Charles III was in Lincolnshire the other day, his first official visit to the county. I am not aware he has yet ventured further south, to Norfolk and Suffolk, in an official capacity. Doubtless our turn will come.
Meanwhile, as you may not be aware, you have until October 11 to sign a petition to Parliament to require a referendum on whether to scrap the Monarchy in favour of something less “outdated”. This will need 10,000 signatures to go through to the next, very tentative stage in the process; it has just over 6,000 at the last count. I reckon the current monarch need not worry too much about meeting the same fate as the first King Charles.
Head of state alternatives?
It does raise the obvious question. What would a Republican signing that petition want to replace the monarch with?
There are, as I see it, three options for electing a President, a figurehead with little nominal power, which is what we are talking about here. All have their drawbacks. In other countries without a Royal Family, the President is either the elected ruler, Prime Minister in all but name, as with Macron in France, or alternatively a head of state with few executive powers but serving as, again, a figurehead, someone with only ceremonial functions.
These are often drawn from the political class, someone who has had a distinguished career in politics but is prepared to set aside previous affiliations. A good example is the President of Portugal, Marcelo Nuno Duarte Rebelo de Sousa – now that is a name I could get behind on the ballot paper.
A former academic and centrist politician, he agreed in 2016 to set aside his membership of the Social Democratic Party during his tenure as President.
The problem for the UK is that we have a two-party system where any candidate for President from one party would be anathema to supporters of the other. In political systems with proportional representation, with a plurality of political parties often entering into coalitions, candidates from most are acceptable. A political veteran, from the Tories or from Labour, would be divisive, unacceptable to the other side. One of Them or One of Us.
So, I think the three options are: the National Treasure, the Technocrat or the Populist.
The National Treasure would be someone held in great affection by most of us but with no executive power whatsoever. President Dame Judi Dench, President Baroness Floella Benjamin… Stephen Fry? A popular and successful sportsman? President Andy Murray?
Someone to smile sweetly, cut ribbons and rubber stamp the relevant Parliamentary legislation. Not much point, really, is there?
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The second option, the Technocrat, would be to elect someone who has succeeded in his or her own field and is respected as such, whether in business, academe, medicine or whatever. President Richard Branson? (God forbid, President Alan Sugar.) President Brian Cox? (The physicist, not the actor, who falls into the first category.) President Robert Winston, now Baron Winston?
Such people have already succeeded in their chosen fields, with proven administrative abilities and leadership skills. We could do worse, though how many would be prepared to give up a successful career to become a national figurehead?
The question is also, however, how much administrative power we are prepared to vest in such people. And would they want to do it, without the ability to influence events?
The third option is the Populist, and this is the darkest. You throw the field open to those able to attract the most supporters, no matter what their abilities. I have written here before about Boris Johnson in such a role, and it is not implausible.
President Nigel Farage? President Jeremy Corbyn? None are impossible, in terms of the vote in any poll they would command from their grass roots supporters. Any such populist, though, would be unbelievably divisive. Half the country would hate them. This is no basis for a national figure to represent the people as a whole.
I fail to see any alternative to the above. Ideas, please?