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 375.

    @359 One can't help but feel sorry for these "Republicans" as there is obviously no joy in their life.

    I get my enjoyment from my own family, not from fawning over someone else's family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    The monarchy legitimises the idea that some people are more important than others. Let's see how many protesters are arrested "on suspicion" until the celebrations are over, or are prevented by police from getting to anywhere that they might be seen or heard. When it wants to, the British government can do just as good a job of presenting a picture of national unity as any totalitarian state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    No, it is not fair that the Royals are born into that lifestyle. Neither is it fair that the children of Abramovic or Branson are born into that wealth. Is it fair that our political and economic system allows those 2 gentleman to accrue that much money or that Rooney is paid so much. Of course it isn't. There are lots of things which are not perfect about our world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    A modern democracy with inherited privilege built into its constitution? Scrapping the monarchy and House of Lords would certainly make Britain a fairer society - but there are many powerful individuals with a vested interest in keeping the status quo. It needs a huge effort by Republic to build the momentum for change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    As things stand our armed forces swear an oath to the queen, not the government, and if they tried to pass an extremely draconian law the queen has the right not to pass it, in which case they would try to remove the queen, but the army would instead remove the government. Very unlikely i know but this way seems to be safer. As for that kiwi, worry about what goes on in your own country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    So this group have 21000 members and some New Zealander who is a member thinks they are to be taken seriously. How amusing, come to a different country and want to change it so it suits you! Well with 21000 members they only need about another 30 million to have any chance of gaining some influence so let's not hold our breaths. Why is the BBC giving this nonsense publicity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    From the crown estates own website:

    "The property we manage is owned by the Crown, and is not the private property of HM the Queen."

    Crown estates are badly named. Under English law this land belongs to the State/Parliment.
    And under Scots constitutional law, the land in question belongs to the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Edmund Burke believed that society was better for having people like lords and monarchs. They have access to a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that most ordinary people never attain. The Queen is an excellent ambassador and diplomat and that can only be due to her upbringing and education in a highly sophisticated tradition. This is why Britain has such excellent relations with many countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    The Monarchy generates much more money than it recieves. Fact

    I am no fan of Royalty, just as I'm no fan of being born with a silver spoon in your mouth.


    As a figure head, national pride/identity in this country is 'for King and Country' and that is something I would not like to lose, regardless of the fact I cannot hand on heart agree with the Monathiesm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    25% are Republican eh, well that would put us in 2nd place using our biased first past the post system of elections. No vote on Monarchy, No vote on Europe and a biased system of elections for the 2 main party's. Will you stop blathering about 'Britains' standing in the world, how about MY say in MY OWN COUNTRY!!! It's beyond a joke and needs to stop NOW!

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    342, would go on to a forum in Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Japan and say the same?
    Sorry to labour this point but it is a huge great hole in the arguments Republic and many on here use.
    For the record, I'm not an ardent Monarchist, don't go to the big events, not a Tory, much less UKIP. I am a pragmatist, or try to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Who cares about the royal family, there from an era which is irrelevant today. The royal family doesn't really work, don't dare tell me cutting a ribbon is hard work; if you think that your a numpty

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    JamesStG @239
    To be 'above politics'
    Our 'ceremonial head'
    Must defend 'equal freedom'

    Freedom to speak & vote, in assembly & market
    Without fear for 'living & belonging', of self, family, others

    Given acceptance of key role, symbol & speaker for equality, not a bad 'incentive & test' of the classical 'virtue' of all, to have 'inheritance' by such as will honour inclusivity

    Could we 'deserve'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    What on earth are we supposed to be celebrating ? The queen became queen because she was born. The candidates for the job numbered one. She has kept that job for 60 years because she managed to keep breathing - a feat most of us have managed. Asking the taxpaying public to celebrate her 60 years is akin the master demanding that the slaves celebrate his birthday and pay for it too !

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    (missed in the last post)

    as have been pointed out in so many posts before so won't bother to repeat again, some of the highest living standard countries with open and respected democracies in the world have constitutional monarchies, so why is the UK doing worse than them?

    more elected politicians (& for head of state) is not the answer, better quality politicians and government matters more

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Firstly, Republic is such a fringe group I do not see why the BBC gives them so much coverage in the first place, as their views aren't anything new or really that interesting.
    Secondly would you really want a European style president - in my opinion more politcians equals more possibilities for corruption...which the Queen certainly is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    One can't help but feel sorry for these "Republicans" as there is obviously no joy in their life. Luckily for them we are a Democratic country and despite being as popular as 13%, they can go around being sad people as long as they like. Get Tracy Emin to talk to them; she's a staunch Royalist as stated in the A.M. Show this morning!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    At least the new generation are officially (as opposed to numerous mistresses) widening the “gene-pool”
    In-breeding in any group is never a good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    For anybody seriously considering the Republican argument please listen to this 10 minute monologue from Will Self:


    Warning - not for the faint-hearted or those already suffering from depression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    I am happy to have a monarchy as it gives a real sense of history to our country. The monarchy is really only a figurehead organisation these days and is used mainly as a worldwide marketing tool. Let's also remember it really does not cost that much to run particularly if you compare the cost of Afghanistan,bailing out banks etc.And what difference would a republic make? Answer-nothing!


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