Royal chaplain challenges monarchy

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The Independent Online
ONE of the Queen's chaplains believes it is time to consider the possibility of a republic, with the election of the monarchy.

Canon Eric James, writing in the Independent today, says: "In England, until 1213, the monarch was elected. Maybe the time is returning for election to the task and role."

In his article, based on a speech given at Westminster Abbey last night, he says it was illogical and naive for the Government to propose abolition of the rights of hereditary peers in the House of Lords without considering the implications of that policy for the monarchy.

"The problem of hereditary monarchy is obvious and simple. The monarch now may be above reproach but you can never tell what you are going to get. And there's not a lot to be said for such a lottery. The question needs to be posed again, in our own time, whether the mere accident of birth can ever now be expected to produce a man or woman fit for the role that royalty requires: with, from birth, the fierce glare of publicity on the heir's upbringing, education, and development, and the investigative frenzy of the media on his making of friends, wooing, and so on.

"The relation between the private person and the public role ... makes all but impossible demands." He was careful to avoid criticism of the Queen herself. "As an Extra Chaplain to Her Majesty I would want to pay tribute to the devotion with which I believe the Queen has served the country as monarch. Nor do I believe now is the time for an immediate change in our mode of Government. But it is surely time for a profound reflection upon and reconsideration of the role of the monarch." The canon, who is 73, said public discussion was needed, and for properly informed debate to take place, others - including the "strangely silent" church - would need to give a lead.

As for the courtiers, he appeared to doubt whether they could make much of a contribution, saying that part of the problem of royalty was the court: "The cult and class that hedge the monarch - for which, of course, the monarch is, in part, to blame. Security is the breeding-ground of toadying sycophants. And few of us have the courage to rise above that excessive deference to royalty which defeats its object."

Canon James told the Independent there was no question of him suggesting a republic - but then added the word "immediately". But his challenge on the implicit contradiction of government policy towards the House of Lords has also attracted the attention of William Hague, the Conservative leader.

Canon James said: "The Government has raised the question of hereditary peers. There is surely a certain illogicality - even naivety - in thinking you can raise, as a matter of principle, the question of hereditary peers of the realm, but think you can leave entirely undisturbed the question of the hereditary monarchy."

Mr Hague said in February that the exclusion of hereditary peers from the Lords was potentially the most damaging constitutional change being proposed by the Government. "Mr Blair's justification is his dislike of the hereditary principle," Mr Hague said, "although he sees no contradiction in also parading himself as the protector of the monarchy."

Canon James also suggested greater use of abdication, saying: "Before the monarch is crowned, he or she must choose their future - or abdicate it."

Canon James recently "outed" Enoch Powell as an alleged youthful homosexual and last night's lecture contained provocative reflections on Diana, Princess of Wales. Having said she had served as an "icon" of compassion, he added: "There were other icons

Time to elect monarchy?, page 3 Leading article, page 20

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