Letter: Constitutional realities: a society in need of definition

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article on the need for a written constitution and a reformed role for the head of state is welcome ('Ruling through the ballot box', 3 June). The decision as to whether to retain our monarchy should indeed follow a new constitutional settlement and be confirmed by a referendum.

But resistance to this argument will remain formidable, especially while the main political parties refuse to address the role of the Crown in a vigorous and adult fashion. They continue to confuse, rather than to distinguish, the Royals as people with the institution that they inhabit thanks to inheritance. Having made the distinction, there should be no inhibition on addressing the role of the monarchy. For unless we do so, we cannot debate the overall failure of governments in Britain, a failure that is less the fault of the parties than of the system of which they are both prisoners and guardians.

All constitutions - in our case our unwritten one - do three things. They tell us what our rights are as individuals, they specify the distribution of power, and they symbolise aspirations and hopes for the kind of country we wish to have. In Britain, we the people have no safeguarded rights, the power of government is unchecked and our aspirations are personified by the monarchy and its honours system.

In this melange, lack of rights and tattered dignity, the obsessive centralisation of control (of local government, of education, of the police) and the sense of national demoralisation are now crystallised in the Crown and the broken marriage of its heir. As was argued in the recent Charter 88 conference, rather than being a symbol, the monarchy has become a substitute for our constitution. It should be relieved of this burden.

A new settlement would provide entrenched rights against an increasingly authoritarian state, it would ensure checks and balances on the exercise of power - in the economy as much as in the polity - and it would set out public values of freedom, opportunity and responsibility for our society. These, then, might well be served by a European- style monarchy should the electorate so decide.

Yours sincerely,

ANTHONY BARNETT

Co-ordinator

Charter 88

London, EC1

4 June

(Photograph omitted)

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