulfilling the design goal it inherited from the Franco-German Coal Treaty, i.e. ensuring that Western Europe moves its bickering to boardrooms from battlefields. Let us recall that it's been more than two-thirds of a century since a conquering army last crossed the Rhine -- the longest continuous period of peace in western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire -- and give thanks!)

133:

" the longest continuous period of peace in western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire -- and give thanks!) "

Yep ..agreed. I'm not all that automatically found of the wonderfulness of the EU - given the in-built political corruption - but there's more than enough of the .. 'Pork Barrel' .. in the US of A and it's not as if we Europeans aren't striving for something better than the mess that we have. It just takes time that's all, and after Three World Wars .. I count the Napoleonic Wars as War The First .. it won't hurt us to wait a little longer and try a little harder ..not trying to prolong a Thread Fight .. just saying ..Patience and rigorous scrutiny of the actions and motivations of media Emperors and their Dynasties along the lines of 'Who Profits 'is a good line to take.

Deliberately avoiding the Murdoch angle I found this point of view interesting along the lines of always doubt always question ...

"Avoid getting into the habit of using the same perspective again and again."


http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/briefing/business/reporting-business/tesco-who-profits.shtml


No wonder Murdoch hates the B.B.C. ...oops, shouldn't have said that; meant to avoid the M word.

134:

Great post, I absolutely agree.

I used to be ashamed of my country on a daily basis, and lately I'm steadily tending towards a state of constant frustration... the only things I'm still proud of are the first articles of our Constitution and the fact that this is the Italian REPUBLIC.

The President of the Republic, who has well defined and not insignificant powers but no direct government respectabilities, is not elected directly by the people but selected by the two chambers of the Parliament in plenary session supplemented by some delegates from the regions of Italy.

Apparently the process works well enough that the last three Presidents came from very different traditions (an old-school Catholic, an Azionista - think liberal/socialist/republican from the times when Italy was still a Fascist dictatorship with a King-Emperor - and a Communist) and they still regularly topped all the "who do you trust the most" polls and were unanimously respected.

If Italy can manage this, I think that it shouldn't be too hard to find a good way to replace Kings and Queens in the Britsh isles.

135:

Nope, not buying your depiction for a minute. Why is it that people want to warp the past to fit into modern language and descriptions?

There are similarities between Afghanistan and the borders, but they are the same sort of similarity you find everywhere with a weaker central government and local power bases. Starting to use modern language such as that from the war on people who won't do as we tell them to just confuses things.

136:

As some one who moved to Austalia from the UK I have to disagree. While life in general is much improved the constant bickering and blame shifting between the federal and state governments is very annoying. Neither acts as a check on the other, just as a handy scapegoat.

Back (somewhat) on topic they did have a public vote on ditching the monarchy here and it went with keeping them. I'm told it was because the proposed alternative was vauge but I think that Oz is hugely resistant to change despite the 'happy go lucky' personna.

137:

I'm pretty sure that William would step down without a murmur if it was voted to end the royal family role, as long as the family got to keep some of the change and property. I don't think he wants to be king and it's quite clear that his fiance would rather not be a royal if she had a choice. (But I also suspect that he feels he can't voluntarily abdicate because of his difficult position as the son of parents many claimed were destroying the whole institution.) They could still do PR and charity work as former royals and just ease back into the ceremonial nobility. (Or is that going too? Might be a good thing.) At the moment, they are ambassadors and those are appointed, in this case appointed by being the traditional family line. If England wants to do without that ceremony, the world would not collapse. But it may be that the majority of the British aren't ready to give up having their own royal family hanging around.

138:

Couple of points I think its interesting that one of the primary rationales for keeping Lizzie (and her progeny) in power is that she is a great tourist attraction! Damned by faint praise?

An interesting aside is, that if the UK were to do away with the monarchy - where would that leave the Empire...sorry, Dominions...sorry....Commonwealth? She's still Australia's (as well as NZ, Canada etc) Head of State, and wields power through the Governer-General.

An example of this power was an event known in Australia as "The Dismissal", where the GG dismissed an elected left-wing Labor government using borrowed Royal prerogative. I think a great deal of power does still reside in the office of King/Queen. It just hasn't been utilised for a fair while.

On the subject of the US - the American presidency was set-up to virtually be royalty. Wasn't Washington actually offered the throne? I remember reading a terrible Turtedove military altfic about it...So there would have been two King Georges...the massive power of the President, combined with life-long title, presidential libraries as well as the political dynasties (Bushs, Kennedys) - all smack of royalty. It does seem to be that the US has more endemic political problems than the UK, however.

139:

Well, you could always do what the Russians did, put them to the wall and shoot them.

As it is, I'm glad my country had the sense to opt out.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

140:

It is now generally accepted that
• The majority of Australians want an Australian to be head of state:
• The majority of Australians are averse to any very large changes in our constitutional arrangements;
• The web of accumulated, derived, and developed constitutional roles and functions of the crown in Australia cannot be transferred from the royal family unless they can be defined, and any attempt at definition brings forth such disagreement as to split the parties into mutually repugnant and uncooperative camps.

This being the case, only the arrangements I propose can square the circle and allow Australians to have what they agree they want.

1. Australia shall be ruled by a titular monarch.
This permits all existing constitutional structures, understandings and conventions to be carried on unaltered, with the governor-general standing in for the monarch and his or her powers and duties to remain as they have been, whatever that might be, with all existing ambiguity and uncertainty retained unaltered.

2. The monarch shall be chosen by computer by random selection from all persons on the Australian electoral roll born on a randomly chosen day .
This ensures that
a) the monarch will be an Australian citizen and
b) the election or appointment of the monarch will not cause divisions among the populace.

3. The identity of the chosen monarch shall remain in the custody of the computer, neither the governor-general, the government, the public, or the person concerned being informed.

This means that
a) every Australian could not only aspire to being King or Queen, but every 365th Australian could believe that they might already be King or Queen – producing that pleasant tickle existing at the back of the mind in the time between buying a lottery ticket and the draw, only indefinitely prolonged for no expense
b) the person chosen would not be stressed by sudden fame or corrupted by unexpected power.

4. The only possible objection to this plan would be that as the law now stands the monarch cannot be tried in his or her own courts, and unless appropriate arrangements were made every 365th person brought into court could plead that as it could not be proved they were not king or queen the matter would have to be dismissed; this defect could be cured, however, by introducing a constitutional fiction – the only significant change in the constitutional fabric required by my scheme – to the effect that Australian citizenship involves the waiving of any rights under this head.

Any nation that can give a real Queen an imaginary birthday should have no problem giving a real birthday an imaginary Queen.

While it might be objected that this proposal is ludicrous, its great merit is that it is considerably less ludicrous either than the existing system of privileging the heirs of Guillaume le Conquerant or the alternative proposal of going through all the trouble and expense of electing a president empowered to do no more than open fêtes.

141:

Pick a citizen with enough time on their hands and good table manners to meet visiting dignitaries, in an anarcho-socialist setting?

Been done. Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks.

142:

Charlie @ 132.
Sorry, mate, but as on a previously mutually-embarrasing occasion, you've got the completely wrong end of the stick.
I don't read ANY Murdoch paper, nor any other source known to be controlled by that, erm, err, let's say foreign over-mighty media mogul with the power of the Harlot.
I clearly stated that I had lifted the piece whole, and maybe should have said directly that I did not necessarily agree with all or everything it said.
As mentioned elsewhere, I used to be very "pro-Europe", for the reasons quoted by yourself: PEACE in Europe.
But, the corruption, and the backhanders, and the unaccountable bureaucratic powers, reaching into small, petty and personal realms that are no concern of any government have persuaded me, very reluctantly, but convincedly, to change sides.
The real tragedy is that Britain should have been "in" at the start: another disaster to chalk up to the worst Prime Minister Britain has had since Lord North: Anthony Eden.

143:

Reverting to the original subject, of Charlie attacking yesterday's "enemy" ... there seems to be a growing body of opinion that Charles Wales should step aside for William, when Elizabeth goes - and that could be another 15 years ahead, easily.

P.S. I'm glad someone mentioned Geo. Macdonald Fraser's classic on the Borders, "The Steel Bonnets"
Seriously, if you have not read it, go out a get a copy - it explains so much.
Fraser himself was referred to as a Scot, I note, though he came from Carlisle, in the same way that one of my uncles, came from Northumberland, but was always called "jock" - because his name was Hulme.
Oh, and most Kerrs are STILL left-handed....

144:

I think it's the 'hereditary' part of the Royals that most people have the problem with.

If the King or Queen were chosen at random from all the people born in the year prior to the death of the previous royal head and remained monarch until death we'd all be much happier with the divide because it would mean that everyone had an equal chance.

But electing a monarch by popular vote would be a terrible terrible solution.

145:

Elected monarchy is not at all unusual historically, the ancient Germanic tribes used it, including the Anglo-Saxons, and so did the Hungarians and the Poles, with the latter being perhaps the best-known example in European history. Generally though, elected monarchies tended to restrict the pool of candidates to "those of royal or high noble blood", and in most cases that eventually became "members of the existing royal family", then "the heir of the last King" and thus became hereditary in all but name. It's worth noting that the British monarchy retains a vestige of the elective principle, with a special session of the Privy Council (the Accession Council) called on the death of a monarch to confirm and proclaim the new monarch.

146:

I agree that a popularly elected, ceremonial (i.e. non-executive) Presidency need not be the preserve of Blair or Thatcher types of charismatic and as popular as unpopular superannuated politicians. The Irish have established a pretty good track record, especially in recent years (the Dana near-miss not withstanding), of electing non-partisan widely-popular non-professional politicians to their Presidency. And if we were really concerned about the prospect, there's a simple fix: disqualify anyone who's ever been elected to Parliament from running.

147:

No, I'm a New Zealander. We are very pragmatic. Outsourcing the head of state to the British has a few advantages.
(a) It means we don't have to look too hard at the treaty that settled the country -- when sovereignty was invested in the crown, not parliament (Article 1, Treaty of Waitangi).
(b) By convention, she does what the PM wants her to do. And since we have MMP, he has to count every vote.
(c) It is much cheaper to have a vice regal person -- one house -- than build a few palaces.
(d) I can be loyal to the crown and country and despise the politicians and pecksniffs who inhabit Wellington. This is far more healthy than electing a paid liar to a term of kingship, which is what the Septics do.

And Elisabeth has been my queen for all my life. Long may she reign: for the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha women are quite tough and survive a good thirty years longer than their men -- so the next king should be William V.

148:

Steve, your country didn't opt out! It just replaced the monarch with an elected president wielding roughly-equivalent powers. There are still birthright constraints (which are odious in and of themselves) and more to the point, your constitution has left you with a leader who wields 18th century levels of power (such that it's now possible for a president to assert, with a straight face, that he's got the legal power to order the assassination of citizens abroad without judicial oversight).

149:

Charlie @ 148
Precisely:
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

150:

Honestly, you're all missing the point, when they get married we get a free day off.

151:

#131 and 132 ref #125, bullet 6.

Or we could just say "[citation needed] - Which means that there are 3 of us (and counting) wanting to know the source of this claim!

152:

a situation that leaves odd constitutional echoes, such as the fact that we have a Royal Navy but we a British Army (loyal to Parliament, and not under royal command).

This is (sorry) a load of ahistorical tosh. Army officers and other ranks swear an oath of loyalty to the Queen and her heirs and successors (not to the country or to Parliament).
"I... swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, and of the generals and officers set over me. So help me God."

The Royal Navy/British Army thing is an accident of nomenclature. You'll notice that the Army is made up of units with names like the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, the Queen's Dragoon Guards, and so on.

The Army's not the Royal Army because, historically, it's a collection of regiments, not all of them raised by the monarch - many were raised by the local nobility (or "warlords" as we'd call them now). So a lot of them would be "Lord Such-and-such's Regiment", or "The Earl of Wherever's Regiment"; and some of them would be royal troops, paid for by the king and part of the king's household (like the still-existing Household Cavalry, or the Royal Artillery).

Note that a RN or RAF officer will call himself "Captain Smith, RN" or "Wing Commander Jones, RAF" - but an army officer will be "Colonel Brown, RA" or "Colonel Brown, GREN GDS", not "Colonel Brown, British Army". The regiment comes before the army.

The Navy was raised by the King, so it's been Royal from the start. The RAF started as the Royal Flying Corps, one of many parts of the Army with a "Royal" prefix.

The Crown has enormous power: it is the fount of all law, controls the legislature (in its position as, presently, the Queen-in-Parliament), appoints the Privy Council, including the minor subcommittee called the Cabinet, owns all land in the UK, without exception...

Britain is still operating under the feudal system? Citation required, Nix.

153:

So, if we abolish the monarchy do we revoke the act of settlement?

And thus give back to the crown the income from all the crown estates? At the moment the state makes a huge profit - in that the civil list is less than 10% of the income from the crown estates.

If you (dear reader, not necessarily Charles)are in favour of just plain confiscating all the crown estates - then I assume that you'd be in favour of 100% inheritance tax? And if so, there is nothing to stop you willing your estate to the state when you die...

PS, I'm neither in favour nor against the monarchy - just want some logic applied to the cost of them etc.

154:

Not a very good example: The US Constitution makes it very clear the President is not above the law (and has provisions for impeachment, unlike the British monarchy). In particular, the President does not have the right to assassinate anyone he feels like (5th amendment).

The problem is not the Constitution itself, but a lack of political will to enforce what it says. This is why successive US Presidents have been able to ignore US law and international treaties with impunity.

I do agree that the birthright constraint is odious though.

155:

The act of settlement is being revised as of the last budget. The boy Gideon plans to abolish the Civil List in exchange for a direct percentage of the revenues from the crown estate.

I don't recall whether the %age has been set yet, but the general commentary at the time was that the Civil List has been equivalent to about 15% of the income from the Crown Estate in recent years.

Regards
Luke

156:

Why has no one suggested the ROyal family incorporate themselves as a company and then nip off to a tax haven like Jersey or the Isle of Man? That way, once they've been stripped of the civil list but have the crown estates back in their hands, they can minimise taxation going to Westminster.

157:

There's also the "class" bullshit.
Right, let's kill that one off, while we're at it shall we?
One of Ms Middletons grandparents was a jobbing builder, for instance?
Or me, for that matter: I was once accused, when I was teaching of being "too patrician" by a head-of-department who only had a "teaching" degree, not a science one, and whom I once caught telling deliberate christian lies to a class (yes, it was evolution) ..
Now the surname you see here is a Huguenot name, and the Tingeys, unlike the bulk of that set of religious refugeess, were penniless when they arrived, and have stayed, well, not rich, and the name is still largely restricted to E & NE London.
Then there's my mother's side - Gascoine. If you want to know what I look like try looking in here or, for that matter, here as well
I've looked at the originals of these portraits, and it is quite scary - a fixed and distant mirror.
So, two of my ancestors were the highest in the land, under the monarch, and others were penniless refugee beggars.
What price "class" now?

158:

guthrie@156

There's the benefit (in moving to the Isle of Man rather than the Channel Islands) that IIRC, Elizabeth R is also titled "Lord of Man".

ajay@152
There's the additional quirk that the British Army and RAF swear allegiance to the crown as Ajay points out; but until late last year, sailors of the Royal Navy did not swear such an oath (the drive for consistency struck, and now all the Armed Forces do so).

Britain is contradictory; we're a nation where the Head of State is also the head of the established religion, in contrast to the USA where Church and State are separated by law. Yet here, we have Darwin on our banknotes and politicians with overt religious beliefs are viewed with suspicion; in the USA, the creation myth has more traction, and there's no way you can be elected President without being seen to be a churchgoer.

I'm also skeptical about the whole "class" thing in Britain. Once upon a time, maybe, but these days IMHO it's a myth clung to by the chippy. I'm an Army brat, born when Dad was a Corporal and on a weekly wage, but who never faced any problems gaining or holding a commission in the senior infantry regiment of the Line.

It's the status-conscious who feel the need for hierarchy. I've met desperate snobs who are firmly (UK) middle class. I've faced inverted snobbery from people who made assumptions based on me being an Army officer; but I've never come across it from people who owned large tracts of land. It's understandable - the landowner types have nothing to prove, they mostly take people as they find them.

159:

Hmm, I just said we opted out of the British Monarchy.

As for Presidential Power, there are constraints on the power of the President. Comment 154 pretty much states what I was going to state.

The other issue is that a monarch usually serves a life term. The President does not. The only one to attempt to do so was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It is probably worth pointing out that if Alexander Hamilton had it his way, the Federal Government would be more powerful than it is. If Jefferson had it his way, it wouldn't be that much more powerful than the Articles of Confederation had been.

So I find myself wondering what you would see as an ideal form of government, Charlie?

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

160:

Obviously, the ideal form of government is the one we don't have at the moment, where all the problems that are bugging the hell out of us with this one don't exist.

This ideal form of government, of course, varies for each one of the seven billion or so people on the planet.

So, because we're human, we start compromising...

161:

"Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the other forms"

162:

Also, the Navy mostly supported the Parliamentary side in the civil war. (The General at Sea as the Commonwealth called it was Robert Blake, an old friend from Wadham College of the King's prosecutor John Cooke.)

Regarding Ajay's point, an example: the Queen's Regiment, now part of Camilla's Killers (Kate's Mates won't sound anywhere near as good), was originally set up as the Tangier Regiment when the British briefly had the place as part of a deal with Spain. As it was essentially a besieged fortress at the time, we took the first opportunity to trade it off, which left the specially created garrison going spare.

163:

The whole of the developed world has been throwing up immigration barriers so high that even skilled professionals and high-end creative types can't easily acquire residency permits, much less citizenship.

As pointed out, this is rubbish unless you don't include any of the countries of the European Union in "the developed world". Which might come as a shock to the Germans.

As a UK citizen, Charlie can go and live pretty much anywhere from Finisterre to the Oder or from Lapland to Crete, for as long as he wants.

164:

EU countries don't restrict immigration from other EU countries because it's against EU law. Well, except for recent entrants, where anything goesrestrictions may be implemented and frequently are. Are EU countries restricting immigration from non-EU countries? You betcha. Our beloved leaders' determination to "clamp down" on non-EU immigration to the UK makes regular headlines (approving ones, as a rule, even though these people - on average - increase GDP). And other developed world countries are doing the same.

165:

Ha, yes.

Just before I came here and saw this, I saw a headline reading "Britons want William, not Charles as next king - Poll", and got a laugh out of the irony.

(Not, to be clear, at the part about wanting to pick one's head of state. That part makes perfect sense.

Though I suppose theoretically one could have an elected monarch.)

166:

chrisj, all that you say is true and utterly irrelevant in this context, which is Charlie in #40 saying that he doesn't have the option to move from Britain to another country because of all these nasty immigration barriers, and people will shoot him if he tries. This isn't really true at all. If Charlie were a Russian or a Brazilian, it would be. But he's an EU citizen and can leave the UK for any number of developed countries any time he likes.

167:

From Bracton: "The King is not above the law, because it is the law that makes him the King" -- and that was a long time before before the imposition of Parliamentary control in the turmoil from 1640 to 1688.

168:

Perhaps I'm overlooking something. But it seems to me that the British royal family is actually more constrained in its activities than other people throughout the world who control similar amounts of wealth, despite (because of?) the fact that the monarchs hold a state position while most other billionaires are private citizens.

You didn't get to vote for the Windsors, and they live lives of luxury on your dime, but at least you don't have to put up with their active meddling in your politics. Americans never voted for the Koch Brothers, yet all of us have to live with the consequences of what they have done to our political and economic system. Isn't their power just as undemocratic? After all, it's based on the same principle as that of the Windsors, namely heredity.

If Charles Windsor tried to use his vast inherited wealth to control who gets elected in the United Kingdom, it would be considered a major scandal, and might well lead to his ejection from the royal family or even the abolition of the monarchy itself. When Charles Koch tries to use his vast inherited wealth to control who gets elected in the United States, it's just business as usual, and few people even notice.

169:

Ajay: you're talking bollocks, and you know it.

Free movement within the EU is all very well, but it's a bit like saying that because a Californian who happens to hold a US passport can go live in Utah, they're able to freely move anywhere they like. There's a big difference between living in a zone within which the authorities recognize folks with your passport are allowed to live, and being able to go anywhere you damn well fell like it, with or without papers.

170:

I have a severe allergy to hereditary aristocracies including the American variety where the same 100 families have owned everything for lifetimes with only an occasional substitution.

Sometimes a monarchy is a workable compromise. King Juan Carlos of Spain provided a useful transition from Fascism to real political culture. Dragging Mohammad Zahir Shah out of his sickbed to bless the America's Designated Puppet provided a self-congratulatory fig-leaf for the Occupation. Betty Battenburg ensconced in her tourist attractions keeps Tories happy and gives Republicans something to grumble about.

171:

For all of Cromwell's sins, and they were many, he passed one great test. He let the Protectorate die with him. It would have been easy to appoint one of his family or some trusted fanatic. But he had the wisdom not to do that. The same can't be said of most revolutionaries.

172:

Class within the army probably doesn't matter so much these days, although I've heard one or two things over the years. It is interesting to read or watch TV and see how much class did matter before WW1, then they learnt that it didn't by the end, and I understand it took until WW2 to get rid of most of the traces. I believe it can still cost you a fortune to dress up as a cavalry officer, although it is rather more optional these days than it used to be a century ago.
I understand the oh so efficient MOD got rid of all their stores of old household cavalry boots which led to some problems outfitting people to parade before the Queen.

173:

I don't understand Greg, are you saying that class nowadays is a matter of money rather than who your ancestors were?

174:

Actually, Cromwell appointed his son Richard to succeed him as Lord Protector. Upon Cromwell's death, Richard did exactly that.

175:

Interestingly, it seems that, statistically, monarchies are more free than republics.

176:

Actually Charlie, Ajay is not talking bollocks. The countries of the European Union are very different to the monocultural monoglot US and the ability to travel and live anywhere in those countries covering an area larger and more populous than the US with (and a higher total GDP) without let or hindrance is a major step forward from the rights we in the UK had previously.

I will add one caveat that in the days of Empire and after it was not difficult to emigrate to Canada or Australia but it really helped to be White and educated and you had to become or at least aim to become a citizen of your new home, not remain a Briton who just happened to be living and working abroad.

177:

I actually think that most of the others would be more at stake for being unhappy as a Duke.

Mr Gates has been doing a wonderful job of staying out of most of the world's life, except for donating mega bucks to make them better off.

He's almost never in the news except for donating some new thing, or a few more million dollars. If he wants a title, give him one. He's doing the job already :)

178:

What is the acceptable back-hander to offer a woman whose great-granny owned a quarter of the entire planet?)

Why nothing could possibly tempt her...except for the other 3 quarters of the planet, of course, or failing that; the oceans. Though that does raise the question of what the queen could offer someone who was already in possession of the world's oceans/3/4ths of the world's land area.

Thinking about republicanism and british SF though... there's absolutely nothing in the way of republican sf from british writers is there?

179:

Well I live in NZ, a commonwealth country with a Governer General who reports to the Crown.

IMHO if there's anything wrong with a monarchy it's that they are essientially powerless and consistently fail to step in and say 'no' to some of the asburdity that slips through a democratic government these days. I think if the Queen actually ever said "boo" countless millions of commonwealth subjects would actually jump, she's probably the one single person who could make the biggest impact on human rights if she put the foot down - you know what, we'd all back her. Despite this she doesn't use her power... at all.. it seems, the commonwealth as an organisation is perhaps more powerless than some free trade agreements and treaties. There's not much point in NZ being a member, but for that reason there's little advantage to the upheaval of leaving. (Nevermind that small countries need to make all the friends they can and not piss anyone off).

It's a Kingdom in name only.

Monarchy as it is in the developed world, is fine by me, because frankly democracy isn't getting us a better deal, and I like the idea of a backstop, someone in charge who might have a small chance of rational thought should a really really bad situation befall our civilization.

While we feel like we the people have control and by our consent we are governed, it still seems that big business along with a few well-funded special interets really runs everything and no matter what we vote at each election nothing really seems to change.

The test of whether our Monarchs deserve their place is if it came down to a vote, would we choose to keep them?

If Prince William ran for Prime Minister, I'd bet he'd get voted in by a landslide.

180:

Quoting: "Similarly, the existence of benevolent, incorruptible, morally righteous [ * ] who do not tyrannise their subjects citizens does not redeem the institution of [ ** ]."

* Adherants of any form of statecraft.
** Any system of governance.

If there was an appropraite system of redress and accoutability, to prevent tyranny, you can have just about any system of governance you want. Isn't that all that we need?

181:

@ 173
Isofar as "class" is a matter at all, probably yes.
What really matters is your level of education and communication skills.

My dropping of a quote (NOT from any Murdoch source, Charlie - please note) seems to have provoked something - which was my intention.
My own take is not so extreme, but I think the original writer had half-a-point:
OK?
1: Coal - insofar as coal is dirty, we should be using less of it. But - we've got our own, and it is noticeably less filthy than the brown-coals of Silesia.
So why are we paying foreign exchange for an inferior version of something we can supply ourselves. It's potty.
2: Fishing - we should be limiting catches properly, and we should NOT be allowing Spanish (in particular) and other nations to use up "our" stocks" with nets and boats that do not conform to standards, which are supposed to have been agreed. EU regulation is only OK IF everyone follows it and it is fair. Neither of the above appies in this case.
3: Steel - I think the writer is at least partly wrong here, but, if our steel-factories are foreign-owned, then the owners will naturally prefer their "home" to "away" ones in case of recession. Of course the original writer is trying to pretend that Mittal and Tata don't exist - which is disingenuous, to say the least.
4: Is a repeat of 1 - no further comment.
5: Power Stations - mostly owned by the French, and we don't have nearly enough nuclear ones.
This is nothing to do with the EU, and everything to do with the amazing incompetence of our guvmints, plural.
6: Job-transfer to other EU countries. I think the writer is not noticing that this is a two-way process.

My objections to the EU are the corruption, the unaccountability, the interference, and the fact that we are not even getting the benefit of free movement (Shengen), which really pisses me off.
As long ago as 1966, I crossed internal European EU-to-then-non-EU country, by road, more than once. At the first border, all the "Zoll" guards were in one hut drinking coffee, while the guy who had drawn the short-straw was waving everyone else through. At the second, all the guards wanted to see was our car-insurance papers - "passport - can't be arsed!"

Now why can we not have this?

182:

I think what I like about the monarchy is the sense of historical continuity. Sort of like Stonehenge.

It serves no direct purpose, and its ceremonial role has changed, but I'd rather not see it torn down and replaced by a fun fair or public-housing flats, or even a hospital, even if that's more "useful" use, and doesn't offend sensibilities of modern republicans.

Perhaps it could be managed by the National Trust

183:

#172 - After some research, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchase_of_commissions#Britain describes some of the practices regarding class snobbery in the British Army; I've been unable to trace the end of the practice of purchasing commissions definitively, but know the practice continued into the Napoleonic Wars (maybe as late as 1815), and had died out by the 1930s, which strongly suggests it was discontinued by 1920.

184:

Charlie, I have to defend myself against that. Just to be clear: William said "there is one factor that, under some circumstances, can mitigate the harm done by monarchy: 'voting with one's feet.'... people who find the local regime oppressive can pick up and go somewhere else".

And you replied that this wasn't the case today: "The whole of the developed world has been throwing up immigration barriers so high that even skilled professionals and high-end creative types can't easily acquire residency permits, much less citizenship. We're not so much trapped by governments shooting us if we try to leave as we are by other governments deporting us if we try to arrive."

This is manifestly not true for you personally. You can leave the UK and live in any other EU country any time you want. No, you can't go and live anywhere you want in the world without papers. (Nor could you ever at any point in history.) But that's not what you said! You, Charles Stross, can easily become a permanent resident in any of lots of other developed countries at will. You are not stuck in the UK, and no one will try to deport you if you decide you'd like to live in Austria instead.

Your analogy to the US is unsuitable since we're talking here about the ability to evade an unpleasant national government. A Californian who's sick of the oppressive US government can't escape it by living in Utah. A Brit who's sick of the monarchy can move to Germany any time she wants.

185:

Greg, there's one or two things you might like to research first before spouting off like that.
For starters, our own fishermen did a damn good job of hoovering up the north sea before we started being more sensible, and of course having the Spanish etc come along and not play fair isn't good.

But as for the coal, how much does it cost to mine coal here? How much does it cost to mine it elsewhere? When they shut a lot of the collieries down, I seem to recall they were getting it in from COlumbia pretty cheaply. But now, 15 to 20 years later, how much does it cost to re-open coal mines in this country?
Now, steel - how much does it cost to make it here, versus how much does it cost to make it in south Korea, INdia or elsewhere?
Power stations - why do you think they are mostly owned by the French? And why on earth do you think there will be cuts in the UK when the power runs out rather than France, given that french companies like making profits as much as anybody else, and the gas we rely upon won't suddenly stop coming in. "Oh dear, sorry the gas just ran out yesterday, now you'll have to get by without it".

Basically, your points are either incoherent or lacking any grounding in reality or further evidence is required to be able to discuss them.

186:

Purchase wasn't (just) snobbery, it was a deliberate tactic to ensure that only the very rich - the landed gentry, in those days - could become officers. The idea is that the very rich would have a significant stake in the established order of things, and would therefore not want to start a Caesarist revolution, because they'd be more likely to lose than gain. And it continued until after Crimea, when it became impossible to ignore its less desirable consequences. Eventually it was abolished in the 1870s as part of the Cardwell reforms.
Note that the Navy didn't have purchase: no one was worried about a naval dictatorship. (Cynically, you could also say that having an efficient navy was considered really important; having an efficient army, if you were an island, was more of an optional extra.)

187:

The purchase of commissions was abolished as part of a set of reforms in 1870 - on one view, it was one of the first nationalisations, as the officers of the British army had to be bought out at (IIRC); on another, it was predominantly a negotiation about safeguarding pension rights...

(Of course, the engineers and the artillery had been promoting based on seniority for years, so the impact was limited - you can see the effect of this by examining the career of Lt. Chard of Rourke's Drift fame - aged 33 and still a lieutenant, and had it not been for being left behind semi-deliberately, probably would have remained there for a long time.)

This, of course, had very little effect on the social composition of the officer class - both through formal (outright snobbery) and informal ('we recommend officers have a private income of at least £150 a year to meet mess bills') mechanisms. My favourite of the latter is that the Victorian RN had a cult of freshly painted warships as one of the main ways of assessing a captain's performance. Coal-powered engines and black powder cannon mucked up the paintwork. The Navy only paid for one repainting a year. The captain therefore had to fund two or three more coats out of his own pocket...

188:

My favourite of the latter is that the Victorian RN had a cult of freshly painted warships as one of the main ways of assessing a captain's performance. Coal-powered engines and black powder cannon mucked up the paintwork. The Navy only paid for one repainting a year. The captain therefore had to fund two or three more coats out of his own pocket...

...and also tended to avoid doing gunnery practice, because the smoke would make his ship dirty. (Really.)

189:

Preserving the monarchy in the hands of the National Trust is close to what I'd like to do with it. There is a problem with abolishing it: quite a lot of people like it. There is no current excuse for depriving the royals of their private property, so they'd stay as wealthy people with a complicated and historically significant heritage. So you leave all that alone. This also saves the incredibly tortuous problem of negotiating with fifteen other coutries who share the monarchy, which is what has put recent governments off tackling the problem.

You create a written constitution, which gets rid of the Royal Perogative and suchlike. You have a non-executive president who is head of state, and takes over the secular constitutional functions of the monarch. You also still have a monarch, who is no longer head of state. This is unusual, to say the least, and breaks an assumption in a lot of our laws and history, but it seems to have potential for modernising our consitiution and the relationship between government and people, without having to solve some of the difficult problems.

190:

@ 183
Oh dear!
Cardwell's Army reforms, specifically those of 1871 abolished purchase of commissions.
Agitation for this had been growing since the war in the Crimea (1854-6) and the resulting Royal Commission of 1858.
See also 186.

187/188
This did occur, occasionally, but is mostly a canard, imported from Jan/James Morris' book(s) on Victorian England and the Empire, which strike me as very sloppy work.

@ 185
There is also the environmental cost of much dirtier coal, and the costs of transportation.
A lot of these failings, including French ownership of Brit power-stations, can be laid at the door of our own supine, ineffectual and treasonous governments, starting with that elected on 4th May 1979.
Incidentally the original writer whom I quoted doesn't seem to have noticed that a lot of our transport undertakings are nationalised - just not owned by the British government - they are owned by DB.

191:

#186, 187 and 190 - Thanks guys; I was just unable to find any reference to the date in question.

192:

Greg #190 - you seem to be happier spouting opinion rather than discussing the issues which you raised in the first place. Have you a blog you can do this from without using Charlies?

193:

This did occur, occasionally, but is mostly a canard, imported from Jan/James Morris' book(s) on Victorian England and the Empire, which strike me as very sloppy work.

I'd recommend Padfield, "Rule Britannia", on the Victorian navy as a source.

194:

I find it amazing, puzzling and frankly somewhat frightening how much, er, faith is placed in elections as a means of choosing rulers. (By seemingly all here, not just the Brits.)

Based on the evidence, it seems an obvious truism that no-one who is capable of winning the office should ever be allowed to hold it. And that having the skills to win the election essentially guarantees that the skills to execute the office are not present.

Without stretching my mid-morning southern US brain too far (no, I am not a 'Yank') I can think of at least three ways to pick rulers that are likely to be (or are already evidenced to be) superior to elections. I submit that heredity is among them ... if you look at the long term.

I'll gladly trade you B. Obama or G.W. Bush for your Queen any day. Please.

195:

Don't have a dog in this fight, but would it be out of line to suggest that editions of rags with paparazzi photos of the young royals should be boycotted?

196:

How about jury service as a selection mechanism for legislators? As in, your name goes into a lottery hat and if it comes out, congratulations -- you're about to get three years of civics/legal training then a high paid job (with pension) for the next five years, working over legislation. (Or you can withdraw your name and pocket £10,000, tax-free, but thereafter won't be eligible again.)

197:

To summarise the summary, on no account should anyone who is capable of getting themself made president be allowed to do the job.

To summarise the summary of the summary, people are a problem.

Which leads us, DNA-style, to contemplate the problem of who should rule, if no-one who wants to can be allowed to? (This is not a question to which I claim to have an answer.)

198:

"How about jury service as a selection mechanism for legislators?"

Yes.

Also, a simple volunteer system with a lottery could work. Statistically we'd be less likely to get the high concentration of sociopaths/psychopaths that dominate elections.

After observing the results of elections these past decades, I'm of a mind to try just about anything else.

199:

I would oppose that idea, for the simple reason that people tend to greatly underestimate the knowledge base and natural skills (schmoozing does not come equally to everyone) needed to be an effective legislator. It really isn't a job that anyone can do well.

California has enacted legislative term limits. It's the least of the state's many constitutional problems, but the loss of human capital among legislators has affected the legislature's ability to do its job.

The experiment might be worth running, but not in my polity, please.

200:

You do? Really? I'm not sure I believe you. Elections are the best way of introducing accountability into government without descending into mob rule or openly privileging the wealthy.

There are better and worse ways to organize a democracy, of course, and it's always good to skeptical of big and powerful institutions.

That said, a sentence like "I find it amazing, puzzling and frankly somewhat frightening how much, er, faith is placed in elections as a means of choosing rulers" is just a bizarre thing to say, given human history.

201:

Aren't you missing the point? I can't easily pack up and leave Massachusetts for another state because I live here. So I'd prefer to vote rather than vote with my feet. What do migration restrictions have to do with anything?

Seriously, people. Even if Charlie could legally move anywhere on the planet as easily as he can move to Birmingham, what in the name of God would that have to do with his dissatisfaction about the state of affairs in his home country? Nothing, any more than my ability to leave the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should make me less willing to try to change the laws and institutions of this great state.

202:

I'm going to call bollocks on this one, Charlie, but hear me out.

It is absolutely true that the U.S. President has currently claimed authority to act without effective constraints outside the boundaries of the United States. The go-to book on how this state of affairs came to be is Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?, by Kal Raustiala. You can find a Q&A with the author at Harper's. Needless to say, it's origins do not lie in the privileges of the British monarchy.

It does not make sense to extrapolate from the President's powers outside the U.S. to conclude that the U.S. has a particularly powerful head-of-state. That would fly in the face of the lived experience of the last two years ... and much of the past 221. The British prime minister is by any measure much more powerful than the American president.

I've got no problem with decrying the state-of-affairs that has left us with the executive branch claiming dictatorial powers outside the United States, limited only by the ability of foreign governments to constrain the American state. But I've got a big problem with making extravagant extrapolations rooted neither in history nor current affairs, and therefore weakening the argument that we do, in fact, have a serious problem.

203:

"You do? Really? I'm not sure I believe you. Elections are the best way of introducing accountability into government without descending into mob rule or openly privileging the wealthy."

Yes, I do.

I see little/no evidence that elections introduce accountability at the levels of a US state or Fed govt. (Local, small jurisdictions much more so.) Example: US Congress has always had approval levels of 30ish% or less. Recently at 12% yet we consistently send the same sorry lot back there year upon year (including our recent elections, btw). How can such a thing be labeled accountable?

Do you really want to argue that elections have prevented "openly privileging the wealthy". The taxpayers of Ireland have just been saddled with E100M that will be handed over to the wealthy bankers so they can continue their life of privilege.

What we perceive as "bizarre" is obviously quite different.

204:

Hmm, not sure I want the current jury system picking my representatives. Looking around here at the people in my local Starbucks, while I am sure they are all beautiful people, they aren't the kind of folks I want legislating for me.

Then there the students I see in my classes. If my A through C grade students got selected I could probably live with that. Having said that, it'd probably be the F grades that got selected, the ones who can't write their way out of a wet paper bag.

What about Al Reynolds' Demarchy? The only thing that worries me about that is that it needs technology to support it.

Hmm, gonna ponder that last line. Tech to support it.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

205:

The governing party lost. A climate bill will now not be passed. Tax reforms will now not happen. The ACA will not be expanded. Unemployment insurance will not be extended. An election occurred, and it will have consequences. You simply can't say "I see little/no evidence that elections introduce accountability at the levels of a US state or Fed govt" and remain consistent with the facts.

Moreover, in Ireland, the banking bailout was primarily aimed at protecting depositors. Perhaps it was not necessary to protect all holders of bank liabilities. (The shareholders are doomed.) It certainly seems as though the Irish government will pay for that. Nor can you say that Irish democracy privileges the wealthy more than other forms of government --- even if there other democracies that do still better on that tip.

What you perceive as "bizarre" doesn't fit the definition of "conspicuously or grossly unconventional or unusual."

On the other hand, believing that elections don't have consequences, that voters vote randomly, and that universal representative democracy inevitably privileges the wealthy as much as other existing forms of government is rather conspicuously unconventional and unusual.


If you can think of an alternate form of government that retains accountability --- which choosing legislators by lot does not --- and is less subject to capture by the wealthy, then I'm all ears. But until then, you're coming across as a bit crankish.

206:

Greg/ajay> I'm picking this up from Andrew Gordon's excellent The Rules of the Game (with the caveat that it states a budget for three coats, but a need for eight coats) that in turn refers back to Humphrey Hugh Smith's A Yellow Admiral Remembers, though this book was only published in 1934 by an author who seems to have been born in 1880. (His 1940 Time capsule obituary calls another book of his naval anecdotes 'slap-happy'. I think that bit of slang his changed in meaning over the years...)

207:

"You simply can't say ..."

Yes I can. Nothing of consequence will change. The bankers and ruling class will continue their reign of theft. The steady erosion of our liberties will continue. Our education system will continue to fail. Etc., etc.

""Irish state broadcaster RTE reported Tuesday that IMF experts want Ireland's banks to boost their cash reserves dramatically using much of the proposed euro85 billion for this purpose.""
http://apnews.myway.com//article/20101123/D9JM3A800.html

This is consistent with other news reports and what has been done here in the US: the bailout is for the bankers.

"On the other hand, believing that elections don't have consequences, that voters vote randomly, and that universal representative democracy inevitably privileges the wealthy as much as other existing forms of government is rather conspicuously unconventional and unusual."

This seems to be an argument from theory. My arguments are almost entirely from the empirical. It has privileged the wealthy and the elite ruling class and nothing does really change due to voting. Whether it is "inevitable" is immaterial, it is the observed effect.

"If you can think of an alternate form of government that retains accountability --- which choosing legislators by lot does not --- and is less subject to capture by the wealthy, then I'm all ears. But until then, you're coming across as a bit crankish."

Since the "by lot" scheme has never been tried TMK, saying it doesn't is claiming knowledge you don't have. And I can easily imagine lots of ways it would yield superior results to the present debacle.

And I'll gladly wear the "crank" label ... as the very uncrankish system we currently have has utterly failed. Many of the policies that would actually improve things are frequently labeled as "crank". But only by those who stand to lose power/privilege should the cranks ever gain influence.

208:

203:
I see little/no evidence that elections introduce accountability at the levels of a US state or Fed govt."

I believe the key problem with US electoral accountability is institutionalized gerrymandering.

The fact that the Republican party can *openly* boast that winning this election will give them a political advantage by allowing them control of state houses that will let them redraw electoral boundaries ("redistrict") and that such is NOT considered a scandal shows just how broken the system is. And yes, I'm aware that democratic strongholds are also heavily gerrymandered.

Politicization of redistricting means that the most conservative or liberal politicians have little incentive to moderate positions, due to their safe seats. (Indeed, they may be driven to more extreme positions due to the threat of primary challenges, which becomes the only way to really change them.)

209:

#194 - 200 inc:-

Guys, I first came across the idea that "no-one who wishes high office should ever be allowed to take it" as the philosophy used by the "Pierson's Puppeteers" race in Larry Niven's "Tales of Known Space", specifically in the first 2 Ringworld books. Just saying.

210:

"Be deeply suspicious of glib aphorisms offered up by a novelist in the course of a story, for they are shallow and tend to fall prey to unforseen second-order side-effects." -- me.

211:

The idea is much older than that, but I really can't recall where I read it before.

212:

USA: the elected President is the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful expeditionary military force on the planet. They can veto legislation proposed by the Legislature and can only be deposed within his term of office for "high crimes and misdemeanours".

UK: The Prime Minister is first among equals, elected to Parliament by a constituency and they have no direct control over British military operations. They cannot veto legislation and they are subject to be called to account by their peers in Parliament at any time for any acts or none, requiring no crime or perceived misdoing as causus belli (in the cases where this has happened they usually jummp before they are pushed much like Nixon did).

I would say that the US President has many more powers than a UK Prime Minister.

213:

#210 and 211 - I was just observing that it wasn't an original thought, not claiming it was a good idea (or otherwise). Also, I was saying where I'd first read the idea, not claiming that Larry had the original thought.

214:

New but related sub-topic

DOes anyone see why a CofE bushop should not be allowed to express the same sort of opinion of "yet another Royal wedding" as a fair few of us seem to have (and all my real World acquantances I've discussed the subject with too).

215:

DOes anyone see why a CofE bushop should not be allowed to express the same sort of opinion of "yet another Royal wedding" as a fair few of us seem to have

Yes: he's a CofE bishop.

Note that's Church of England. If he was just J. Random Protestant Bishop there'd be no problem whatsoever with him being a flaming republican. But the CofE was established by one of Lizzie Windsor's ancestors for a very specific purpose and she is its head. So his stance is more or less equivalent to a Catholic bishop calling for the abolition of the Papacy.

Moreover, he's a bishop. An officer, not a footsoldier.

(I happen to agree with his opinion but I can certainly see why it would be inappropriate for somebody in his job to express it in those terms, without first resigning.)

216:

You mean that a republican (Remember Merkins; the party has an upper case "R") should not be ordained in the CofE then Charlie?

217:

But the CofE was established by one of Lizzie Windsor's ancestors for a very specific purpose

That purpose, just to fill in the gap for any non-Brits, being "to make royal weddings possible, specifically the wedding of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn". Getting Royals hitched is literally the CoE's raison d'etre.
So it's not just like a Catholic bishop calling for the abolition of the papacy; it's also like a McDonald's branch manager calling for the abolition of hamburgers.

218:

Another argument for disestablishmentarianism - that it would free many of the officials of the Anglican Church to speak their mind.

(Oh come on, spelling checker - you know antidisestablishmentarianism, but not disestablishmentarianism? Why the former, unless you're showing off that you know some really long ... oh, right.)

Although Royal Weddings may have been the original raison d'etre, it wouldn't be the only organisation that has changed its focus over the centuries.

219:

It's one of many problems, but not the major one. If it were, we wouldn't have seen the large swings in control of the House that we have in the past three election cycles.

Rottweiler is, well, an odd individual with weird blind spots. The crankishness would be amusing, if I didn't find it rather sad. That's just because too many people believe that elections don't have consequences --- admittedly for reasons that have a bit more foundation that Mr. Rottweiler's --- and the result can be quite sad. As in, the death of a second stimulus package, the end of climate legislation, the possible gutting of the ACA (although I have hopes there, since the individual parts of the package poll well and the President retains the veto), and the end of unemployment extensions. But to Mr. Rottweiler, those don't count! A strange and sad position.

From the other side, an election in 2008 got us the nationalization and rescue of Chrysler and GM, a massive stimulus package, and the ACA. Big consequences!

I really do find it sad.

220:

There is a big literature on the powers of the two offices, but the basic reasoning is pretty simple. Unless there is a coalition, the Prime Minister controls Parliament and is in a position to pass the legislation in his or her manifesto. Moreover, party discipline is very high, and legislation needs only a straight majority in one house. In other words, as long as he or she can prevent a internal party revolt, they can pass what they want. Meanwhile, the high level of party discipline gives the Prime Minister a de facto veto that cannot be overridden sans new elections, something much more powerful than the U.S. executive. Moreover, the PM can call elections (usually) on their own volition, whereas U.S. presidents face a fixed calendar.

You can see the difference quite clearly in the current differences between the Cameron and Obama administrations: one has had extraordinary success in pushing through a radical legislative agenda, the other not so much in passing a not-very-radical-at-all one. Moreover, consider the small number of executive officials that the Obama Administration has managed to confirm --- it's a huge problem often overlooked by foreign observers. Executive authority is hemmed in on all sides (consider the slowness by which the EPA will use its regulatory authority to constrain CO2) and remarkably limited.

Of course, it is true that Barack Obama commands a more powerful military force than David Cameron, but that's because of the relative size of the countries, not the constitutional power of the office. Neither executive has historically faced significant constitutional barriers to the employment of military force. Meanwhile, the PM does have de facto control military operations; the British military is completely subject to civilian control, and that control follows a chain-of-command that ends with the Prime Minister.

I am, of course, no fan of the President's claimed authority to assassinate anyone outside the boundaries of the United States, but I am also not one to exaggerate its significance. (No exaggeration is needed, I don't think.)

In short, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is a far more powerful office than the President of the United States. (The same applies to the other Westminster systems in Australia, Canada, and Jamaica; India and New Zealand's electoral systems impose more constraints on the holder of that office, and both the Indian and Trinidadian PMs need to face an elected non-executive president who has, at times, posed a constraint on their power.)

Barack Obama would love to have had David Cameron's authority. He would have been able to push through a better ACA, a second round of stimulus, a climate control act, a tax reform act, and get his people into place at the head of the executive departments, with no reduction in his control over foreign policy. Moreover, absent a party revolt, he wouldn't have to face another election until 2013 instead of getting dragged into the midterms in 2010 ... with a recovery hamstrung the inability to get a second stimulus passed in the face of GOP opposition.

The same preference to have the PM's powers, of course, can be said about George W. Bush, so this cuts both ways. (Social security, reformed! Not necessarily a good thing. OTOH, his Medicare expansion would have required far less fixing had he not needed to buy off Congress.) But your head-of-government is quite a bit more powerful than our head-of-state.

221:

"But to Mr. Rottweiler, those don't count! A strange and sad position."

You are correct, my assertion is that those don't count.

What is truly sad however is that you seem unable to view the big picture and instead focus on the petty and mostly irrelevant theatre of the moment.

Again, slowly, this time:
- Our civil liberties will continue to be lost
- Our economy will continue to deteriorate
- Our military will continue to be misused
- Our educational system will continue its slide into dysfunction
- Meaningful progress toward energy independence and non-fossil energy sources will not be made
- Our government will continue to behave as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldman-Sachs
- No sanity will enter the process of determining the budget/deficit
- Big Pharma/Ag/Telecom/Finance/Etc will continue its unchallenged occupation of all the regulatory apparatus
- (I could go on for pages)

Perhaps the Republicans will try to switch the congressional vending machines to Coca-Cola and the Democrats will fight valiantly to keep Pepsi, while CNN, Fox and the NYT report on this great battle of the ages.

You're distracted by the show. I'm not.

222:

#218 - Disestablishmentatianist here too.

#220 - AIUI David Cameron is actually trying to move the Commons to fixed terms.

223:

Oh come on, Mr Spammer @#223 - putting SEO in as part of your user name is a bit of a give-away as to quite why you want your site linked to from this blog.

Or, in other words ...

** SPAMMER ALERT **

224:

Spammer nuked. Thanks!

225:
In the Python community, Van Rossum is known as a “Benevolent Dictator for Life” (BDFL), (...)

goodbye, guido

226:

Noel, all these points are true, but they're all a consequence of the fact that the US Congress - at least, the Democratic side thereof - has much worse party discipline, at present, than the House of Commons. This isn't inherent in the structure of either organisation. The UK used to have much looser party discipline. There's no reason why the Democratic party shouldn't have much tighter party discipline.

The only inherent advantage that Cameron has is that the UK prime minister will, by definition, generally have a majority of his own party in the legislature behind him. Because otherwise he wouldn't be prime minister.

"In other words, as long as he or she can prevent a internal party revolt, they can pass what they want."

The same is absolutely true of a US president with a majority in Congress - for example, Barack Obama in 2009-10. In addition, the president has a lot of power separate from Congress, as head of an entirely independent and coequal branch of government. The Prime Minister doesn't. Witness the fact that it's perfectly possible for a president to get stuff achieved even with Congress run by the other party. A PM without support in the Commons could achieve virtually nothing.

227:

In other words, the correct comparison is between a US president with Congress loyally behind him, and a UK prime minister; or between a "gridlocked" US president and a UK prime minister of a minority government. In both cases, especially the second, the US president comes off better.

228:

Ajay, you're British, correct? It's difficult to see the Obama Administration as much of a legislative success, even with its huge majorities. Yes, stuff got none, but nothing compared to what the President's equivalents in Canada, Australia, and Britain could have done in the same time period.

We're in agreement that party discipline is part of the story. But you have to keep in mind that party discipline is baked into the Westminster system, whereas in presidential systems it is not. A PM can't be elected without support and a unified party. That isn't true in presidential systems, and it certainly isn't true in the U.S. of A.

In addition, the British constitution serves to reinforce party discipline. Backbenchers simply cannot balk at individual issues, whereas Congresspeople can. Moreover, backbenchers can't let a government bill fail without putting themselves at risk of a new election and bringing down the entire government.

But there are two additional points. First, a prime minister is far more powerful than a president, even if the president had a united Congress behind him. Prime ministers control the parliamentary agenda; Presidents have no control over Congress's. Second, the U.S. Congress is riddled with veto points. The filibuster is the best known, and as it has become routine the power of the U.S. executive has declined. But there are also holds, courtesies, and committees with their own rules, none of which has a parallel across the Atlantic, and all of which serve to make the U.S. president a rather weak figure.

The U.S. currently has one very disciplined political power: the GOP. All that has meant is that it has become even easier to stymie presidential goals, since marginal legislators whom in past years would have changed sides no longer do so. The Democrats were less united, but the recent House debacle has helped to change that, at least in the lower chamber.

In the American constitution, however, party discipline serves to weaken a president by making obstruction easier. In fact, it's worse than that: unified parties have every reason to oppose constructive presidential initiatives in order to give them an advantage at the next election. Members of diffuse parties care much less about that.

Off Center is a good book on the parliamentarization of U.S. parties and the unintended effects its had on governance. The short version is that strong disciplined parties are bad, given the U.S. constitution as it stands.

229:

#228 Noel - In short, what Obama didn't succeed in doing he faied to do because of a determined and united opposition, rather than because it would be regarded as a bad idea in pretty much any other democratic (again note lower-case 'd') nation?

230:

Sorry, man, I don't understand the question. Of course, it seems a bit loaded. It's hard to believe that you're asking in good faith.

But this is Charlie's blog. So I'll say two things. First, it is a fact that Senate supermajority requirements are what killed cap-and-trade, a bigger stimulus, and a better health care bill. (They are not what reigned in financial reform; that was the administration compromising with itself.) Given that the above is indisputable (you can see all the stuff that passed the House) the answer to your implicit question about the merits of the policies is not relevant

The answer to your explicit question is: yes, obviously, did you not see the House bills dying or being watered down in the Senate because Baucus and Nelson needed to be kept on-side?

231:

British lefty Charles Stross, meet American lefty Matt Yglesias:

"[I]t seems inevitable in any country for some individual to end up serving the functional role of the king. Humans are hierarchical primates by nature and have a kind of fascination with power and dignity. This is somewhat inevitable, but it also cuts against the grain of a democracy. And under constitutional monarchy, you can mitigate the harm posed by displacing the mystique of power onto the powerless monarch."

There's another advantage to having a ceremonial monarchy as the thereoretical source of authority - the Crown, as opposed to the human wearing it. that was shown in the Bush vs Gore debacle.

Since the Ministers in theory serve "at the convenience of the Crown", the Queen would have been in a position to put an end to the cackle of lawyers and partisan judges and propose a manifestly *fair* way to do the recount.

232:

The exception to this is New Zealand. Which is why I can live here and not in the U.S. And N.Z. adores having people from the U.K. move here.
This place is great.

That's not strictly true.

NZ has a pragmatic system - we assess and rank applicants on points, and allow in set numbers on this basis every year (plus, you know, refugees and the like). You get points for things like youth, education, preferred skills, or investing significant chunks of moolah in domestic businesses.

If you're old, unemployed and have a high school diploma, you're probably SOOL.

233:

The "natural born citizen" clause was anti-monarchical in origin. In 1787 Britain, all offices, excepting the Crown, were barred to foreigners; the framers, fearful of someone attempting to import a foreign potentate, reversed the British setup, allowing the foreign-born to serve in every office except that of head of state.

234:

@ 231
The satirical magazine "Private Eye" picked up on this at our last election.
The cover showed a very pissed-off-looking EIIR saying (in bubble):
"Hurry up, you lot, or I'll toss a coin"

235:

Not sure I understand why a coin toss is fairer than any of the other methods at hand, but I'm just a Yank.

BTW, it's just "SOL" in American. S--t Outta Luck. Three words.

236:

In short, what Obama didn't succeed in doing he faied to do because of a determined and united opposition, rather than because it would be regarded as a bad idea in pretty much any other democratic (again note lower-case 'd') nation?

Most of what he was trying to do (eg universal health care)has already been in place for decades in pretty much every other democratic nation.

In 1787 Britain, all offices, excepting the Crown, were barred to foreigners

[citation needed]

237:

ajay: I thought UK officers owed their allegiance to the 'queen in parliament' - or is this a back-formation to rationalise what the oath actually says?

238:

#230 - Cheers; I'm not that deep a student of US politics, but I really was asking whether or not the US system can effectively leave a minority, if not "running the country", at least able to block attempts to do so, even when the policy being propounded would be considered sound elsewhere.

239:

Well, on this occassion, couldn't you change your national anthem for this occasion? Something along the lines of:

Let joy fill every Briton's heart / For now the country's going to make it /
At last a King who looks the part / At last a Queen who looks good naked /
Blackadder, Blackadder, A monarch with panache / Blackadder, Blackadder He's got a nice moustache /
Everything he wants he'll get / The world is now Blackadder's oyster /
Most Prime Ministers are wet / But Baldrick he is even moister /
Blackadder, Blackadder, A dog who's got his bone /
Blackadder, Blackadder, A bastard on the throne /
Blackadder, Blackadder, His beard is neatly curled /
Blackadder, Blackadder, He's going to rule the world.

SCNR...

240:

Ah. I read you completely backwards. Apologies!

The answer to that question is "yes." Forty senators (out of 100) can effectively block any legislation, and given the ridiculous overrepresentation of small states, those 40 senators could represent as little as 10% of the population.  (In fact, of the 20 smallest states, only Hawaii, Rhode Island, Delaware,
and Vermont regularly vote Democratic.) Worse yet, individual senators have an effective veto over executive and judicial appointees.

The U.S. Senate is a far bigger democratic travesty than the British monarchy.

241:

ajay: I'm sorry.My responses to your question keep getting deleted. Here's hoping that the third time is the charm.My immediate source for the following is Akhil Reed Amar's NATURAL BORN KILLJOY, which is an excerpt from his book, AMERICA'S CONSTITUTION:A GUIDED TOUR.

Under the English Act of Settlement (1701-1870), no naturalized subject could serve in Parliament, the Privy Council, Judiciary, and a host of other offices.The position of head of state was specifically made open to foreigners.

The American Constitution is the inverse of this, with all positions save that of head of state open to naturalized citizens. Amar, in his article, describes this constitutional arrangement as a deliberate movement away from the monarchical system that the Framers had known.

242:

I thought UK officers owed their allegiance to the 'queen in parliament'

Nope - the "Queen-in-Parliament" formulation describes where legal sovereignty rests. The armed forces take the oath to the Queen tout court.

This doesn't mean that the Queen is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. There isn't one and hasn't been for some time. The closest thing is the Chief of the Defence Staff. She is, however, the nominal head of the armed forces, and is still (technically) the only person who can declare war.

243:

Ah, right, ta - I suspected I was getting stuff mixed up.

244:

The Senate and the House are there to give us two kinds of balances. The House is divided by population to directly handle what small groups want; the Senate can make more decisions and so each state has two representatives to cover the entire state. Both types of representative is set up in the First Article of the Constitution.

245:

Sure! But that doesn't make it either democratic or a sensible way to run a federal republic.

246:

I wonder, ignoring the difference in the number of states, was there such a large disparity in voting citizen population between the most and least populous states when congress was originally designed?

I think Noel's just demonstrated that 10 to 15% of the population could block the wishes of the vast majority, and that's not democracy!

247:

Hello there. I see that many of the people here are American, and thought you might appreciate an English point of view on the whole monarchy situation.

It seems that Americans and Canadians get far more het up about the whole idea than is warranted - not surprising, perhaps, considering the slant of the history lessons you are taught in school. Breaking free of the imperial yoke and all that. No wonder you're eager for us to get rid of royalty too.

The thing is, you seem to misunderstand what the Queen is *for*. Yes, she does have power. But she has a very subtle kind of power, the kind that you can only exert once. And she will never choose to use it. Yes, she could say 'One wishes the nation to go to war with X', or 'I think Y is a very bad man and should be put on trial for war crimes' - and there'd be an exciting few days while people realised, yes, she still technically has the power to do that - and then after the dust had settled (and perhaps we *had* put Y on trial, because after all if the Queen destroys her power to say it perhaps it's worth doing) her entire family would be out of power. Forever. She has a suicide switch and I don't believe she will ever choose to use it. People are all excited about Charles because he just *might*. But the thing to remember is, if he did, that would be it. Lights out, curtain down, show's over. So, for the sake of his children if not for himself, I don't think he ever will, either.

So we will cling on to this odd little British pretense that our monarchs still have power, and they will in turn agree not to use it and so prevent their own destruction. And they do fill, as earlier commenters have said, a kind of primitive vacuum in us all. A primate hunger for someone to kowtow to. It is safer to direct this instinct toward someone who knows they cannot exert their power. Rather than the situation in the States, where the President is alpha-male and politician all in one, expected to do the everyday job of ruling and to handshake all over the world too. You can never get a decent person to fill that role, it's too large for anyone except a psychopath or an actor to play (cough, Ronald Raegan, cough).

Just my penny's worth.

PS. We did *try* having a non-monarchical government. As you may recall, that degenerated into a dictatorship so fast there wasn't time to say 'Oliver Cromwell'.

248:

Hannah: (a) welcome to my blog ... and (b) what nationality do you think I am?

(Hint: you can find out a bit more about me via my wikipedia entry.)

249:

When the Congress was set up, there were only 13 states and none of them were strongly populated. It was designed for growth, though, which is why even states with small population get an equal vote in the Senate.

250:

#247 - I'll join Charlie in saying "welcome", and add that I live in the same nation and state as he presently does. :-D

#249 - I knew that there were 13 states when Congress was set up. My point was really more about the relative size of the populations of those states to each other, compared with the difference in population now between Alaska and, say, California or Texas! (states chosen purely on population, not on party affiliation if any)

251:

Here's the numbers, but...

The least: Rhode Island 68,825

The most: Pennsylvania 434,373

When the Constitution was signed, it took months because travel was awful, but the needed number of signatures from each state made the Congress the way it is.

Alaska in 2005: 663,661

Texas in est. 2009: 24,782,302

so the actual percentage of difference is more today, between those two sets of states.

(I saw TX first and did that, but yes, TX is mostly Republican and CA is mostly Democratic.)

252:

Except it's worse! California has 37m, and Vermont barely 621,000.

If you kept the Senate at 100 people, used states as the districts, and allocated senators the way the House allocate representatives, you'd reduce the disproportionate representation from 57:1 to only 5:1. California would have 10 senators; Texas and New York would have 6; Florida 5; Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois would have 4; and North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, and Michigan would have 3. 10 states would have 2, and 29 would have 1.

I don't understand the statement, "It was designed for growth." There was a lot of controversy about the Louisiana purchase; other than the Northwest Territory and the states carved out of the western territories of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, it wasn't clear that anyone expected much expansion.

In fact, it was expansion and the breakdown of slave-free Senate balance what later caused the civil war, but that's a different issue. Today, the issue is that the Senate is a democratic travesty.

But it's legitimately undemocratic, so that's that. Sort of like the British monarchy, only with power.


253:

I was answering paws4thot about TX and AK.

The Congress is designed to add two Senators per state plus a representative proportion of Congresspeople when a new state enters the nation. That's "designed for growth." Making the state boundaries is another thing. They're so nice and even out in the mountains.

254:

I think your right in that its the 21st century and will still have elelments fron centuries that ended. Why do we see this simple fear of the future the powers that be fear the future for time always destroyes empires so we cant think of what people will do and be in the 22nd, 23rd,24th,25th,26th centuries but we can praise goverments from the 20th century alway back to the 14th century what can of shit is that.

255:

Long and the short of it - we have always been ruled by elites. Whether its union based elites via Labour, or business elites via the Liberal (Oz)/Conservative parties. For some reason, we hark back to some golden age where such a situation didn't exist - where democracy and fairplay ruled. It didn't! You only remember it being like that...Every election, we swap elites, and it gives us a nice feeling of having a choice. Occassionally, democracy does throw up reformers. They are usually hauled back into line, compromised and/or executed before anything too good happens.

I have an extreme aversion to entrenched privilege of any type. Just because the Windsor's ancestors had slightly bigger clubs than my ancestors, doesn't mean they should be in power now. They have their wealth, not because they earned it or worked for it - but for an accident of birth. The odds are, that given their restricted gene pool they are congenitally LESS capable of running things than the average hybridly vigorous man or woman in the street.

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