Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 12 March 2012

You can't be a monarchist and a meritocrat

We are now in the build up to the celebrations of The Queen's 60th Jubilee. I was actually out of the country during the 50th celebrations in 2002 so I missed Brian May playing guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace etc. As a republican this stuff generally leaves me cold.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my view that the head of our state should be elected. Indeed it is clear from polling that I am in a minority.

What I do find strange however is when I come across people who are clearly in favour of a meritocracy and improved social mobility supporting the principle of an hereditary head of state. And there seem to be quite a lot of them judging by discussions I have witnessed on Twitter recently.

Make no mistake, these positions are incompatible. You cannot credibly be a meritocrat whilst simultaneously supporting the Monarchy in its current form. It is not just because of the inherent contradiction between wanting positions to be awarded on merit and allowing someone to achieve the pinnacle of our public life through who gave birth to them. Even more pertinent is how the Monarchy and the aristocracy prop up our entire class system which works against this very idea. With the Queen or King at the top, a shining beacon of privilege of birth, it is always going to be more difficult to have a society where people achieve positions on the basis of merit.

At last year's Lib Dem Spring Conference, Nick Clegg made a speech in which he declared that "Birth should never be destiny". I wholeheartedly agree with him. Of course his meritocratic conviction did not extend to declining to attend the wedding of the second in line to the throne a couple of months later.

Some may say this is churlish of me. Maybe it is a bit. But there are always grounds for claiming that certain comments about the Monarchy are "disrespectful" or "mean spirited". I will continue to speak out in this way until we properly start to recognise how our support as a country for a system that rewards birth over achievement is damaging us.

This post was first published on Liberal Conspiracy.


Matt said...

There also seems to be a link between supporting the monarchy and xenophobia - it seems be a predisposion to believing an accident of birth should be the single most important factor in your life. Doesn't apply to all monarchists (or indeed racists) of course.

Jennie said...

The mistake you make is the assumption that the Monarch is at the pinnacle of our public life.

Anyway, who are you to deny my cognitive dissonance? Are you saying you have NEVER held mutually contradictory opinions on anything?

Still, insulted as I was by your post, it paled into insignificance by the implication made by the first commenter. Thanks, guys!

asquith said...

What is of interest, though, is that there is more inequality and less social mobility in the USA, which was allegedly founded upon equality of opportunity.

They don't have any lords and ladies, but by my definition their class system is more solid and entrenched than that existing in this country and other European monarchies.

Is it the case that some form of inherited titlism is a protection against the grossest inequalities (and the idea prevalent in the USA that we 100% make our own luck and if you're poor it's your own damn fault) or is it just a coincidence? I don't know, but the case hasn't been made that abolishing the monarchy would do anything meaningful to move this country in a fairer direction.

I didn't become a republican, I don't carry any great torch for the monarchy but I see nothing to be gained by abolishing it. The great unjust privilige we have is religion, not just the established church and the bishops sitting in the Lords but the whole "respect"/cringing that exists in our culture towards religious figures of all demoninations.

OP said...

The logic of the argument only stands if it is based on a false assumption, as Jennie says, albeit not the assumption of state hierarchy, but that elections automatically confer legitimacy.

They don't. Legitimacy is the product of good government, and even though they may still produce the best-possible government elections habitually don't produce good governments. So to expect an elected head of state to be any sort of improvement is half-baked nonsense.

Election introduces the principle of legitimacy, but without regular elections this eliminates the absolute representative accountability which exists now.

But a secular liberal state also requires a non-partisan figurehead, and this mitigates against a meaningful presidential system.

The examples of France and the US where no separation between the head of state and the head of government exists are bad enough, but the alternatives of national presidents with no offical political powers show how individuals can manipulate the system at the greater expense of the population. I'll only mention Russia in passing.

So unless you're campaigning for a random comedy populist candidate like Harry Hill then perhaps you can name an example of someone outside of the current succession who you think could and would do the job.

I think you need to ask what standard you'd hold an elected HoS to - personally I think it's important that people like Lord Ashcroft or Tony Blair are excluded from having their names put forward.

The thought of that reality makes me shudder!

Lady Virginia Droit de Seigneur said...

You can't be a Lib Dem and a meritocrat either - the LD's obsession with increasing tax and servility to the EU excludes them from being such.

Anonymous said...

I am a meritocratic and also a monarchist. So I guess you must be wrong then....

Anonymous said...

"With the Queen or King at the top, a shining beacon of privilege of birth, it is always going to be more difficult to have a society where people achieve positions on the basis of merit."

Can you explain Denmark and Sweden?

It sounds like your argument boils down to the particular symbolic interpretation that people assign to the British Royal Family, which is an issue of emotion rather than logic. People might disagree with you, and think that the good things that it symbolizes, like national community and an awareness of history both good and bad, are more significant. Symbols don't have an objective, logical meaning.