Recently the performance of the Prince of Wales has led to speculation about the possibility of the UK having an elected President when Queen Elizabeth II dies or abdicates, instead of having him succeed as is his right. Indeed, a YouGov poll in March 2003 showed that 21% of the population were now in favour of the UK having an elected President. This level of Republicanism has not been felt since the reign of Queen Victoria.
If you wish to become President of the United Kingdom the first major hurdle you encounter is the fact that the post does not exist. The reason for this is that Britain still remains a constitutional monarchy, or, in other words, the head of state is a hereditary king or queen. As a result this post is not advertised or available to be filled at present.
However, there is some good news for any potential Presidential aspirations. When the Labour Party returned to power in 1997 they started to reform Parliament's upper chamber which had, until that point, been full of hereditary and life peers. The reforms that Labour Party introduced saw the start of the eventual removal of all the hereditary peers1. So there is an outside chance that they might get rid of all heriditaries in positions of power, up to and including the Royal Family. However, this is not a policy of any of the leading UK political parties at the moment.
Creating the Position
Obviously the first step you may need to take to become President is to clear the way for the post. This is impossible whilst there is still a constitutional monarch living at a rather nice property in West London; handy for the theatres, shops and (most importantly in you new role) not too far for the Prime Minister to come and grovel to you for support2.
Before 2002, when the Princess Royal faced a criminal conviction3, the last major member of the Royal Family to have a criminal record was Charles I in 1649. The outcome of Charles's crime was that he lost his head and Oliver Cromwell in effect became the first President of England in the period of Commonwealth during which the Royal Family lived in exile in France. However, this first, and so far only4, attempt to live without the shadow of monarchy was short-lived in terms of the UK's history, ending in 1660.
Australia are seemingly constantly having referenda about whether to retain the Queen as their head of state; however, the UK are referendum-phobes. The last nation-wide referendum in the UK was even one on an action already taken by the government, showing how referendum phobic the UK is. It was whether we should remain within the Common Market, later known as the European Economic Community and now the European Union. However, in the late 1990s referenda were held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about having elected regional assemblies. All of which proved successful, though the end results showed various degrees of approval.
The next referendum, or so we are promised, in the UK will be on whether we should join the Euro. This, as we have been told since the Labour party made this promise while seeking election in 1997, will occur when the time is right; we are still awaiting developments. The problem is that this was also promised by the Conservatives in the 1980s.
Therefore, if you trying to become President of the UK, you will need to get the apathetic nation to initially turn up and vote and secondly you don't want to be the first person to lose a nation-wide referendum in the UK5; so make sure the time is right.
This may sound like a bloodless option after the coup d'etat and British phobia of referenda. However, you have neither counted on any rebellion of your own backbenchers, nor of whatever is left of the House of Lords.
If you are embarking on getting rid of the monarchy through the legislative route, you will not be the first to consider this option. At various times in British history, especially during the reigns of various unpopular monarchs, there have been republican movements in the UK. These have had supporters within the House of Commons who have raised questions and started debates in the chamber. But as Queen Elizabeth II has successfully celebrated her Golden Jubilee all of these debates have obviously resulted in nothing.
In order to get this process moving, you will have to attack when a monarch is incredibly unpopular. This move almost succeeded during the reign of Queen Victoria, who hid away in Scotland during her long period of mourning for her late husband Albert, but for the intervention of her staff and Royalist supporters in Parliament the UK would already have a President.
The second thing you'd need to do is to ensure that you have a majority of the Houses of both Commons and Lords on your side. With the eradication of hereditary peers (who were likely to back the monarchy as part of the old boy network) this might now prove easier than in the past. But also don't rely exclusively on the support of your own party, as many, even if you are a socialist party, may be closet royalists. However, you may find enough dissenters in other parties especially if the monarch or possibly their heirs are creating unrest in the country and with their constituents.
Strike while the iron is hot. You have to push this legislation through ideally while the monarch is out of the country on some protracted tour as that makes it easier to slide the final law under their pen for Royal Assent.
If all else fails, by far the easiest way to be declared President of the United Kingdom is to act Presidential and the press will declare you as such. This was first successfully carried out by Margaret Thatcher who even managed to get them to declare her an honorary man as well. However some historians note that David Lloyd George's earlier deals of peerages for donations might well place him also in this category.
However a far greater exponent of this was Tony Blair, who used two successive overwhelming majorities to act extremely Presidential. Despite being the head of a so-called Labour government, he managed to push through some legislation that would have made the first leader Keir Hardie turn in his grave.
So what sort of qualifications does someone need to become President of the United Kingdom?
- Nationality: Need not be British. After all the UK has been ruled successfully for centuries since 1066 by a series of French, Scottish and German interlopers.
- Loyalty: Negligible. Any potential candidate, unless they arrange a coup d'etat, is liable to have sworn some oath of allegiance to the monarchy they are usurping.
- Popularity: Advisable but not essential, especially for coup d'etat. The current trend allows a Prime Minister to be appointed with only the support of about 25% of eligible voters.