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President Blair? Exploding the Monarchists’ Nightmare Scenario

August 3, 2015

President Blair

Every twelve minutes (or thereabouts), one of those people who prefers the hereditary principle to the elective principle as the natural expression of a nation’s sovereignty makes what they think is the original point that if Britain were to dump the monarchy then Britain might end up with President Blair.  Many of us have refuted the logic of this assertion so often, that a response pretty types itself through long muscle memory.   But it’s worth restating, if only so that I have it typed out somewhere and can cut and paste it where appropriate.

Let me state at the outset, that Tony Blair would not be my first choice as Britain’s head of state.  He would not be my second, third, or fourth choice either.  But let’s say he decided to stand for election in a republican Britain.  There are a number of things one could do about it.  You could (most obviously) vote for someone else.  In addition you could actively campaign for someone else.  You might even stand yourself as a candidate.

I think that Prince Charles is completely unfit to serve as Britain’s Head of State.  He seems arrogant, bristling with unearned entitlement and, most crucially, either does not understand or does not respect any constitutional limits to his role.  A meddler, he believes that he has the right to lobby and influence government to support his pet theories and concerns.  Because he thinks he is “above politics” – he seems to be very unclear as to what is and is not political.

However, neither I nor anyone else can do anything to prevent Prince Charles from becoming Britain’s Head of State short of radical constitutional change.  As things stand, he is destined to become Head of State for life (and very very rich people like Prince Charles tend to live a very very long time.)

Let’s say that despite the best efforts of right thinking people – Tony Blair got elected president.  He’d be president for a limited period.  He’d also be operating within clear stated legal constraints.  He could be impeached or removed from office if he attempted to use his office unconstitutionally.  None of this applies to Prince Charles – or any other royal.

When people dangle the spectre of President Blair – they seem to present Blair as somehow both unthinkable yet terrifyingly plausible at one and the same time.  “We might end up with President Blair” only makes sense as a scare story if A) most people hate the thought of President Blair and B) most people will somehow vote for him anyway.  President Blair is dangled as evidence therefore of the dangerously masochistic stupidity of the British electorate.

I don’t want President Blair.  But I don’t despise the British electorate to the extent of wanting them legally prevented from considering the option.  Do majorities make mistakes?  Yes.  But in a democracy such mistakes are temporary and reversible.  Elected government and elected heads of states can be dealt with by legal means.  The mistakes of dynasties on the other hand – can last for centuries.

If you despise the British people then you despise Britain.  If you think the British electorate is so stupid that they are destined to vote for the most ghastly person you can think of then you must, if you claim to love the Royal Family, become a republican.  Because forcing any family to continue to “represent” such a worthless country for all eternity is a species of cruelty which I find incredible.

If you claim to love your country – you can’t insult its people with infantilistic fears of how they might choose to exercise an electoral choice.  “President Blair” is not a threat – it’s a distant hypothetical consequence of a freedom that most countries enjoy.

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5 Comments
  1. Ron Medlow permalink

    Of course, there are two types of President.
    1 An Executive President as in the United States (not recommended), or
    2 A Constitutional (or Ceremonial) President as In the Republic of Ireland (recommended)

    We could also adopt the Irish voting system, but that would be too complicated say the defenders.of First-Past-the-Post majoritarian sytem.

    • The Irish presidency works very well. As for the Irish voting system – this also has much to recommend it. Most people have a hierarchy of electoral preferences rather than a devout allegiance to just one party. Multi-member constituencies also mean that people are far more likely to have access to a TD (MP) whom they can just about stand being in a room with.

      • Ron Medlow permalink

        Thanks Conrad.

        You and I have a few things in common – Republican, Electoral Reform Society, left-leaning politics; I am stuck regarding the order of preference in the Leadership Election.

        But more importantly, like you, I am a devotee of Flanders and Swann. My favourite is The Song of Misalliance.

        Katharine joins me in sending our best wishes.

        Ron Medlow

  2. Agree with all the above. I’d add, though, that a ceremonial president might as well be elected by qualified parliamentary majority, as in Germany, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and various other countries. I distrust the theatre of a popular election for a post that doesn’t have much actual power to carry out the policies on which people are casting their votes.

    • Having witnessed some Irish presidential elections, I must say I find the “theatre” of these events rather enjoyable. If the Irish President has no executive or policy making authority s/he nonetheless has a mandate to customise the way the nation is represented on official occasions. The presidency is about style rather than substance but style is not unimportant. Having seen Higgins, McAleese and Robinson at work, I’ve also been impressed by how well their personal popularity transcends their political base.

      One thing that the Irish presidency demonstrates is that an Irish voter is capable of respecting the personal qualities of politicians whose party affiliations they might not approve of.

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