With the Empire gone, Britain no longer needed 'a large imperial family', said Paul Keetch, prospective parliamentary candidate for Hereford. 'But that does not mean the monarchy itself should be abolished.'
The debate, which packed the Brighton conference hall as none other this week, took place on a motion from the party's youth and students calling for the abolition of the monarchy after the Queen's reign.
If the change was supported in a referendum, Britain would have a directly elected non-executive president instead of King Charles III.
Alex Wilcock, chairman of the youth wing, said: 'We cannot any longer give the top job in the country just to the first-born in a particular family.'
Elizabeth Truss of Oxford University turned on a statement by Paddy Ashdown that everybody in Britain should 'have the chance to be somebody'. But, she said, 'only one family can provide the head of state. We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We believe in fairness and commonsense . . . we do not believe people are born to rule'.
But by a clear majority on a show-of-hands vote, members rejected abolition and carried an amendment urging 'a radical trimming of the Civil List and the redefining of roles of members of the Royal Family apart from the monarch'. The Civil List costs pounds 10m a year and is in effect an allowance used by the Queen and 10 members of the Royal Family to carry out their public duties.
Archie Kirkwood, Chief Whip, said being labelled republicans would not be comfortable for many supporters. 'The party has got to become a bit more politically streetwise in dealing with these issues. The stakes are too high and we should not concede any further hostages to fortune.'
Claire Brooks (Skipton and Ripon), a party veteran, for once renounced her role as a thorn in the side of the leadership and declared her 'personal loyalty to Her Majesty who is one of the finest heads of state one could hope to find in the world. I beg of you, you have had your fun. Just use your political nous today and put your principles on hold'.
With the party long committed to ending the right of hereditary peers to sit in a reformed second chamber, the young Lord Addington appealed for the preservation of the Monarch. 'Thus from death row we plead for the person who is in the dock,' he said as the debate veered from high principle to music hall. It ended with a group of younger members waving Union Jacks and singing 'God Save the Queen'.