Head of State

Suggested clause:

'An Appointment Commission shall be established by Parliament to nominate candidates for the role of head of state.  The Appointment Commission must be comprised of delegates from both the public and private sectors within the [UK] and be representative of all communities and socio-economic groups in the [UK].  It's function shall be the selection and recommendation of the best possible applicant-candidate for the role of head of state who is then nominated by the Appointment Commission as a candidate for election to that role.'

(This should be the 4th route to selection of a candidate as suggested by Degauntier in 'We need an elected head of state' - the others being nomination by MPs, local councils or [50,000 voters] and so this idea is consistent with that other idea.)

edited on Apr 17, 2015 by Ian Smith

Ian Smith Apr 5, 2015

Dear All,

I am posting a quick comment here and in my other ideas.

Firstly, I want to say how much I have enjoyed seeing all of your contributions on this and other ideas and how impressed I am with the range of expertise and erudition which has filled these debates.

Secondly, I wish to put forward a couple of suggestions as to a way forward at this stage.  They are:

A.   I suggest that we all refrain from further voting until the ideas have been refined and represented and have then been debated for a while.  My thinking here is that we will want to see the reshaped ideas and see the comments on those refined ideas before we decide whether they are to be voted up or down,  I do not think that we should refrain from voting on comments but perhaps try not to vote to hastily on them.

B.  Now that the hurly burly of the "Hacking" phase (some of it quite savage) has passed, I hope and wish that we will adopt a more collaborative and less combative approach in our commentary, so that commentary is given a chance to be constructive and really do the job of refining the ideas in question.

C.  I would hope that we can refrain from attacking the very existence of the idea under discussion in this phase or the fact that it has successfully gone through to this phase against the wishes of those who voted it down.  I sincerely hope that the previous critics of an idea, will still respect that it found favour with the crowd and now help to refine the idea in this phase.

Thirdly, I will try my best not to introduce any more typos and mangled phrases! 

Best wishes for the holiday week end!


Ruobing Wang Apr 5, 2015

Hello, Dear Contributors


Welcome to the refining stage! In the next 2 weeks, we are looking forward to working with you, in order to refine selected ideas and produce concise final propositions based on these ideas. 

For this purpose, Head of State facilitators would like to remind you of the new features available to every contributor at this stage. Now, you can add, amend or withdraw votes already cast. This would be very important for us to see which ideas truly reflected your preferences, and to ensure that your preferences are represented fairly. 

Also, in the selected ideas, many overlap with others. Please use your judgment when choosing and voting on the ideas that are truly representative of your views.




Head of State Team

Ian Smith Apr 15, 2015

Dear all,

I posted this idea in the hope of generating debate about using an appointments commission to fairly select a head of state rather than having electiing a head of state.

 Advantages of appointments commission approach:

- avoids costly and divisive elections which favour rich, already-powerful populist candidates;

- enables the appointment of a truly suitable candidate from the widest possible pool of candidates from all walks of life.

kind regards


Daniel Gaunt Apr 15, 2015

Why is not having an election an advantage?

The proposal for an elected head of state had far more votes than any other proposal (granted, partly because Republic publicised it widely to their members and supporters) so it would seem a bit counter to this exercise to go against the very strongly expressed view that Head of State must be elected.

Since when has any appointment commission ever appointed someone from a wide pool of candidates? The appointment commission surely makes absolutely certain that only the 'worthy' can ever aspire to be Head of State.


Malcolm Ramsay Apr 15, 2015

I'll go for this, tentatively. Republicans often seem to brush aside the cost and potential divisiveness of elections but I certainly regard them as significant factors. And, to my mind, the most suitable candidates for the role of impartial overseer might well be people who would not subject themselves to a competitive process.

Having said that, I don't think it would be right for a Head of State to be appointed without any opportunity for rejection by the public. I'd suggest, at least, broadening the recall proposal – https://constitutionuk.com/post/87782 – to include the Head of State.

However, I suspect there'll be a lot of resistance to not having elections. A possible compromise might be to have a combined confirmation referendum/election where the candidate put forward by the appointments commission would be deemed to be approved by (a proportion of) abstainers. So, for example, there could be a requirement that votes for other candidates must exceed 40%, say, of the total electorate, for it to be treated as a competitive election. Although that would risk losing the cost savings, it would make others less inclined to stand and it's possible the favoured candidate (particularly a popular incumbent) would go through unopposed.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 15, 2015

This is, I'm afraid, nonsense. I am a republican *because* I am a democrat - the cost and potential for conflict in a democratic system is part of its inherent nature and I accept and value it. As for an appointments commission - why are they more qualified to select a candidate than, say, citizens, MPs or Councils who might nominate a candidate otherwise?

The proposed wording I've given for Head of State, largely adapted from the German and Irish constitutions, includes the process for impeachment/removal. It also includes fairly onerous nomination thresholds but thresholds which importantly would be achievable by individual members of the public. If we restrict the ability of candidates to spend money silly money on their own election, you've a much better chance of keeping it open to average Joe/Josephine than an appointments commission considering who is suitable based on some arbitrary criteria.

Ian Smith Apr 15, 2015

Thanks Degauntier,

I'll respond a little late if I may as I do think that there is much more to be said on this.  

Kind regards


Malcolm Ramsay Apr 16, 2015

"the cost and potential for conflict in a democratic system is part of its inherent nature and I accept and value it"

You may value it, Daniel, but, as I've pointed out to you before, others regard it as an imposition. It may be an inherent part of an immature democratic system but I see no reason why it should be necessary in a mature one.

I've raised the issue of cost in a couple of other threads and it's just been ignored – your own response was simply an assertion that an elected head is an improvement by the very fact of its being elected. As I pointed out in that exchange, if the majority don't want to have to vote on the issue every four or five years, you apparently think they should be obliged to anyway. In your view, in order to keep an incumbent they may be quite happy with, the public should be obliged to pay the cost of an election, and go to the bother of voting (and suffer the psychic bombardment of an election campaign). And then they have to do it again a few years later!

Daniel Gaunt Apr 16, 2015

Malcolm - please stop misrepresenting my views in order to justify your own point. 

We don't have compulsory voting, so no one is being forced to vote on anything. But those of us that do want it to be elected, election being the internationally recognised gold standard for selecting leaders, should have the opportunity to do so.

What I've said, clearly and consistently, is that the desirability of an elected HoS outweighs any and all objections that you've do far made. An appointed system is an affront to that.


Malcolm Ramsay Apr 16, 2015

How am I misrepresenting your views, Daniel?

If the only people who vote are the ones who want change then, unless it favours an incumbent, an election will clearly lead to a change which the majority might not want. In order to prevent that change happening, the people who want to keep the existing Head of State have to vote. Voting may not be compulsory but an election clearly obliges those who don't want change to vote.

"What I've said, clearly and consistently, is that the desirability of an elected HoS outweighs any and all objections that you've do far made."

Yes, you have said it clearly and consistently. You just haven't given any reasoning to back it up. You've no obligation to do so, of course, but it might help bring others round to your way of thinking.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 16, 2015

"...if the majority don't want to have to vote on the issue every four or five years, you apparently think they should be obliged to anyway." 

This is not my view, and I've given you no justification to present it as such. 

My reasoning, which again I've been clear about all along, is that democratic legitimacy obtained via election is an end in itself - it needs no further justification or reasoning. 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 17, 2015

Fair enough, Daniel, I can see that's not strictly true and I'll try not to misrepresent you again. Do you accept "if the majority don't want to have a vote on the issue every four or five years, you apparently think they should be obliged to anyway" as a reasonable assessment of your position?

I realise that you regard 'democratic legitimacy obtained via election' as an end in itself. I'm simply pointing out that what you're hoping for is likely to remain out of reach unless you're prepared to engage with other people's concerns.

View all replies (7)

Ian Smith Apr 15, 2015

Thanks Malcolm, those are very interesting ideas.  If you don't mind I'm going to await others before I attempt a refinement and try to get this idea noticed!  

Kind regards


Ian Smith Apr 15, 2015

Dear Degauntier and others who may be interested in a democratic alternative to an "elected" head of state,

I think the procedures we design for the selection of head of state should reflect the kind of head we want.  Compare:

- President wielding political power: undoubtedly, an election is appropriate to obtain a candidate who is able to withstand the pressures of the highest political office in the land and election is appropriate so that the populace can choose the political hue of their elected president. 

- Constitution-guardian who is to be politically neutral: in this case, election is seriously questionable if not counterproductive.  A neutral, cautious but principled and firm, modest but talented, knowledgeable, head of state may not even consider standing in elections let alone thrive in or survive aggressive electioneering; and yet those qualities may be the very ones which are most appropriate for this kind of head of state.

So, in my view, we first have to decide on the kind of head of state we want and then chose the most appropriate selection procedure.

As for an appointment commission, there is no reason why this could not be democratically constituted and encourage applicants from all walks of life for the post of head of state, using appropriate selection procedures and criterion which match the job description.

Kind regards,


Daniel Gaunt Apr 15, 2015

Ian - for the avoidance of doubt. I'm not interested in a democratic alternative to an "elected" head of state. I'm interested in an elected head of state, as I must assume are the +243 (current tally) who voted for that proposal. Anything else is an unsatisfactory compromise. 

In a democracy, legitimacy derives from an elected mandate. An appointed individual is never going to have that mandate and therefore can me wrong have legitimacy. Only a ballot is acceptable. 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 16, 2015

"In a democracy, legitimacy derives from an elected mandate."

I'd say, in a genuine democracy, legitimacy derives from whatever process the public recognise as making them properly sovereign. Elections have been central to that in the past but there's no reason why they must be in the future.

As far as I'm concerned, this exercise doesn't end with the convention and, if the project does play a part in bringing about reform, it will be despite the republican input rather than because of it. I'm treating it as an opportunity to explore genuine possibilities for making the whole system more accountable but that means coming up with something which the wider public might embrace. To my mind, demanding something the public probably wouldn't accept shows scant regard for the spirit of democracy.

View all replies (2)

Michael Griffith Apr 15, 2015

For effective government, a President elected directly by the people is necessary. The role of President includes being head of state, head of the Executive branch of government and commander in chief of the armed forces. The function of President should be completely separate from the Legislature.

We see for example in France, that an elected President is effective. Conversely we see for example, that the President of the EU, who is not elected directly by the people but by a small group of politicians, is ineffective and most people don't even know his name.

Also it is necessary to get rid of the Monarchy. It would not be effective to retain the Monarchy alongside the elected President, even if the Monarchy was supposed to have only a ceremonial role. The system of hereditary Monarchy is an outdated anachronism.

Rob G Apr 17, 2015

But there are other Presidents who are effective, without being directly elected - it depends in part on what they're being required to do. If you want an executive president, as in France, it's hard to justify any other system - although the original constitution of the Fifth Republic had an electoral college rather than direct election.

Where you have a "constitutional monarch" president, indirect election is very common. Germany, Italy, India are just three that come to mind - Germany's had a reasonably good record of well-respected Presidents, while the recently retired President of Italy was possibly the most highly-regarded politician in the country. I'm not sure if I can think of any country with a "non-executive" president where there is direct election, apart from Ireland.

In most countries with indirect election, I think it's largely the parliamentarians who form the electoral college, sometimes supplemented by additional representatives of the federal units in a federal system.

Users tagged:

Ian Smith Apr 16, 2015

Dear All,

My recollection was that the role of elected president with executive presidential powers has received little support.  I've just checked this topic's ideas and see that the 2 "President" ideas are currently on -1.  Here are the links to those trailing ideas.



Yes it is true that Republic's Idea has been totemic and led the way in this project.  I do, however, think that it is important to engage properly with all the alternative democratic selection procedures.  

I do not think that we have to accept election as the most suitable method of selecting a candidate if we do not want a political operator in that role.  Republic, in their idea do not suggest that we should have a "President" nor that our head should have presidential powers.  Instead they suggest that 'A written constitution is an opportunity to put limits on the powers of government and parliament and to provide for a head of state whose constitutional purpose is to protect and defend those limits'. What they are suggesting is that we need a constitution guardian.  If that is what the voters in this project want rather than a president then I do think we need at this stage to think very carefully about what sort of "election" we have.

Even in Ireland, cited by Republic, only persons nominated by a house of the Irish Parliament or by local Councils can stand and so ordinary Joe or Josephine clearly cannot.  We also see from the experience of Ireland that the most usual thing is for uncontested candidates to be put forward and take the job without any election and if there is a contest only people aged 35 years and above are eligible to vote.  That is a democratic process of sorts but is that any more democratic than a person being chosen, "elected" if you like, by a democratically elected appointment commission consisting of people from all walks of life and after rigorous testing of the merits of various competing candidates? I do not think so and would be very interested in hearing the views of more from the crowd.

Kind regards,



Daniel Gaunt Apr 16, 2015

Ian - that rather misrepresents Republic and its view. The very name of the proposal gives it away ('We need an elected head of state'), and Republic is clear in its aims about what it is for. See https://republic.org.uk/what-we-want/new-head-state 

We wouldn't impose another alternative on someone else, so why would we adopt anything other than the gold standard for our own leaders? 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 17, 2015

I'm inclined to agree with degauntier that you're stretching Republic's proposal a bit thin here, Ian. I don't know exactly what rules the project is operating by but if there's a commitment to go with whatever proposal has the most votes, regardless of any unanswered objections, then our crowdsourced constitution is pretty well bound to demand a directly elected President.

But the goal seems to be to integrate everything that's been voted through into phase two. Republic haven't engaged anywhere else on the site (and haven't even refined their own idea in this second phase) so we don't know what their response is to issues which have been raised in other threads. Nor do we know how the people who voted for their proposal would like to see the gaps in it filled.

The obvious gaps in their proposal are the questions of what happens if no-one stands for election and how abstentions should be counted. The obvious unanswered objection is why there should be an election at all, with all its attendant costs, if there's no appetite for one among the electorate.

From that perspective, nomination by MPs or Councils, as degauntier has suggested, would certainly count as evidence of the public's appetite for an election. However, a lack of nominations through those routes wouldn't be a reliable indicator of a lack of appetite, so allowing nominations from Jo(e) Public, as degauntier has suggested, also seems necessary. But I don't see that those methods of nomination are in any way incompatible with having an appointments commission, as Ian proposes here, who would have an obligation to nominate a default candidate.

The more difficult question is how abstentions should be treated. Personally, I'd generally be quite happy to delegate my own vote on the issue and, as long as there is a satisfactory recall mechanism in place, I'd regard it as an imposition if I had to vote explicitly in order to keep an incumbent or accept a default candidate. I suspect that's true for many other people as well. Counting a proportion of non-votes as endorsements of a default candidate would allow the people who don't want an election to feel represented, without feeling they've been forced to the polls by a vociferous minority.

Ian's proposal clearly couldn't displace Republic's, but I don't see any irreconcilable incompatibility between them. Some clauses would need to be added to what degauntier posted in Republic's thread, defining the establishment of the Appointments Commission and their obligation to nominate a favoured candidate, and defining how non-votes are to be counted. Have you any wording in mind, Ian?

View all replies (2)

Daniel Gaunt Apr 17, 2015

Referring to the latest version - I just don't think it is necessary. I just don't see why we need a body to nominate a candidate; we don't do it for MPs or any other elected representatives. 

The law (eligibility) and the nomination thresholds (suitability) should be sufficient to ensure the right field of candidates. I don't see how a commission who improve or complement that. 



Jeremy Wells Apr 18, 2015

I like a lot of what you {and Ian Smith) are proposing but my biggest 'niggle' is how can we guarantee that an elected head of state achieved through any of the procedures suggested here, will be genuinely apolitical?

Its not too difficult to imagine that there would be all the usual political horse trading and conspiratorial meetings by the political parties to arrive at a nominated  'Appointments Commission' members of which would then be absolutely fixed on seeing someone sympathetic to their political leanings get on a presidential short list.

A presidential candidate can easily demonstrate that he/she does not belong to a political party but operating in the highest echelons of government it would be almost impossible not to be influenced by one or the other political ideal.

I do not have an answer to this unfortunately and so must we accept that however we try to construct a democratic procedure to elect a Head of State it cannot at the end of the day be guaranteed to be fair?

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 18, 2015

I don't think there can be any guarantee that a Head of State will be apolitical but a process which allows for a challenger from outside the establishment will be an encouragement for the appointments commission to choose someone reasonably impartial.

I think it's also worth remembering that, although our existing system encourages political horse trading, our proposed constitution will be introducing a lot of other reforms which will, hopefully, work to make government and Parliament properly accountable and more truly representative. We shouldn't assume that honest government is impossible just because we don't get it under a system which has glaring faults.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 18, 2015

Why should a Head of State be apolitical? To be without politics is all but impossible, because it would require an individual to have no views on any subject.

The constitution cannot prevent people having a background in politics, but it can direct how the Head of State should act in distancing themselves from partisan issues. Generally, that poses little difficulty for Speakers of the House of Commons, who despite being selected from among elected MPs prove themselves perfectly able to put aside their former partisan 'hat' and take on the neutral role required of the speaker.

View all replies (2)