Diamond Jubilee v Republican Britain

Republic protest at Buckingham Palace against the invitations of royal dictators from around the world to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee dinner at Buckingham Palace - May 18, 2012 Republic described the monarchy's decision to invite the Crown Prince of Bahrain to Jubilee events at Buckingham Palace as "deeply offensive"

As much of the UK gears up to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, not everyone is happy. Republicans are stepping up their protest over the weekend - but who are they, and what exactly do they want?

A group of volunteers is spending a long evening organising campaign material - stapling big white placards to wooden poles.

The signs read: "Power to the People" and "Citizen Not Subject" in large black lettering.

One placard asks: "9,560 Nurses or 1 Queen?" The answer, for members of Republic, is a no-brainer.

They are preparing for 3 June, when the country will be celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee - marking her 60 years on the throne, and the first in the UK since Queen Victoria's in 1897.

Thousands of onlookers are expected to flock to the Thames to catch a glimpse of their monarch forming the floating centrepiece of her own Jubilee River Pageant, a grand spectacle boasting seven-and-a-half miles of regal flotilla - just one of the main events in an extravagant four-day bank holiday weekend.

One might be forgiven for believing that Britain was barmy for royalty.

Key Republic protests

  • 18 May: Buckingham palace protest against Prince of Bahrain's invitation to Jubilee
  • 3 June: Jubilee protest at the River Pageant
  • 5 June: Jubilee protests at St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster
  • 2-6 July: Republic Scotland protests

But just along from London's Tower Bridge on the south side of the river, Republic's protest, what they describe as "the biggest and boldest in modern times", will be floating a different idea. And this will be no riverside gala.

"We're there to make a point," says Emily Robinson, 31, an academic from Hull who joined Republic in 2006.

"For too long we've had a reputation for being a bit polite, but we also want to be firm and serious."

After years as a low-key movement, Republic re-launched itself in 2006 as an official pressure group.

In 2010 it had 9,000 members, but since the royal wedding announcement that year, they say registered supporters have increased to 21,000.

"We're really getting our message out, considering our size," adds New Zealander Paula Feehan, an aid worker who settled in Britain 16 years ago.

"We have one-and-a-half paid employees so we're definitely punching above our weight."

'Enormously wasteful'
Republic making placards Republic is preparing for what they hope will be their biggest protest yet

Republic wants to stir up some lively political debate.

The mission is simple, says chief executive Graham Smith. "We want to get rid of the monarchy and have a republican constitution with an elected head of state."

Republicans want a referendum because, for them, the monarchy is undemocratic.

"It's not chosen by the people, doesn't represent the people, and as an institution it isn't fit for purpose," says Mr Smith.

Just look at the "enormously wasteful" Jubilee, he points out.

So who are the people behind the politics?

"Republic has changed over the last few years", says James Gray, a 31-year-old writer from Essex.

"It's younger, more evenly split between genders, and more diverse in terms of professions. We're ordinary people."

So no Sex Pistols or punk-era vitriol then?

"Punk anti-royalism wasn't really founded on principle", says James.

Start Quote

Our methods aren't controversial, but we're not afraid of getting into scraps - not literally”

End Quote James Gray Writer and campaigner

"Our methods aren't controversial, but we're not afraid of getting into scraps. Not literally."

Mr Smith believes Republic's first hurdle is public opinion, because political opinion will follow.

Recent polls haven't provided him with good news here. One published by Ipsos Mori in May suggested 13% of Britons wanted a republic.

But Mr Smith dismisses the accuracy of that. "It's clearly a blip because every other poll before and after shows about 20-25%."

Mori has previously reported those favouring a republic averaged just under 20%, a slightly lower figure, but one that has remained consistent for 18 years between 1993-2011.

Another poll this week by ICM for the Guardian suggests 22% of people believe the country would be better off without a monarchy, with 69% saying it would be worse off.

Even after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, support for republicanism remained steady.

"That stability", says Mr Smith, "shows that the issue hasn't been sufficiently engaged with in the past."

And Republic's chief executive believes opinion is shifting: "The other 75% of the population aren't all monarchists", he says.

Many are stuck in "default position" and "don't know how to change it".

Graham Smith of Republic with crowds Republic says its Not The Royal Wedding street party in 2011 attracted thousands

But does even half-baked tolerance mean Britain is ready for revolution?

Royal commentator and Stirling University's professor of communications, Neil Blain, says criticism of the British monarchy is mainly found on social media.

"Grumbling seldom finds a public voice," he says.

"Republic is pretty much the only force for debate about the monarchy in Britain. And for this reason it's actually rather important."

Its impact is another matter.

"Republic is building political alliances, which it needs," adds Professor Blain. "Without this there's a danger it could look, not like a lost cause, but a becalmed cause.

"Historically, there are periods when the monarchy was quite unpopular. Even in the 90s, broadsheets seriously discussed its future.

Start Quote

There's still a fear in Britain of openly criticising the Queen. We need to be trailblazers.”

End Quote Andrew Child Director, Republic

"We've settled into a period of acceptance. People like spectacle and tradition; it's hard to upstage a royal wedding with micro-blogging.

"The major challenge facing Republic is how do you market republicanism? But they're tackling this in an organised, strategic way, so I'd absolutely not write them off."

Republic's real frustration is, as they see it, unbalanced, unfettered royal press coverage. They complain in particular about the balance of BBC reporting.

By Ipsos Mori's previous reckonings, there could be as many as 10 million people in the UK who sympathise with Republic's view.

"You just wouldn't know that from the print media," says the group's director and "full-time republican" Andrew Child.

But not all anti-royalists share their position, among them author and former Labour minister Roy Hattersley.

"I'm a staunch republican, but I think many of the ways that Republic promotes the position are silly.

Republic placards Republic want anti-monarchy views to be reflected in royal press coverage

"They complain the media spends too much time reporting on Jubilee celebrations, but what else are they supposed to do?

"There's a very substantial case for a republic, but unfortunately the organisation Republic trivialises it."

But Mr Child believes in Republic's approach.

"There's still a fear in Britain of openly criticising the Queen. We need to be trailblazers. If we get a proportionate slice of royal coverage, our numbers will go absolutely gangbusters."

Back to the volunteers - in an office that cannot be named "because it's not relevant".

How can "firm, serious" Republic fire debate if most people are fine, even happy, with the status quo?

"It's about asking questions, getting people thinking, working from a premise of fairness and equality," says Paula Feehan. "And showing how a republic would affect a normal person in the street."

"Republic isn't radical or scary. We're not counter-culture. We are culture."

Republic is ready for the Jubilee. The challenge for them is convincing the UK to listen.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 55.


    1. I really doubt anyone will vote for blair to president, so thats never going to happen.
    2. If he did come in, we could throw him out 5 years laters, you won't be able to say the same about a monarch.
    3. The idea of King Charles fills me with far more disgust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    They have a right a make their point, most of their points are absolute guff as the Royal Family Ltd MAKES a huge amount of money for the UK. Politicians don't they just waste it or steal it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    and republicans also seems to forget that we're a constitutional monarchy, so the Queen as head of state is largely symbolic and ceremonial, the real power lies in the elected government and PM.

    best balance IMO, politician concentrate on running the gov/country, let the Queen do all the pom and ceremony, whch royalty does best, better than any republic could.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The rest of the world love our queen...because they don't have to suffer her. The sooner this country wakes up from the induced coma society imposes on it's "subjects",the better.
    We have cuts on ALL our services,even the infirm and old age...but this load of freeloaders breed like rabbits,yet no cuts affect them!
    Fawning,bowing,touch furloch subserviant people...wake up please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    well, at least if we had a president we could vote them out if they were not liked. To get rid of a monarch you don't like requires a civil war, or a referendum on independence (Scotland)

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It seems to me that many of the people asking for an accountable head of state don't understand the relationship between the monarchy & our democratic system. Things are not suddenly going to function any better if we add another tier of politician. That's the last thing I want to see. The ones we have are bad enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    45.Ron666 Your another person who seems to ignore what people really want a referendum for. Sorry the Last british republic was a bloody dictator effectively who butchered people in Ireland. You may have heard of him - he was Oliver Cromwell.

    There are more people in UK by a massive margin that want a referendum on EU and in England an English Parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I am not a monarchist but .........

    The Queen has done a fantastic job


    The idea of a "President Blair" fills me with disgust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    @Ron666 what does that have to do with the BRITISH Monarch or the BRITISH state?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Debate is the sign of a healthy democracy. However, I am a proud supporter of the Monarchy, which has brought stability to this country for centuries. The Queen has selflessly dedicated her life to her country in a way that no self serving politician ever could. How many people her age work as hard? Better a dedicated monarch than to be ruled by a corrupt 'El Presidente'

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    41 mchester

    "If they think that the non-political head of state and system that is our Monarch is bad, look at Syria."

    So Syria is the only non-monarchist country is it? Why don't you back up your views with a quote from the King of Switzerland?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The British constitution is a bit like a trinity; you have the state, the crown and the monarch. All are separate, but also the same. The Queen is the physical embodiment of the state and a representative of the people. Therefore in oaths, anthems and law a reference to the monarch or the crown is the same as saying the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    A Republic is not necessarily a democracy; a Monarchy is not necessarily undemocratic. Britain, for various reasons, has chosen to maintain (at some expense) an unelected, hereditary Head of State, well trained for the job, who acts as a symbolic representation of the People (ie the Nation itself) as opposed to Parliament (which only cares about the Will of the People in Election years).

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The Ancestors of the current monarchy invaded and forced my ancestor off the land and made them pay to use their own land, all because they had bigger sticks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    So Republic think that the Jubilee is "enormously wasteful"? - They're just another bunch who would try and do away with any culture and history and tradition this country has. The more they make themself look silly the better. If they think that the non-political head of state and system that is our Monarch is bad, look at Syria. Utter buffoonery from Republic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    #23 It has never been demonstrated that most people want the monarchy. Never. 1659/60 was a coup not an election and as every fool knows, the winner writes the history.

    Lets have just one election with proper media coverage - not a lot to ask. OR are you royal lovers too frightened?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Ill celebrate the Queens jubilee in the same year she celebrates my birthday.

    I find the remorsless subserviance of large parts of the UK population to an unelected, state supported, unemployed and poorly educated multi-millionaire to be offensive.

    Please abolish this anachronistic position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    There never has been a republic in this country. 1649-60 was a religious military dictatorship. It was never the aim to get rid of the king and set up a republic, only to make him share his power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Thank you BBC for at least finally recognising that Republicanism even exists in this country. All we've had so far is slavish support for the monarchy. I for one am looking forward to taking part in the protest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    republicans keep on saying an elected head of state is better, but do we really want another politician to represent us? no matter how you elected him/her, will always be a large %tage of ppl not happy.

    personally much prefer to have a head of state who stays out of political affairs, let the politicians run the goverment, and let the queen be head of state, the best of both worlds.


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