The readers' choice for president: Tony Benn

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The Independent Online
READERS of the Independent on Sunday would like to see Tony Benn as the first president of this country. Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House of Commons, is second choice, followed by pop star Jarvis Cocker and Helena Kennedy, barrister.

Mr Benn, when told of his victory, expressed surprise and pleasure, but made it clear he did not think the serious issue of establishing a republic should be muddied by "personalities".

The poll gave readers a choice of 14 personalities and one position (the Speaker) shortlisted from readers' nominations. Three members of each household were entitled to vote.

The final list of nominees featured four party politicians, two businessmen, two members of the Royal Family, two judges, an environmental campaigner, a barrister and a pop musician. The current Speaker of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd, and the position of Speaker appeared separately, because some readers nominated the position and some the personality.

The total number of votes received was 927. In addition the paper received letters applauding the exercise, including one from a (probably lonely) councillor in Tunbridge Wells headed "Up the Republic". A similar number of letters condemned the very idea of voting for a head of state. As one spoilt ballot paper put it: "We are quite happy with the Queen, thank you."

Anne Lawrence, the Princess Royal, was in 8th position. Elizabeth Windsor came 14th (a few votes ahead of Margaret Thatcher, who came bottom), but then Her Majesty's more loyal subjects are unlikely to have participated in the exercise.

Peter Wilby, editor of the Independent on Sunday, whose editorial "Time for a Republic" sparked the current debate, said of the exercise: "We thought it would be interesting to explore the possibilities of who might be elected, because people so often say 'How would you like Thatcher as president?'

"Of course we're not claiming the ballot is representative of the whole country, or that Mr Benn would necessarily win a national vote, but I think our readers have demonstrated admirably that there is a strong field of potential candidates who could command support." He noted that six of the nominees were women.

Was he surprised by the choice of Tony Benn? "I was quite surprised, but I'm sure he would would make a very good president because he has an understanding of constitutional issues and a concern for civil liberties, and I congratulate him."

When MORI conducted a similar exercise with a representative sample of 1,165 adults last month, Princess Anne was the winner from 11 names presented (which did not include Tony Benn), with Richard Branson the runner-up.

Full result of the readers' ballot: Tony Benn, 153; Betty Boothroyd, 107; Jarvis Cocker, 88; Helena Kennedy, 77; Shirley Williams, 66; Paddy Ashdown, 64; Richard Branson, 58; Anne Lawrence (the Princess Royal), 57; Sir John Harvey Jones, 57; The Speaker, 56; Judge Stephen Tumim, 42; Jonathon Porritt, 38; Sir Richard Scott, 28; Elizabeth Windsor (the Queen), 28; Margaret Thatcher (Baroness), 8.

Neal Ascherson, page 20