Friday 27 March 2009

So who could oppose Royal succession reform? Here's who

Good news that the government is to move on ending Royal primogeniture and the religious discrimination against heirs to the throne marrying Catholics. These modest reforms were recommended in the Fabian Monarchy Commission of 2003, and have widespread support.

Evan Harris is now introducing his private members' Bill in the Commons. While it has no chance of becoming law, he has done well to prompt the government's move forward. A good deal of background, and relevant links to Hansard and other sources, about the recent history of this issue can be found in this earlier post about his Bill. It is good to see progress is being made, having been stalled by the extreme timidity on this issue of former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falcolner, in response to Alf Dubs' Bill and questions.

The Times had an excellent leader on this in December 2004, in support of my Fabian Executive colleague Alf Dubs raising this issue in his own Bill in the Lords:

The British constitution might always be puzzling. It should not take pride in being ostentatiously bonkers


The rules that surround the succession to the throne are among the most anachronistic and indefensible. The reform proposals would provide for new and far more relevant arrangements... it would be intriguing to see how any parliamentarian could publicly defend the present method of succession. "

So who could possibly oppose such a measure?

On Tuesday, I had an amusing phonecall which revealed the answer. The office of Mr Philip Davies, the MP who is Parliamentary Spokesman for The Campaign Against Political Correctness, got in touch to ask for some background on the issue given the Fabian Society's work on the issue.

I was happy to provide the relevant links from Next Left! I also asked for his position on the Bill. He would be against it. Was he against male primogeniture on principle? His office understood this to be the case. I was intrigued to know whether he saw the idea of giving first-born girls priority in the order of succession to second-born boys as political correctness going too far. I got the impression that this was the case, but an email inquiry asking for confirmation elicted only this:

Philip Davies will be talking the Royal Marriages Bill out between 9.30 and 2.30 on Friday. The precise fillibuster arguments he uses will be expressed then, but suffice to say he does not want it passed!

We will shortly found out.

The opposition frontbench rightly back a reform which should not be an issue of party political contention.

But what century do certain idiotic Tory backbenchers wish to live in?


BTLizard said...

Who could possibly oppose it? Well, me for one. Nobody should be wasting time trying to effect marginal improvements on an institution which we can do without. Abolition is the way to go.

DavidBrede said...

Any republican should be against any effort to legitimise the monarchy

Sunder Katwala said...

Of course, republican opposition to the Monarchy is a perfectly legitimate position.

I think it is highly questionable strategy for republicans to oppose sensible reforms to the Monarchy on the grounds that they wish it to be as ridiculous as possible. For a start, this has not practically helped republicans to advance. In practice, they end up becoming allies for the most conservative forces in this debate: what I call the 'Ming Vase' monarchists: those ardent supporters of the monarchy whose belief in it turns out to be so fragile that they believe small and sensible reforms will shatter it. Does anybody sincerely doubt that we will have a Monarchy in 25 years time? (I would say 50 years, and probably more than that). Does it really advance the republican case to oppose reforms - such as abolishing anti-catholic discrimination - within the existing institution?

The case for republicanism should be made honestly and on its merits.
The challenge for republicans is to build greater public support for their position. Attempts to do this have been a miserable failure in recent decades. The period since the Royal Marriage of 1981 has been enormously difficult for the Monarchy. What is striking in public opinion is that, while support for reform has risen, support for a republic has remained at almost exactly the same level, around one-fifth.

Republicans are democrats: the monarchy currently has a fair claim to democratic legitimacy, because it has strong majority public support. Perhaps it would help to have a referendum on it every 25 years or every 50 years: the Monarchists would be very likely to win it. (I suggested this in a Guardian piece back in 2004, and wrote again about this and a different piece in 2006).

DavidBrede said...

I think that a referendum would be a good idea as it would help crystallise peoples views of the institution.

The monarchy survives because the public see it as being a harmless thing led by a distinguished lady who has, lets face it, out performed most of the politicians she has seen come and go.

It may be different when she is succeeded by the hapless old buffer that is Prince Charles. Even the Royalists see the risk here and talk of skipping a generation.

The important thing about this is that it provides the opportunity for a real debate on the monarchy itself and make the public think about what happens when this second Elizabethan era comes to an end.

Anonymous said...


Fear is the main reason for the population of Britain (mostly England) believing and wanting a King or Queen.

Up until now we have always believed that our monarch would intercede to protect us from a over-authoritarian government or a outside force. We have seen with New Labour and the Lisbon Treaty that this is not now so.

I don't want a president Brown or Blair, any more than I would have wanted a President Thatcher or Major. There is nobody who is separate and independent from the law-makers.

If we must have this repeat of the Civil War let us get it over with and hope that we can come out with something better next time.

Arthur said...

Speaking as a Canadian, I prefer to have my (admittedly titular) head of state be statutorily prevented from being answerable to the bishop of Rome in any and every capacity. If the head of state could again happen to be a Catholic, and if Mr. Ratzinger completes a hard-right turn of the office he holds, would we want to have a monarch deal with issues of conscience of the kind: push my country towards conforming to Catholic dogma, abdicate or risk my soul?

Nope. The abdication thing in the past -- as good as George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon were for the Empire -- hasn't really been good for the institution. To risk the other options don't sound like a formula for guaranteeing good governance going into the future.

Don't do it Gordon.

Sunder Katwala said...


The proposal being considered is not that the Monarch could be a Catholic, but that the bar on their marrying a Catholic should go. (They can currently marry a Hindu, Sikh or Muslim without giving up a place in the line of succession, but not a papist). Would you really defend that?

The argument 'but what if the children were then Catholic' does not hold up, given that the requirement of the Monarch being a Protestant would stay.

As Alf Dubs said, this is a "breathtakingly modest" reform.

What do you think the Canadian view would be of the gender discrimination in the line of succession?