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NEWSLETTER NO 144

Sunday 15 March 2015  


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This week:

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view,
particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.

All these newsletters will be catalogued on the website


POLITICS

  • The New Democratic
    Republican Politics


Peter Kellow, DRP Leader, writes

A huge percentage of the British people are offended by the outright injustice of having a hereditary head of state. The blatantly undemocratic nature of the monarchy is all too obvious.

The pernicious effect its undeserved privelege has on the whole of society from top to bottom is strongly felt.

But it is not enough just to think about abolition of the monarchy. Anti-monarchist feeling has been around for a long time but has never translated into a powerful movement. To make the cause worthwhile to the mass of people we need to think beyond abolition to the kind of society that we want to build.

In this we can draw on a long tradition of British republicanism that goes back 400 years. It was the British who played a major role in shaping the world republican movement theoretically and practically.

Republicanism is an even more ancient tradition. From the beginning its purpose was above all to prevent any leader having excessive power. The Republican solution to this problem was to separate power at the top so that no one individual could accumulate too much power.

The other great Republican invention is to proclaim that the state does not consist of a person or an office. The constitution is the state. In republics citizens have a powerful sense of their constitution. It is the constitution that protects the people from authoritarianism.

In Britain today we need more than ever that protection. Because of our lack of a republican constitution, successive Prime Ministers have assumed more and more dictatorial powers. As long ago as 1978 Lords Hailsham said that the office of Prime Minister is an "elective dictatorship". Since then things have worsened.

As they have assumed more and more power, recent governments have ridden roughshod over the House of Commons. This is as true of the present coalition as it was of New Labour and the Conservatives before that

As historian, David Starkey, said in December 2008, "The House of Commons, is now managed by the government totally, absolutely and completely."

This could not happen under a Presidential Republican constitution as power at the top has to be shared.

In theory, the British Prime Minister, shares power with the head of state, the monarch. But, because a hereditary monarch cannot exercise its considerable powers, all of its power goes to the Prime Minister.

This is a key reason, if not the only one, why we must replace the monarch with an elected President with full powers to balance those of the Prime Minister and Parliament.

But don't imagine, as many people object, the British republic will be much like the US republic. Five big differences are discussed below

Nowadays there is a widespread feeling that there is something radically wrong with British political life. We have lost faith in our politicians. Voter turnout is at an all time low. The major political parties have played out all their political ideas and in the process heaped destruction on the social, cultural and economic lives of many.

The sense of failure, hopelessness and lack of direction is all-pervading. The present coalition promises us nothing but blood, sweat and tears - and huge pickings for bankers

The Democratic Republican Party is the party of constitutional change but it must be more than that. It must have a full set of policies to challenge the old defunct parties.

We need a programme that recognises what is of immense value in our society and seeks to refashion it according to the republican principles of virtue, freedom, opportunity, prosperity and peace


CONSTITUTION

  • Five Major Ways the British Republic Will Not Be Like the USAs

When people think of a presidential republic (ie a republic where the president has real power and is not merely a ceremonial office), they customarily think of the USA republic. This is no doubt because it is the most familiar.

But the British republican constitution must be different in at least five major ways. This is not playing around at the edges. The differences are very significant and reflect British traditions.

A fundamental principle of republicanism is the Separation of Powers to prevent one office accumulating too much power - as is the case with the office of British Prime Minister.

The problem with the US constitution is that this principle is taken to an almost theatrical extreme

But the British Republic will differ from the American republic in a number of ways as follows:

  1. Campaign Funding. There must be limits set on funding of campaigns to avoid the razzamatazz of US elections and the huge sums spent, distorting the democratic process

  2. Cabinet. The cabinet, chosen by the elected President, must be elected MPs. In the US, this is forbidden as the congressmen cannot be in the cabinet

  3. Civil Service. In the US, the whole apparatus of government, the administration (broadly corresponding to the British civil service) is changed with each President. In Britain we must retain the existing system whereby the civil service is permanent and accommodates all complexions of politics.

    This means we will retain the overnight change of government that can occur on general election night rather than the three month Pre-Inaugural period between US presedential elections in November and formal Inaugural elections in February - necessary while the elected president forms his or her government

  4. Changing the Constitution. Changing the constitution must be significantly more difficult than passing a statute (at present in Britain they are subject to the same process) but it must not be so difficult that it can almost never happen. If this is the case, as in the US, the constitution can never adapt to changing circumstances.

    The US constitution has Article V which makes it extremely difficult to change the constitution, requiring almost all states and both legislatures to support the change. Why not change Article V? As part of the constitution it is subject to the same difficulties of change - a brilliant Catch 22.

  5. Iron Wall between Government and Finance. Global finance has government in its pocket through its financial power. This applies currently to all major nations. But the corruption of US politicians in more evident than here.

    All who serve in government, either as elected politians or middle and high ranking civil must be banned for life from ever taking a job in finane or multinational. This is how we create an iron wall between government and the power of finance.

The point about the cabinet requires special emphasis. As I said, the separation of powers in the US is almost theatrical. Where did theatre come from? Our very own constitution, of course, where the separation of executive and parliament is made clear by all the arcane ceremony involved with the Queen going to Parliament to read the “Queen’s Speech” at the opening of Parliament.

This whole business comes from the time around 1690 when the Whigs in devising the new power of the monarch wanted to make it absolutely clear to everyone that that of the monarch was limited and that it certainly could not mess with parliament any more as it had before.

The so-called British cabinet system was evolved under the Prime Minister-ship of Walpole in the early eighteenth century. It is the one we are familiar with whereby the members of the cabinet are drawn almost exclusively from sitting members of parliament.

On the contrary the US cabinet cannot under the constitution include sitting members of either house of Congress. The results of this are profound and undesirable.

You have to think about this in terms of career paths for a politician. In Britain, a type career path will mean getting elected as an MP and once you have that foot on the ladder the sky is the limit.

You can be appointed a junior minister, then a cabinet minister and so on. Under the British Republic, there is no reason why we should not maintain this cabinet system, the only difference between the Republic and present system being that the Head of State is directly elected by the people and then forms his or her cabinet from the legislative bodies

There is still separation of powers between executive and legislature but individuals can naturally move between the two. This is vital to retain because it means that an ordinary MP, having his or her eye on the chance of advancing their career in cabinet, thinks about the interests of the executive at the same time as that of the legislature

There is good constitutional separation but a continuity of career path for a budding politician

In the US, on the other hand, this continuity of career path does not exist. Having reached congress, a member has virtually reached the summit of their career path. They can serve on congressional committees – a vital function but not one that leads very far for the individual. On they can consol themselves by taking bribes - an all too frequent occurrence

If you put yourself in the position of a member of congress you can see why their main aim might become to harass the president and make life difficult for him or her. This is what you are seeing in extreme form at present with Republican members edging towards seditious or even treasonable activity to undermine President Obama.

When the President gets congress to back him or her, this often involves horse trading of a very undignified type. This is because the member of congress is not concerned about looking like a responsible national executive politician because unlike in the British system, that career path is not open to them.

This trading between the President and a member of congress frequently leads to what is called “pork barrel” politics where the member votes with the President in exchange for an initiative, in their own constituency - ususally involving a hefty price tag. And so to serve the national interest, local interests have to be bought off.

This, of course, can still happen with the British system and in one way you could say that kind of politics is democracy at work.

A wise constitution has to try to channel the efforts of honest and good men and women for the best. Not an easy thing to pull off. But the observations here about the makeup of cabinet address the real human problem of how a career can evolve to satisfy natural ambition

The current British system does not do this well because it is too easy for the Prime Minister to dominate parliament, Because the effective head of state, the prime minister, emerges directly from parliament, the party system rules all depriving the people a say in who shall be leader of the country.

The complete lack of a separation of powers delivers too much power into the hands the prime minister, making both MPs and voters feel powerless.


GENERAL ELECTION

  • Republican Candidates for General Election 2015

Well, the response to my call to launch the Democratic Republican Party into electoral space has been a bit slow to take off.

But I think I speak to all members and readers of the newsletter when I thank the two who did contribute: Bob Wiggin and William Gladys

I know there is still plenty of time to donate but donations attract more donations.

The target of £10000 was never realistic but there was no reason to set a lower limit.In reality £1000 would give us two candidates and that would achieve what we want.

What matters is the leverage just two candidates gets us. It is all about the name of the party going into millions of homes and so people know we are there

The numbers of party members and supporters is only in the hundreds now, not because the party is not appealing to a lot of people but simply because they have not heard of us. Surveys show around 20% of the population want a republic at this time

Once we start to get the name out there, we will get to a tipping point and the snowball effect will start rolling

With hundreds of members we can start to operate true democracy within the party.

Donate here

Six people around a table cannot mean a consensus

Six hundred people in a hall, or even sixty, is a feeling and a unity of sentiment, even a culture. They don't all have to agree on everything but everyone can see the democratic process at work

Six people around a table then work with awareness of the many they represent for every committee member has to be voted in.

When we get there I can no longer be accused of running everything - which will be a relief!

But we can only get there with a substantial membership

This is why we need to get this election appeal up to £1000.

The effect of your donation will be magnified a hundred times at this General Election time

If everyone gave even £5 or £10 we would be easily over this target to make a difference in British politics.

Give whatever you can afford today

It is that simple.

Remember the wise words of the great architectural writer and social theorist, John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

"Half the evil of this world comes from
people not knowing what they do like.
All people enjoy giving money away,
but they don't know that.
They rather think they like keeping it.
And they do keep it under this false impression,
often to their great discomfort
."*

*John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, Volume I, Page 57

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