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Sunday, April 23, 2006

A belated Penblwydd Hapus Ma'am

This is an article I have written for today's Wales on Sunday:

On the occasion of the Queen’s 80th birthday we should acknowledge her achievements as the Head of State. She has succeeded in fulfilling her constitutional duties from a position of interested and involved neutrality and has used her role to promote Britain and British interests on the world stage to great effect.

It is only right though that we look to the future. The vast majority of people retire at 60 or 65; it is time that Elizabeth Windsor passed on the baton as well. Who or what takes her place though is another question.

Prince Charles has already declared himself as a political dissident. That is not a role he will be able to pursue as Monarch.

The British constitution is moving forward. We have regional government in the form of the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The emphasis is on devolving power, on giving people more control of their own destiny.

The House of Lords has become a largely appointed institution, with the hereditary peers effectively sidelined and disenfranchised. It is likely that we will soon be moving to an elected second chamber, in which the ability to lend money to the governing parties of the day ceases to be a factor in one’s eligibility for membership.

The idea that somebody can inherit great influence and wealth by virtue of their birth and use it to act as an arbitrator on the political process is no longer relevant or desirable. The logic of the present reforms is that the Head of State must be democratically accountable in much the same way as he or she is in the vast majority of the World’s democracies.

In accepting that principle we also accept that the role of Head of State must change as well. This is a position that can be filled by a political dissident such as Prince Charles, simply because an elected President will have democratic legitimacy and thus be able to lead a broad debate on values.

An elected Head of State could use their powers without fear of provoking a constitutional crisis. He or she would also act in a representative and ceremonial role as now, but with the authority of a democratic mandate and without the excessive cost of today’s monarchy.

The case for change is overwhelming. We should not let sentiment prevent us making it.

Two words for you Peter.

President Blair.

Put it down Peter, step away from the constitutional reform.
This is not an issue about personalities. If Tony Blair can win a mandate to be a President then so be it. We should not personalise constitutional issues.
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