Presidents eh? (Or Would Abolishing The Monarchy Help?)

Yeah. Nothing controversial here…

If you pay any attention to the links on the right of this site you will see that I link to both CGP Grey and Shaun. They are both people who deserve to have their ideas and opinions taken seriously. Recently, Shaun got fed up with being referred to one of CGP Grey’s old videos about the cost of the British Monarchy and did a response video. He picks some holes, which seem plausibly valid, in what CGP Grey says but I don’t want to argue too much with either of them. In fact, both videos are well worth a look.

The reason I am writing this is not to say that Shaun is wrong but to point out that proposing abolishing the monarchy is potentially just the easy bit. The tough part is deciding what to replace it with and costing that up as a counterproposal. He didn’t include this in his video but we need to talk about this as it leads into understanding why not all democracies are equal.

Does there need to be anything to replace the Monarchy at all?

Every state needs to have a head of state. If you don’t have a monarchy you have a republic and every republic has a president of some sort.

So we would need a president?

It seems so. Now, separate from the issue that not all presidents are as good as eachother, there is the issue that not all presidencies are as good as eachother.

This is about Trump isn’t it?

Actually, no. This is about the dangers of a system that allows one person that much power. Trump is just a glaring example of a bad president in a bad presidency.

Essentially there are two sorts of presidency. The executive presidency, where the president is both prime minister (and in some cases pretty much a dictator in the ancient Roman sense) as well as “temporary king”, and the non-executive presidency, where the president is just a head of state without a great deal of power and is normally not political at all with actual power belonging to a parliament of some sort.

Good examples of good non-executive presidencies are those of Ireland and Germany. They have parliamentary democracies where the government is lead by a person chosen from and by the parliament and a separate president who is apolitical. This works well because it does not concentrate excessive power in the hands of one person who may not be able to wield it all effectively or wisely. Being a non-executive president is normally a bit of a sinecure awarded to somebody who the nation wants to express their admiration for. You could say that they are “temporary king” but all they really do is wave the flag, host state visits, open museums and pin medals on people chosen by a committee. While different systems may vary, in general I believe that this is the best sort of presidency as it does not harm the parliamentary principle that democracy takes place in a chamber of elected people who argue it out with full public scrutiny.

Good examples of bad executive presidencies are those of The USA, Turkey and Russia*. I am not picking those examples because the current incumbents of those offices are insufferable ding-dongs, although they quite clearly are. I am picking them because they are structurally bad presidencies. They put more power than can be wielded effectively and responsibly, by even the best person, into the hands of the sort of people who are (shall we say?) not always the best. It is hardly surprising that if you set up an institution that provides great power with little or no effective oversight then all the biggest bastards in town will be looking to get in on the action. The dumb ones will want to be president and the smart ones will want to own the president. (I guess this makes Putin dumb in Russia but smart in the USA?)

This is the danger in advocating for the abolition of the Monarchy.  It could turn into a massive bait and switch operation (You know, like Brexit was!) where we think we are voting to become more democratic and only discover afterwards that we have given, not only all the power of the Queen, but also all the power of the Prime Minister and even of Parliament itself to whichever barking mad local warlord/landlord/edgelord can buy the election bankrolled by the corrupt interests they represent.

Returning to the discussion of costs, which is what Shaun and CGP Grey are interested in; it is clear that no sort of presidency comes for free. A presidency does not have to be ruinously expensive but there will be buildings, salaries, state visits, security costs and at least the odd gold plated statue of a mythical beast even if you don’t go full on Trump and gold plate everything. A presidency does not have to be ruinously expensive but it could easily be if you put the same people costing up the renovations of Parliament in charge of the facilities. (FFS, it would be cheaper to dig up Augustus Pugin and clone him!)

So, I am not telling people not to advocate for the abolition of the monarchy. I am just saying that it may not help with the things that really matter. Here are some things I think are significantly more important than getting rid of the monarchy:

  • Switching to a fair electoral system, preferably STV, for all UK elections, including the House of Lords.
  • Codifying the British Constitution (which will be a few years work in itself), publishing it and defining a democratic method for amending it.
  • Incorporating rights comparable to those in other democratic countries into that constitution so that rights can not be arbitrarily withdrawn by primary legislation. (But not that stupid American stuff about everybody waving guns around though!)
  • Incorporating strict limits on the use of statutory instruments into that constitution to prevent future Home Secretaries going power mad. (Even better, no more Home Secretaries at all! Break up the Home Office and create a system of effective oversight of the police that is not and can not be politicised.)
  • Codifying the law in the various jurisdictions of the UK (which will be a few decades work in itself), identifying and cutting out the cruft, keeping it updated and publishing it so people will finally be able to look up what the law actually is.
  • Getting back into the EU as soon as possible.
  • Reforming the conduct of elections and referenda to make promises written on buses legally binding and personally guaranteed by whoever put them there.
  • Kicking Boris in the nuts.

Only then will it be time to think about an Irish style non-executive presidency and the disestablishment of the Church of England.

 

* – The USA is the most forgiveable of the three. We can’t blame a bunch of 18th century people for not knowing what the 20th and 21st centuries would hold.

December 2, 2018. Law, Money, Politics, Sensible.

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