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 415.

    There's some wilful misrepresentation about the numbers in favour of a republic in these comments. Polling over the last 30 years has consistently shown republicans at 20-25% of the adult population. That's more than 12m people. When Republic says its support is at 22k that means people currently actively engaged with its campaign. Membership of the main political parties is in 000s not millions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    "not mental"

    WHO has health as 'social wellbeing', linked with 'physical & mental'

    'Mind' of course includes perception of physical & social states

    Neither monarchism nor republicanism incompatible with genuine social health (adult freedom to make own mistakes in equal adult democracy)

    Elevation of either monarchism or republicanism above Equal Democracy: now there's a question

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    384 Being a Royalist or Repulican isn't a matter of Politics thank you very much, it's a matter of social justice. I'm a Republican, but generally right wing leaning..Do I not fit into your boxes? And by the way, squaddies only swear allegiance to the queen as she is the head of state, if it was an elected president, it would be them instead (an ex-squaddie) and the FPTP elect. system sucks..

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    @390. Robert Ball
    Your numbers are completely wrong. 0.4m is the numbers actually going inside the palace. 15 million people a year actually go a see it, for things like the Changing of the guards. Which therefore doubles Versailles

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    I don't want Britain to be another boring Republic, it might suit the French, but not us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    God save the Queen is the national anthem of the UK. It is also the anthem of England, the football anthem of Northern Ireland, the royal anthem of canada, australia and NZ etc. Long may that continue.

    As for Long to reign over us, i have no problem singing that. The Queen does reign over our nation, and she has done a wonderful job.

    We must never change our anthem to appease these republicans

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    Need I remind the xenophobes here, that your precious Queen is also Head of State in New Zealand ... therefore, the 'Kiwi' has every right to participate in debates concerning this institution.

    Oh dear, did I just expose the paucity of the average Royalist's knowledge about their beloved dynasts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    @394.As I mentioned earlier, 19 of the wealthiest 25 states per capita are monarchies - and there are only 40 monarchies in the world. So they are clearly more successful.

    What are you saying, the only factor for a country being rich or poor is if they have a monarchy or not. The four years I spent studying economics was a complete waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.


    ''...I can only say that you must think the British Public Stupid and only harm the cause...''

    I would say some of the British public are stupid. Some think we should join the Euro, for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    So this group have 21000 members and some New Zealander who is a member thinks they are to be taken seriously.

    There are 21 Members of the British Royal Family and we are expected to take THEM Seriously!

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    Comment number 384.Son of Maggie and Norman
    could not agree with you more i see a topic i would like to post on and its closed down with 200 posts but rubbish posts run & run ?
    and i would rather have royalty than a president any day of the week im sure lots of countrys would change if they could but presidents love the power and you would not get a vote they are also more open to corruption

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    398. RayTay
    "Dear Football Association,
    I, like many of my fellow republicans, will not support England at Wembley while the UK's national anthem is played. If you were to use an English song with no royal connection instead, you could increase your gates and revenue substantially."

    Agreed, but not for the hopelessly blinkered and misguided reasons you give - simply because the song's dull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Well, it was the Assignat, an over printed currency with no gold backing, which finally forced the French to rid themselves of their constitutional monarchy. The eventual hyper inflation, and "let them eat cake" attitude of the ruling class led to their downfall. So the biggest threat to our unelected ruling family could be quantitive easing. Just give it a few years of more bailouts and fraud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    I lived & worked in a republic for around 7 years before returning to the UK. In both cases I experienced equivalence in freedoms, the burden of taxation, beaurocracies, etc. On reflection, I cannot differentiate daily life under either system apart from the notoriety of the weather and traffic congestion in the UK. President - Monarch - plus ca change.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    With pro-republican sentiment steady at around 20% for the last 20 years why would an elected, weaselly, politician that typically less than two thirds would turn out to vote for, be a better choice than the Monarchy who the public have steadily and overwhelmingly supported over the last 20 years? Long live the Queen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    phild - I think the 10 million plus republicans who are not members are one reason to take it seriously. You don't have to be a member of Republic to be a republican,

    You might as well argue that since the British Monarchy Party only has about 6 members, monarchists should not be listened to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Personally, I'm not a Republican, but I'm not a Monarchist either.

    The Royal family is simply a matter of indifference to me, and on balance I don't believe that Her Maj's globetrotting adventures do any harm to this country, probably do it a fair bit of good.

    Really don't see the point of all the bunting & flagwaving though - it's all a bit 19th century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    Dear Football Association,

    I, like many of my fellow republicans, will not support England at Wembley while the UK's national anthem is played. If you were to use an English song with no royal connection instead, you could increase your gates and revenue substantially.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    We have the best of both worlds, the right to elect our leaders AND the grandeur of Monarchy.

    If anyone does not like the Monarchy, then just look away. It is a free country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Personaly, there is one line in a certain song that I find sinister and degrading. The line is "Long to reign OVER us" and the song is the National Anthem. How any self-respecting human being can sing a line like that amazes me. But people seem to sing it with huge gusto so maybe they accept it, or haven't really thought what the line means? Each to their own I suppose.


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