Labour divided on abolition of the monarchy

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The Independent Online
LABOUR MPs, scenting power, are cautious of controversy. When the Independent on Sunday tried to poll them on their views about the future of the monarchy, many did not want to hear the questions, let alone give any answers.

Nevertheless, our telephone poll found unmistakable signs of growing exasperation with the "degeneracy" of the royals. They are "making us a laughing stock," said one. "Fergie and Diana give the impression in Europe that Britain is a swollen version of Monaco," said another.

The 63 who would talk to us were split almost evenly on whether Britain should have a democratically-chosen president. Twenty-nine said it should, 27 wanted to keep the Royal Family and seven did not know.

However, 35 MPs agreed that Britain should have a scaled-down monarchy. Most wanted the monarch's role to become entirely ceremonial and for the size of the Royal Family to be reduced.

Most telling was the lack of strong, emotional loyalty to the Royal Family even among those who wanted to preserve it. Just 11 Labour MPs supported the monarchy "without serious reservation", although 47 expected it to survive in the medium term.

The majority of Labour MPs were silent. Of the 183 we spoke to, 120 refused to answer any questions. Several said that the party whips had ordered them not to take part.

Among those who did respond, there was an overwhelming feeling that when the Queen dies, there will be a crisis. Implosion was the word that kept cropping up.

"Well, the public is in favour of the royals," said one mainstream MP who wanted the monarchy to survive. "However, the antics of the younger generation makes it clear that this will be the last of the Windsors on the throne." Another said: "It very much depends on their future behaviour. If they go, I shall not complain at all."

Calum MacDonald, Labour MP for the Western Isles, said he supported the monarchy, but thought if it imploded, a republican constitution would be natural.

"I think it needs to be changed dramatically to regain public esteem and to cease being a primary symbol of a class -divided society," he said. "In Britain, the monarchy is all about class division.".

Labour is committed to removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords if it comes to power. The party leadership is privately well aware that this will leave the Windsors exposed as the last remaining holders of office who assume their power by accident of birth rather than by election or merit.

There is no chance at present of the Labour leadership agreeing to remove the monarchy, but its attack on aristocratic government has given the republicans heart.

Kim Howells, Labour MP for Pontypridd, said: "I think it has become a national joke in the last five years. A very distinguished peer told me recently in a very public place that they have become degenerates. For him to tell me that was quite something."

The question was how to remove them. Mr Howells thought that republicanism was not practical, but "they may kill themselves off anyway with bad publicity."

However, both republicans and monarchists agreed that the people should decide in a referendum who should be head of state before Charles took the throne.

The divisions between the two camps were not great. Many on both sides wanted the monarchy's powers to be cut back, and only a handful of monarchists were in favour of no change at all in the future.

Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham and a republican, said that if Labour introduced democratic reform to Great Britain and brought with it devolution, an elected second chamber and a Bill of Rights, then it would be possible for Britain to have "a republican monarchy such as Spain and the Netherlands, where the monarchy swears an oath to uphold the constitution."

He added: "What is preposterous at the moment is that Commons rules stop MPs even discussing these options when every pub in the country is filled with talk about Charles and Di."

Research by: Ali Bernat, Joanne Breach, Ashley Chapman, Everton Gayle, Andrew Hillier, Michelle Loveday, Andrew Owen, Elizabeth Redick.