The role of the monarchy in the UK is a controversial constitutional subject. Graham Smith, chief executive officer of Republic, believes that the monarchy should be replaced by a non-partisan, elected head of state. He explains the current role of our monarch and goes on to discuss how an elected head of state could better represent the voice of the people.
Every country has a head of state, whether it is a president or a monarch. In many countries the head of state is a different person to the head of government, who is often referred to as Prime Minister. This is true of monarchies like Britain, Sweden and Denmark as well as republics like Ireland, Germany and Poland.
What is a head of state for?
The phrase “ceremonial head of state” can be misleading. It suggests that the role is purely for decoration, when it is actually a crucial part of the political system.
Unlike our monarch, an elected head of state’s neutrality is prescribed by law, so they can be genuinely independent of government, acting as an impartial referee of the political system and an extra check on the power of government. If there’s a risk that a new law may breach fundamental rights or principles, for example, a head of state may refer it to the Supreme Court. Or if there is widespread public opposition to a bill, the president may consult the people in a referendum. These powers are rarely used, but vitally important in a democracy.
Aside from these formal functions, a president represents their country on the world stage and takes a leading role at times of national celebration, uncertainty or tragedy. In carrying out these parts of the job, an elected head of state knows they will be held to account for their words and actions, providing a strong incentive to be unifying and inclusive. Continue reading