British Republicanism Must Stop Defining Itself By What It Is Not

In an earlier post I pointed to the fact that in popular consciousness at least modern British Republicanism has a habit of defining itself in terms of not being Monarchism.  It was not always so, as in past centuries republicans tended to argue their anti-monarchy stance as a natural outcome of their positive beliefs in causes such as the Sovereignty of Parliament in the Seventeenth Century and Chartism or Socialism in the Nineteenth, to mention but two. A brief look at the Home Page of Republic campaign highlights the problem, with one of the main images actually displaying the Windsor clan in Parliament in all its finery (as of 3rd October)  – as if they needed publicity from Republicans!  Whilst fully supporting the drive to highlight the iniquities of our current archaic system there needs to be a positive message for success.

One thing I point out to non-Republicans is that I am an anti-monarchist because I am a Republican and not the other way around.  So what are the fundamental tenets of Republicanism which I advocate?  Here is the briefest of outlines for the main points:

  1. Popular Sovereignty. This means that we all have a stake in the laws and policies which our Government makes. I touched on this issue in a blog post dealing with the ‘taking back control’ rhetoric during the Brexit campaign.  Likewise the boundary changes supported by the Government serve to take even more power away from the ordinary voter.
  2. The Common Good,  A society is healthy when the institutions and economic system is arranged to promote the good of everyone in society. At present this is clearly not the case with a dysfunctional system being kept afloat with vast sums of created money which serves to only inflate asset prices for the wealthy.  There are alternative ways of rebalancing the economy away from elites such as democratising the control of capital.
  3. Liberty.  This is closely bound up with the first two points.  We can only be free when there is no possibility of being subject to the arbitrary will of another person or an organisation. Without the means of controlling our lawmakers we cannot be said to be truly free. Likewise an economic system which increasingly serves to trap people in zero-hours contracts and poverty wages with little means of escape, giving employers disproportionate powers.  This also results in millions of people being dependant on the state (thus sacrificing more freedom) to supplement their income. I consider it is the state’s responsibility to enhance the freedom of its citizens, not collude in its suppression!
  4. Civic Participation. It is the duty of the state to encourage as many of its participants as possible to take part in decision making.  But the way our system has evolved actively serves to prevent participation. There is a widespread feeling of being powerless in the face of major political power blocks and large corporations which is damaging our society.

This is clearly a broad brush assertion of principles and in some cases politically contentious in a party sense. But for me each of these four points stand in opposition to hereditary privilege.  To take an example from each. Popular Sovereignty. The residual power of monarchy such as Queens and Prince’s Consent (to prevent debate in the House of Commons) is simply unacceptable. The Common Good. The Windsors possess or otherwise control large assets with the power to seize the mineral wealth under people’s homes or come to advantageous tax arrangements with HMRC! Liberty. Though not used since 1707, Royal Assent to bills must go, as must immunity for the Head of State from legal action.  Civic Participation.  Monarchy actively promotes an outsider, voyeuristic attitude to public life rather than promoting and welcoming input from people.

It is true that many of these issues afflict other parts of our system and consequentially I am in favour of wholesale changes such as reform of the House of Lords, to name but one.  But ultimately it is my belief that mere anti-monarchism will not get the job done.  Republicans need to sell a vision of a society to our fellow citizens which makes abolition not merely desirable but natural and unavoidable!

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