Thursday, 18 February 2010

Democracy, Monarchy and Constitutional Reform

Two blog posts I have read this morning have really infuriated me.

The first is Adam White's entry on House of Twits, which discusses the various disadvantages of the Monarchy. His contention is that the Monarchy is an undemocratic, outdated institution that should be abolished, and we should have a Republic instead.

The particular phrase that riled me, and to him, justified this tirade, was:

'If we want to talk history I don't see anything positive in the role played by the monarchy in Britain's history. When I think of monarchy I think of dictatorial rule. I think of Charles and his attempts to undermine the development of representative government. I think of the beheading, the hangings and the burning carried out at the behest of the monarchy against those who disagreed with them, which they believed was their god given right.'

Hmm. Obviously his knowledge of history needs a little expansion.

Never heard of Henry VIII? The first English King to throw off the shackles of Papal oppression, and develop the concept of a secular state? Or how about his daughter, Elizabeth I, who successfully defended the newly emergent secular state from subjugation by a vile despot, King Philip of Spain? Or William III, who established the United Kingdom through the political union of England with Scotland, and passed the Bill of Rights, which actually limited the power of the Monarchy and is still one of the cornerstones of our constitution? Or George III, who defended the United Kingdom from the threat of another dictator, Napoleon? Or William IV, who oversaw the emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire?

And let us not forget that the greatest dictator that this nation has ever seen, Oliver Cromwell, who established an illegal autocratic Protectorship over this nation by undermining the authority of Parliament when it did not conform to his own political aims, was himself a Parliamentarian.

The Monarchy, like the nation it has governed with almost total continuity for the last 1,000 years, is responsible for some terrible crimes. But it has also been a driver for change, and reform, and progression. So to simply dismiss it as an outdated institution, best forgotten, is a ridiculous and contemptible notion.

I'm not arguing that our democracy (and he even alleges that our system of government is not a democracy, despite it being the model for countless democratic systems across the world) is perfect - far from it. Deep and wide-ranging reform is in order - we still have an unelected House of Lords. The Government abuse of Royal Prerogative continues. The West Lothian question remains unanswered. The guidelines over how the nation should be governed in the event of a hung Parliament are less than clear. But the abolition of the Monarchy will not solve these problems, nor is its continued existence a barrier to reform.

And let us not forget, that our constitutional settlement with the Monarchy has remained largely unchanged for the last 200 years. It has been established that Parliament, not the Monarchy, is the true sovereign power in the UK, and that has remained undisputed since the reign of Queen Victoria. So the problems with our democracy are the fault of Parliament, not the Monarchy. If the accusation of serving their own interests is to be levelled at the Royal Family, then that charge should also be brought to bear against the generations of Parliamentarians who have refused to change the status quo.

Granted, our democracy needs reforming. But abolishing the Monarchy will not accomplish the changes required. The question is not 'why keep it?', but 'why abolish it?' This may be a fundamentally conservative approach. I don't care.

The next item that frustrated me was this entry on LabourList, contending that several Conservative policies, rather than being aimed at reforming our democracy, are simply a cynical attempt to destroy the Labour Party.

This is total bollocks.

The Tory policies are:

  • The establishment of an 'English Grand Committee' in Westminster, so that only English MPs can vote on England-only matters, thus answering the West Lothian question;
  • The reduction of the number of MPs in the House of Commons to around 600 by redefining constituency boundaries with regard to population density, so that votes are equalised;
  • A plan to reform political party funding by capping donation levels from individuals and organisations, ending the capacity of large donors to dictate policy.

I agree with these reforms, enthusiastically. They're all good. They don't go far enough, but they're a good start.

LabourList's opinion on the first point is that 'such a move would endanger the Union, and create a two-tier Westminster Parliament, and so the Tories’ policy should be opposed on principle. But it would also massively favour the Conservative Party, because if it is in a position to enact its plans after the 2010 election, it will have won scores of new seats in England. English votes for English laws in effect means Tory votes for English laws.'

They misunderstand. An English Grand Committee to equal the Scottish Parliament does not endanger the Union, it is a solution to a problem. Devolution itself endangers the Union. But we're stuck with that particular albatross, now, aren't we? And if the Conservative Party is better represented in England than other parties, maybe that's because it's representative of the people living there. Are Labour actually arguing that the people of England should be governed by a party which they do not support?! Tory votes for English laws is only a problem if you're Labour.

The second point is criticised as the axe would fall 'on Wales, and the English cities, where Labour would have most of its MPs, even after a Conservative win. That means Cameron would fix the system by abolishing Labour seats in the first term to make it easier to win a second term. Analysis by John Curtice at Strathclyde University suggests a smaller Commons would exaggerate swings, and "would improve the Tory chances of winning".'

So, yet again, they miss the point. The current boundary definitions favour Labour - Scottish and Welsh votes count for more than English votes, and Labour heartlands have more constituencies than Tory strongholds. That's how they've managed to maintain their majority over the last 13 years. The Tories don't plan to swing it the other way - they plan to balance the scales. Maybe those Labour seats that are planned for abolition shouldn't exist in the first place.

And the third point is criticised because 'it makes sense if your party is funded by rich people and companies. If your party is funded by trade unions, it sounds a death knell. Cameron’s point-man on the negotiations Andrew Tyrie MP made union funding the sticking point, and the casus belli for the Tories breaking up the talks. The Labour Party is now reliant on the big four trade unions, not just for election posters and leaflets, but to pay the staff wages and utilities bills at head office. If each union could only give £50,000, Labour would cease to exist as a functioning organisation.'

So, they argue that a political party which aspires to govern an entire nation should only actually be supported financially by a small group of extremely rich organisations? I doubt they would be as critical if they replaced 'trade unions' with 'private companies'. Any political party which aspires to govern should have a broad range of funding sources, from primarily voters. After all, aren't we, the humble electors, the ones who are supposed to hold power in a democracy?

Obviously not in Labour's idea of one. They prefer a constitutional Republic, devoid of history, culture or tradition, a vapid, empty construct of politically-correct thinking, where the real power is not vested in the electorate, but in the back-door dealing, self-serving political elite, whose only values are lining their own pockets and clinging to whatever power they can lay their filthy paws on for as long as possible.

I ask you, is this the kind of nation you want?

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