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 115.

    GOD SAVE THE QUEEN...... the republic will never happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    104. barryp
    Mutlee 56. May I gently remind you that Hitler was elected to power Democratically by around the same percentage of votes as gained by Mrs Thatcher, Mr Blair and others. It was the void of No Monarchy that allowed him the legality of his dictatorship.

    There was no' void of no Monarchy'. Germany had a President, Hindenburg who fulfilled that role as Head of State.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    'The queen brings in tourism money' what twaddle! How many tourists meet the queen? They come to visit palaces, parks & historic monuments. The queen doesn't live in the Tower of London but it get's a lot of visitors.
    In France Versailles is still pretty popular after a few centuries without a king in residence. And The Louvre gets the odd visitor or two.
    Let's choose our head of state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    What a waste of time?! Does the Queen actively interfere with politics and therefore disrupt democracy? No. So why bother to remove her, she is independent of the political cause, costs just as much as a President but steeped in hundreds of years of tradition? Why would you want to throw away something that is at the cornerstone of Britain?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Yes the republicans would lumber us with another layer of politics.

    Oh joy. Characters like Livingstone, Boris and (probably for the neutrals) Martin Bell all running around on taxpayers expense.

    Face it Republicans, you got no chance.

  • Comment number 110.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Milliband is an idiot, Clegg will sell us out to Brussels, so what do people want other than the Royal Family out.......a Republic brings more Rhetoric, time wasting and who are you going to have for President, this country hates the prime ministers it elects so how is this going to improve things? If Clegg, Milliband and Cameron are the best, then sorry, Ed Balls? Cable? no to Republic thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Re 88 Andrew
    It’s true that, in principle, any member of the Royal Family could ‘drop out‘ but can you imagine the pressure from the Establishment – instilled from birth – not to? And while they might renounce a title, I think that they’d find it a bit harder to renounce celebrity status and media interest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Can we please stop saying the Queen has done a good job.

    She does very little work. She has hardly been a role model for family life (e.g. 4x3). Finances that are very different from those published - at our expense (e.g. undeclared trust funds, falsified costings etc.) Supporting minority barbaric dictatorships (e.g. Bahrain). Interfering in politics. Rats the list is longer than the space...

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I shall attend my local street party (I never turn down good nosh) wearing a Guy Fawkes hat[1], a Vendetta mask, and a cloak under which I shall conceal a small demijohn of cider. I shall, when I've not got a slice of gateau stuffed in my face, engage the locals in dabate and, with great wit, grace and aplomb, argue the case for getting shot of Liz and Phil.

    [1] Anyone know what it's called?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Why so many automatic references to President Blair? He has not been PM for several years now. We would have President Cameron.

    I would hate to have either, or any other politician - even those I admire. I do think that the Queen does serve a purpose, freed from the constraints of 'taking sides' and campaigning for re-election; and resent being described as 'brainwashed' for my point of view!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Mutlee 56. May I gently remind you that Hitler was elected to power Democratically by around the same percentage of votes as gained by Mrs Thatcher, Mr Blair and others. It was the void of No Monarchy that allowed him the legality of his dictatorship. It was the oath to Hitler that held the German army to him, I prefer an oath to The Queen

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I have no interest whatsoever in what the Queen does nor what her family does. The money spent on this Jubilee would be better used elsewhere, whilst millions are unemployed and families struggling to pay bills. Republic? Don't know enough about the finer details to say, really. You still end up with a head of state, elected yes, but elections can be rigged. There would still be problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    84, your concerns about the NHS are best aimed at Cameron. There are better services in Scandinavian countries, better child care, smaller wealth gaps, much more social mobility. But they have constitutional monarchies too. It seems many Republicans are ignorant of how the system works, think that the UK is unique, some likely just hate to see celebrations that bring most people together.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    What is this royalist obsession with 'President Blair' as a nightmare scenario replacement for a monarch? Get over him, he's gone! An elected head of state would be...elected. That means you've only got yourself to blame if you don't engage with the democratic process and someone you dislike gets in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Whenever anybody mentions the possibility of a republic, somebody pops up to mention the possibility of "President Blair", but how do you feel about King Charles III? If you don't want Tony Blair to be president, then don't vote for him. We are a mature country and one of the oldest democracies in the world, we can be trusted to choose our own head of state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Either we have equality or we don't!
    We can never have equality while we have a monarch.
    As for the 60 pence arguement?
    This family makes a fortune on land ownership.
    Land they stole from the people of this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    God save the queen.....A republic will come at a price...if it ever happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    The tired argument that a president would be someone inappropriate so we shouldn't have one ('President Blair no thanks') that the queen worshippers use is easily settled. (Sad they have so little faith in the ability of their fellow-subjects to make good choices.)
    The monarchy can simply be abolished and the Prime Minister becomes head of state for their period of office.
    Any questions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.


    yes good point, some of most respected democracies and countries with high living standards are constitutional monarchies:

    Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Japan etc.

    not to mentioned us in the UK and commonwealth countries like Canada & Australia.

    also to have something so few countries around the world have, there are already so many republics out there.


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