A NEW CONSTITUTION
To End the Excessive Power of Prime Ministers
CIVIC REPUBLICAN MANIFESTO 2009
For Great Britain
VIRTUE FREEDOM ASPIRATION WEALTH PEACE
DEBT FREE MONEY
To End the Misery of Debt Based Money
United Republic of Great Britain
Silver on White
REDISCOVERING BRITISH CIVIC REPUBLICANISM
JOHN MILTON Poet
A Programme of Civic and Constitutional Republicanism
"A republic is an empire of laws, not of men"
James Harrington, British Republican Writer, 1656
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The sections can be read in any order but it is best to start with the three INTRODUCTION sections.(Grayed out pages have not yet been posted)
Non-aggressive Foreign Relations
Authority to Create Constitution
Regions and Federation (to be completed)
Crime and Penal reform
Cultural and Intellectual Life
Virtue and Happiness
Monetary Policy (to be completed)
Existing MPC and FSA
First British Republic
History of Republicanism
Problems of Current System
General History of Republicanism in Britain
First Republic Period in Britain
A deep, dark malaise and sense of distrust has descended over British political life.
It originates from the centres of political power. The British people are alert to the bad judgment and insincerity of their leaders, but what they can do about it is not so obvious.
Voter turnout is at an all time low. Political sleaze appears endemic. Government spin and lies are the order of the day.
As we near the end of the zeros decade, the brief flash of optimism that accompanied the rise of New Labour is already looking like history.
And yet we should be feeling better than we are. We know that. We should be doing better than we are.
Some people have got rich under New Labour just as some people always get rich under any government. But many more have become poor in terms of their quality of life and even poorer in terms of the capital wealth they have. Too many of the new jobs created are non-serious, offering no real promise of a future. The pot at the end of the rainbow represented by the asset of people's personal property, if they have one, is looking day by day more like a mirage. The debts they have accumulated on the other hand to pay just to keep going are not in doubt. They will not go away.
Private debt has surpassed a staggering, record-smashing 1.4 trillion. Most people have lumbered themselves with debt just to have reasonable life style in a period in which real wage rises have relatively stagnated. The government response? It shows how much confidence we have in the economy!!!
Citizens living in private rented property have little security of tenure and the private landlords themselves are often in a dangerous financial state and so they can offer no reassurance for their tenants. Successive governments have depleted the stock of public housing to a point where it is there is a huge underprovision and a desperate need.
Fifty years ago the proud boast was that in Britain thanks to a civilised welfare state there were no beggars. In 21st century Britain a roof over your head cannot be guaranteed. In the 19th century people who could not pay their debts were sent to debtors' prisons. Now we often throw them out onto the streets.
The split between the haves and have-nots follows, above all, generational lines.
To those that already have (mainly the older generation), more shall be given . From those who have little, or nothing, or only debt (mainly the younger generation), more shall be taken away.
The following is the promise that we make to the young people of England and Wales
A whole generation is being betrayed. And no one ever even begins to make the connection between the sense of hopelessness and the growing problem of alcohol and drug abuse.
For those who fall on the affluent side of the fence, the response of many of them is to want to get out. Hundreds of thousands of them have brought properties abroad and many of these leave permanently. TV programmes promoting A Place In The Sun constantly pander to this desire for escape. For many Britons their dream is to leave the place of their birth.
Their disaffection is partly due to the parlous state of the public services and facilities. Comparisons of our transport system, health service or education with other European nations invariably come off badly for the Kingdom. Seemingly every news broadcast bring a tale of another cut, another service we cannot afford. It is odd that just as our politicians inform us of how well off we are, at the same time they never stop telling us about what we cannot afford.
Meanwhile the banking system upon which we rely has lost billions of pounds on unwise investment strategies and it is becoming ever clearer that it is the British people who will be picking up the tab. The Government machinery for regulating the banks to protect us has failed abjectly.
We feel we should be living in an era of peace, but war is moving more and more to the top of the agenda again. Our soldiers are battle-weary, over-stretched and under- equipped. The government demands the impossible, the relentless and the unending from the brave men and women that serve in the armed forces. Afghanistan we are told is a twenty year war. But a twenty year war is a war with no end.
We are told we are under threat from Islamic terrorists. But we have practically no real strategy either at home or abroad for dealing with this threat. As we attempt interventions, so our credibility stock declines in the world. It is another problem without objective and without end.
Meanwhile, the old bogie of the Russian menace starts to rear its head and what do we do? We place missile bases in the Czech Republic pointed at Russia. And why are we taking this kind of action? To protect supplies of resources upon which bad planning has made us dependent. America is in the forefront of this crusade for securing resources, but ominously a unified Germany is starting to flex its undoubted military and industrial might again.
Following the demise of the old Soviet Union, people in the 90s were seriously talking about The End Of History. But history now, it is clear, is coming back with a vengeance.
We suffer from financial insecurity at home. We suffer from military insecurity abroad. We are told it is all down to "global forces" outside our control. This is the message of our political leaders. We have to grin and bear it - take it all on the chin.
The truth of the matter is that the two biggest problems that we have - threat of financial meltdown and threat of international terrorism - were both brought about by western governments - and the UK and USA are the most to blame.
It is Blair/Brown in the UK and Bush in the USA that are the most responsible for letting unregulated greed in the banking sector rip and for fostering terrorism through ill-judged aggressive policies.
Brown tells us repeatedly that the problems come from abroad and are outside of our control. This is a lie. Brown played a great part in manufacturing our problems. The problems and dangers we face were avoidable.
But could it just be that the root of what is wrong lies not simply in that the politicians we have are misguided, or just plain bad, but that the political system we have plays a great part in producing bad decisions?
We need to understand how and why this is the case and in doing so to understand the reforms that we need to make to our system of government. This is a task for a British Republican movement.
* * *
A primary aim of any Republican Constitution (which means the constitutions of the vast majority of Modern democratic states) is to guard against the possibility of too much power accruing in the hands of the Executive. This refers us directly to the main problem with the constitutional arrangements in the Kingdom. The Prime Minister as the Head the Executive, has far too much power*. The result is a malignly distorted polity.
The Prime Minister of Great Britain is far and away the most powerful constitutional office in the democratic world. Often the British Prime Minister is criticised for behaving like a President and this was a criticism made of Prime Minister Blair. But this comment reveals the depth of ignorance there is in the Kingdom of the real nature of Republicanism. The US President, for example, has nothing like the power within their own Constitution that the British Prime Minister has within theirs. The office of British Prime Minister has been correctly called an "elective dictatorship"*
The reason for the difference is that the American Constitution determines that there is a Separation of Powers between the Executive office, i.e. the President, and the Legislature, i.e. Congress. The corresponding powers in Britain of the Prime Minister and Parliament do not enjoy such a separation for the very constitution compounds them together and the effect is that the Prime Minister (together with his or her Cabinet) has almost complete control over what the government does.
The British Executive makes laws, creates new taxes, decides public expenditure, enters into foreign treaties, virtually as it wishes. It can even make war as it wishes. There are, of course, votes in the House of Commons on its actions, but in reality the Executive is seldom restrained from doing what it wishes to do.
* * *
This weakness in the British constitutional arrangements tended to be of lesser importance in the past, for Prime Ministers ruled much more through consensus and through their Cabinet. However, it only took one headstrong Prime Minister to be elected, who was prepared to ruthlessly exploit to the full the power the office gave them, to permanently shatter the old consensus.
This was Prime Minister Thatcher in the 1980s who dispensed with One Nation Old Toryism replacing it with a No Society New Rightism for which the motto might have been "Look after number one. The forces of the economic jungle rule".
Industries were wrecked, the public services run down and the public servants that ran them vilified. The one off natural gift to the nation of North Sea oil was squandered on tax breaks and compensating for and obscuring the failure of government policies.
All this was possible because of the excessive power that is built into the office of Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher even gave her name to a new -ism, such was her personal dominance.
Thatcherism altered the face of British politics setting a libertarian agenda that no subsequent leader of any party has been able to escape. The present Prime Minister Brown invites her for cups of tea at No 10 and Chequers.
Thatcherism casts a long shadow, but leaders are still trying to use it as a light.
The Sex Pistols sang in 1977 just before the advent of the Thatcher government:
There is no future
Thirty years on this message resounds again. For many it never stopped. We are still seeking that future.
* * *
The problem of excessive prime ministerial power arises because according to the Constitution Executive power lies with the Monarch. However, the Monarch in a democratic age is unable to exercise its power.
No one will now accept that someone should have political power by virtue of birth (or marriage). The Monarch consequently has lost all authority and the real constitutional power that they have flows to the office that does have authority - that of Prime Minister.
For the majority of the British people, Republicanism simply means an absence a Monarch, but this is not what Republicanism in its original, classic sense is about. The adoption of a non-hereditary Head of State is a result of the application of essential principles of Republicanism proper. The Monarchy is only of secondary concern.
Because, within the United Kingdom, Republicanism is so often equated with a mere absence of Monarchy, it is also thought that, in order to create a British Republic, it would be sufficient to replace the Monarch as Head of State with a ceremonial elected President.
This policy, if ever enacted, would be a disaster, for all the problems that derive from an Excessive Prime Ministerial Power would remain intact. We should not have a Republican Constitution in the true sense, in that basic Republican principles, such as the Separation of Powers, would not be incorporated. We would end up by entrenching the Excessive Power of the Prime Minister even deeper in the body politic.
Neither is there any chance that such a move would have any appeal for the British people. The simple removal of the Monarch as a non-functioning Head of State would be seen as a major upheaval and so people would want to see a proportionate gain. The swapping of a hereditary ceremonial Head of State for an elected one could not be interpreted as a such a gain. The benefit to the political system would be zero.
Also, the type of candidates who would be interested in the post of a ceremonial president should give cause for concern. They are likely to be third rate political figures who recognise that they do not have the weight to count in the parliamentary world.
There will never be many Britons who want to support a movement that seeks to install such people in the roles of powerless ceremonial President.
And what foreign statesmen would respect such a figure? At present, they at least defer to the Queen, even if they must be frustrated that they have to spend their time talking to someone who has no power and miniscule influence.
* * *
It is a strange fact that the country that did so much to develop the theory and practice of Modern Republicanism has remained until now a Constitutional Monarchy.
In terms of contribution to the modern theory of Republicanism, only Italy of the Renaissance can be put alongside Britain. In terms of development of the modern practice only the United States of the Enlightenment period can be compared with Britain.
Of course, we are subject to a steady stream of propaganda from the media that denies the importance of Republicanism in the history of our country. It never mentions the Britons who fought for and sometimes died for for the Republican ideal. TV historians take away the real human excitement in the story of Britain by concentrating almost exclusively on the monarchy.
Part of the explanation for our not having a Republican constitution must lie with the fact that England established the first Modern Republican nation state (as opposed to city state) more than a century before any other and so was, perhaps, too fast off the blocks. The period of the First English Republic (1649-1660) was the middle of the seventeenth century and allegiance in Western Europe to the idea Monarchy was still too ingrained in the popular and cultural imagination.
But a more important reason why the First Republic failed was that there was no proper independent executive. Parliament took all power onto itself effectively dispensing with an independent executive. (There was technically an executive in the "Council of State" but it was stuffed with MPs and so hardly independent of Parliament.) There was the interim period of the Protectorate with Oliver Cromwell as Protector but this was never constitutionally properly resolved.
The net result was a void in the office of the executive which could only be filled by a restoration of the monarch. The happened in 1660 when Charles II took the throne. However, although the constitutional reality of the English Republic was dead for the political reality lived on.
The emphasis here of the "political reality " is necessary for some essential gains made in the short life of the Republic (particularly the Commonwealth period, 1649-1653) were never reversed. This is why is it right to talk of the great influence of Britain on Republican practice, as well as the theory, for although it had formally relinquished its Republican status, the Kingdom of Great Britain constitutionally continued to be a Republic in many respects.
It was these Republican aspects of the British Constitution that so interested one of the writers most revered by Republicans, the French Enlightenment thinker, Baron Montesquieu. His book, The Spirit of Laws, was of major influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States who framed its Constitution, and so British "Republican" practice, via Montesquieu, passed into the new world Republic.
What Montesquieu identified in the British constitution of the eighteenth century was a tripartite system of Monarchy, Parliament and Judiciary. He generalised what he saw into a corresponding tripartite system of "Powers" of Government: the "Executive", the "Legislature" and the "Judiciary". This he also detected in former Republics notably, the most renowned of all, the Ancient Roman Republic, where a roughly equivalent tripartite system existed.
Having identified the three Powers he said the connection between them could be characterised in two ways:
The whole purpose of these principles is to prevent what he called "tyranny". We would call it "dictatorship". He argued that only by separating out the different Powers, or "Functions" of Government could we prevent a tyrant or dictator taking over everything.
He has been proved right in practice for wherever Separation of Powers has been enacted it has been difficult or impossible for a power hungry individual to accumulate too much power for themselves and where there have been dictators there has always been an absence of true independence between the different Powers.
Which brings us back to the United Kingdom. The system that Montesquieu observed in the British of his day was essentially the same as it is now. However, it operates quite differently because of the change in the authority of the Monarch that has already been referred to.
The Monarch of the eighteenth century still retained a great deal of power. People were still able to accept that a hereditary Monarch could have power and so the balance between the separate powers that Montesquieu considered so essential to prevent tyranny operated. However, since that time the ability of the Monarch to exercise real power and influence has declined and since the start of the last century has been virtually nonexistent.
The results of this situation Montesquieu would have predicted. All the power of the Monarch (the Executive in Montesquieu's system) has been compounded with the Legislature, for in the British constitution the House of Commons and the Cabinet are not truly separated such is the power of the Cabinet over procedures in the Commons.
This is the fundamental problem with the British system. There is in effect no separation between the Executive and the Legislature.
Fortunately, there is a separation between the Executive and the Judiciary still, and this fact is the main protection that citizens have against an all powerful Executive.
A huge amount of the persistent problems that bedevil British politics flow from this fundamental defect in the constitutional arrangements. If one institution or office or government has too much power, the result is never good government.
The only solution is to have a proper Republican Constitution which will permanently install a Separation of Powers and an adequate system of Checks and Balances.
* * *
In order to create a Republican Constitution it will be necessary to replace the current the Head of State, the Monarch, with the elected office of President - but a President with real power as exists in the United States or France.
The power of the President will then be separated from that of the Legislature which will then achieve an independence from the Executive it does not have at present. So a division of power will be embedded in the Constitution and the problem of one office accumulating excessive power as we have at present cannot reoccur.
The ways the whole polity and society will benefit from this change are worked out in other pages here, but suffice it to say, these benefits will be radical and transforming of our lives and our society.
All the ills that are referred to in the first part of this piece can at last be properly addressed. Solutions can and will be found. The sense of despair, hopelessness and impotence will be replaced by a new spirit of confidence, resolution and fulfillment.
For the first time in a long time, the pursuit and achievement of real security and happiness for all our people can be put on the agenda.
* * *
It is often said that it is not possible to have a Republican Constitution in Britain because of the affection the British people have for the Monarchy. Reading the British press you might think that for "affection" it would be better to say "prurient obsession". But, nevertheless, it is true to say that the Monarchy has a powerful presence in British society and culture.
Furthermore, good does come from the Monarchy particularly where its members take an independent, even anti-orthodox, line. The Prince of Wales, although seldom taken seriously for his efforts, has made real contributions with, for instance, The Prince's Trust which has given many young people a chance they would not otherwise have had and The Prince's Foundation which has been a bastion for the benefits of a more traditional approach to the built environment.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that the Monarchy represents privilege and class distinctions that are damaging. But it is not clear that the straightforward abolition of the Monarchy would go far to unpick many such perceived ills in our society. There are those that feel acutely the injustice of the tax advantages that the Monarchy enjoys. But these advantages can be simply abolished leaving the members of the royal family taxed like any other citizen.
In any case we cannot found the new Republic on bitterness and resentment. Republicans cannot present themselves to the people as a disgruntled band of anti-royalists.
In any case we cannot blame the royal family for the wholesale betrayal of the interests of our nation as we can the political machinery.
It is because the fundamental problem lies with the power of the Executive that the constitutional position of the Monarchy has to be abolished.
The Monarchy might remain as a disestablished institution without power (just as the Church of England will be disestablished under the new secular regime). In this would also abandon any state or official ceremonial roles, those that it currently performs passing to the President.
This will, of course, mean that the Monarchy will loose its status. It will have no special privileges. It will have no special role. It will be sidelined completely from the political order. It will not matter, except to the degree that people will want it to matter. Its currency will decline as it is declining anyway.
It will be up to the members of the disestablished Monarchy themselves to find a new role in the new situation - assuming always that they wish to have one.
The members of the ex-Monarchy will enjoy the right of all citizens of the Republic to put on silly hats and called themselves daft names. And the idea of pretending to a throne is meaningless in this day and age, especially when there is no throne.
With the creation of the Republic its offices of state will naturally assume centre stage. The President will occupy Buckingham Palace as the Presidential Palace and will receive foreign visiting statespersons. All official pomp and ceremony will revolve around the new republican state apparatus.
* * *
ClassicalRepublicanism is the oldest of the three and it was this that dominated republican thought in the period of the First Republic. Classical republicanism represents the subtlest take on how society and constitutions actually work and is always going to have more appeal for most Britons than the third type: anti-monarchical republicanism. Most people, if they start to think about this form, soon lurch back into being of the second type, for if you really have no aim outside of depriving a few rich people of their privileges, it does not seem worth all the bother.
It is a tragedy that the powerful all-embracing arguments of classical republicanism gradually lost their pre-eminence to anti-Monarchism, to the point now that such arguments are little known or understood. This deep well of British and European thinking must at last be explored and allowed to occupy its traditional rightful central place on the map of British politics.
We must not allow the word "republican" to be monopolised by those who call only for the absence of something. There is a positive ideal with deep roots in our country's soil that better deserves the word. And this ideal is capable of stirring a great mass of people.
* * *
The people of nations that have adopted republicanism have a different image of themselves from those that still live in monarchies. There is a different sense of pride in their country.
This is not to say the people of Britain do not have pride in Britain but this feeling is not well focused. It is difficult in the twenty-first century for people to fully identify with an archaic regime. It is said that the Monarchy provides an emblem for national feeling but, if it does, it does so inadequately and inconsistently. We are often referred to as citizens, but we are not citizens, we are subjects. It does not feel right.
Identifying with a Republic means above all identifying with the Constitution for it is the Constitution that defines not just the nation state but the place of its citizens within it. Awareness and understanding of the Constitution is intrinsic to being a citizen in a Republic and it is this that defines are rights and our obligations.
Currently most politicians define our country as a democracy. They love the word but rarely have a real understanding of what it means. Consequently they have no understanding of the problems inherent in democracy and it is often regarded as so much of a "sacred cow" that we are not supposed to believe there are any. But there are.
An inherent problem with democracy is that it creates a very short time frame within which decisions are made. This time frame corresponds to the electoral cycle of five years or so. But the nation has interests that extend over a much longer period than that. And it has permanent interests.
In this way democracy distorts decision making for the worse. Everywhere short termism is evident. The area of transport and infrastructure is an obvious example where there is no long term plan. The dire results are everywhere to be seen.
There is a huge ignorance in the Kingdom about what republicanism means, but one of the essential points to appreciate is that republicanism introduces a stable flywheel at the heart of government that resists rapid change. And equally importantly it enables enduring courses to be set.
Republicanism is anathema to the holders of the excessive power, of the kind that is conferred on the winners in the Kingdom's democratic contests, for it would limit that power. But that excessive power lies at the root of the country's problems. Only republicanism can successfully challenge it.
Republicanism and democracy are not antipathetic to one other. But they are not the same thing. Just as rain and sun are not the same thing - but we need both. In a modern state republicanism and democracy are both necessary. We need to balance one against the other. We need to balance short term democratic needs with long term republican goals.
* * *
The founding of a Second Republic in Britain will enable the release of the energies that are currently suppressed, and ground down, by the negative effects of short termism, and excessive power in the hands of a few.
Republicanism, in its Modern form, was born out of the Humanism of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Some have, from time to time, challenged the legacy of the Enlightenment, but no society, that has developed without its principles, has ever been a society where many would want to live. The Enlightenment philosophy of Humanism goes back, like Republicanism itself, to antiquity. And Humanism is central to the republican quest.
Humanism will find a new congenial home in the new Republic. We can once more return to the fine lasting values that have always been a part of this country - but that a malign polity has sought to deny.
We do believe in society. And we do believe in a society where justice, wellbeing, peace, reward, achievement and freedom are not just words. The new Constitution will put in place institutional structures that will guarantee the promotion of these ideals.
The resulting settlement will balance our existing Democracy against the new Republicanism. It will balance fairness and concern for individuals with encouragement of ambition and the recognition of merit. The Christian ethic, which still today informs our sensibilities and our morality, will ensure we help the needy and protect the vulnerable. The aspirations that motivate so many will be given full scope for realisation. Individual striving is the engine of the society. Personal compassion is the glue of the community.
We can take the opportunity to revisit our habitual responses to the difficult questions concerning the management of vice - drugs, alcohol, gambling and prostitution - and concerning punishment for crime.
And top of the agenda must be a reassessment of how we run the public services, for in our times these inevitably represent an enormous part of the nation's daily effort and resource. We must rediscover respect for those that have dedicated their working lives to such services. Professionalism and commitment must rule over voter directed targets, faddish slogans and endless reorganisations.
Republicanism is about maturity and responsibility. It is about conservativism with a small "c". And it is about the Future with a big "F".
It is about citizenship of the nation, but it is grand enough to project this sense of citizenship onto the world. We look to our own interests, but never see these in isolation, as if, in order to protect and advance them, we have to do battle against all and sundry.
The dangerous direction that the western powers are currently taking in trying protect access to world resources, through might and military muscle, is not compatible with the Humanism to which we subscribe. Ultimately this strategy is self destructive. History firmly tells us this. If we do not know that, then we know nothing.
Neither should we be afraid of other cultures and their different ways of life. If we only knew it, most of them in the past have brought something to our own culture. Something that helped us to mature and make us fit to join the community of nations. We should not be afraid of the biggest platitude of all: what we have in common with other peoples is much greater than the differences. To understand this is to embrace Enlightened Humanism.
The desperate plight, that so many of the poorer people on the planet find themselves in, cannot be ignored. Their problem is our problem. Only extreme blinkered short termism could persuade us otherwise.
When we look to the Future, we mean the Future not just tomorrow or next year. This extended, expansive view will be intrinsic to our Republic. We live for ourselves; we live for our children; we live for all.
Everyone knows the Second Republic will come. There are those in denial. Well, OK. But we cannot wait for them.
We will never forget that this is OUR world and OUR time. There is no time to loose. We have lost too much already. We must embrace it. We must take it.
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JOHN MILTON (1608-1674) BRITISH REPUBLICAN. Poet, Prose polemicist. Historian, Scholar, Renaissance Humanism. Second only to Shakespeare among English poets. Author Paradise Lost - greatest epic poem in the English language. Author Republican tract The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649). Served in Commonwealth Council of State Pamphleteer in the cause of religious and civil liberty. Imprisoned for beliefs.
In spite of his towering stature John Milton has never appeared an any national bank notes or postage stamps.
Comprising the flags of Wales, Britia, Anglia, Scotland and London
* The power of the PM is stated clearly, if softly, on the 10 Downing website. "The Prime Minister is the head of the UK Government and is ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of Government. As head of the UK Government the Prime Minister also oversees the operation of the civil service and Government agencies, appoints members of the cabinet, and is the principal Government figure in the House of Commons policy". If you read that statement quite literally, as you no doubt should, it is clear that the PM covers all Executive and Legislative decisions. The terms "policy and decisions of Government" and "government agencies" are all inclusive.
*It is not that Republics can’t change should the long term will of the people desire it, but that on fundamental constitutional issues such as this they only change gradually. Republicans are conservatives (with a small “c”).
*This practice has lead over the last few years to an intense crisis for the bank buying the "security" often did not know how well the loan was secured. In a huge number of cases this has been not very well and so the banks who bought the "securities" were taken for billions, such is the level of their incompetence and greed.
*See P25 The Grip Of Death by Michael Rowbotham published 1997.And up to date figures for April 2008 show HBoS holds just 6% capital against debt "assets". The figure for Barclays is a measly 5.1%. (Moneyweek 2 May 2008. p.4). Exactly how much of this "capital" represents solid "non-toxic" capital assets is a question many would want to ask. The banks themselves are unlikely to know.