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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    I agree totally with Ben Essada @ 430. Although my respect for the Queen as a person is probably second only to that for Nelson Mandela, I can’t pretend to have any great enthusiasm for the institution of the monarchy. However, I accept that my view differs from that of the majority and won’t seek to spoil their celebrations of the Jubilee – as long as I’m not forced to join in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    I wouldn't count myself as a republican but I'm getting sick to death of all this jubilee talk. Thats why I'm happy I'll be over in paris that weekend

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    I have nothing against them as people, but the monarchy, and their corollary the aristocracy are incredibly damaging to this country. They encourage and cause utter division, unfairness and inefficiency. The civil list is inconsequential. The number of idiots placed in positions of power who are completely ignorant, uncaring and insensitive to the problems of those facing difficulties is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    pursuing my idea that we should have an actor (say Colin Firth) as head of State given it's essentially an acting job. - they'd be required to stick to the script. It could be like Dr Who. "I've decided to stop being King after 3 years as I fear I'm getting typecast" - who will the new King be, it'd be cheaper, broadcast it 5 nights a week as a soap opera to earn some money - A modern monarchy

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    @431. Richard E
    As I clearly said - there are 6 exceptions from the wealthiest (per capita) 25 states.
    One is Switzerland (down in 15th place, behind 11 monarchies), the other five are Singapore, Hong Kong, the U.S, Austria & the Republic of Ireland.

    So a republic makes very little sense from an economic viewpoint - although there are (naturally) many other factors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    I have the day off,but I would prefer to elect my head of state and loose a days holiday every year. Corruption in politics isn't because of the average poor man in the street but of the wealthy few who can afford to bribe and lobby for their cause.Oh, and you aren't English;check your passport,you're from the U.K. and your British,it say's nothing about England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Still, at least we know who will be staffing the checkouts on Tuesday. But don't tell me, even republicans will think that they will be entitled to a day off for something they don't believe in. That is until it effects them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    Be a citizen not a subject. Inequality and social injustice in the UK come from it being a Monarchy. Join Republic UK and take first step towards
    Equality and Social Justice. Anti Monarchists will be very active during
    the farcical Royal celebrations.

  • Comment number 447.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    Come to think of it, I've got nothing against the "core" Royals. Some of their in-laws however seem a bit upstarty and presumptuous - determined to cash in on the "gravy-train".

    They probably do more to fuel Republican sentiment than Charles the first ever did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    The republicans certainly seem to have captured an audience. I dont think I have seen so many ignorant or just plain thick comments for ages. Our Monarch is working hard on our behalf. Our Monarchy is a fairly inoffensive business. The honours system even rewards ordinary people these days instead of sycophantic civil servants. The tirade of hate seems purely motivated by spitefull jealousy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    #417 Sounds like the "No true Scotsman" fallacy again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.


    We do have an elected monarchy. Do a bit of research and background reading about the revolution of 1688. The only reason why the current Queen is on throne is because 300 years ago parliaments decided to invite her ancestor William of Orange to be King, in place of James II.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    Panca Chandra - you are peddling the myth that the queen is universally repecteted and never put a foot wrong. simply isnt true - she has invited murderous tyrants to the palace for tea - she even was seen sharing a joke with the King of Bahrain ! Insensitive ?! She also thought we should all pay when her house ( Windsor caught fire ). she buys race horses for 1/2 million a time during austerity

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    John doughty, your racist rants are not needed or wanted in our society, go off and join that racist group (wont advertise it) Really sad that you wonder what % of members of parties/ organizations /pressure groups and probably communities in general are immigrants and Asylum seekers. "Do a good job" yes she's worth every penny of that million pound spent of our taxes on a boat for 5 hours !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    Also misrepresentation around costs. It has been calculated that royal family costs British taxpayer £200m annually. Ceremonial president would be *much* cheaper. Royals cost 200 times more than Irish presidency. Queen could at least offer to pay tax on same basis as the rest of us and show that "we're all in this together" The word "austerity" has not passed this woman's lips

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    The irony is that the people waving their "Citizen not Subject" placards are citizens. The 1983 Nationality Act makes us all citizens. The Queen does not rule anyone, being a figurehead with no power and any deference is to the office, not the person. All heads of state receive deference. Americans meeting the President might not bow, but they would be deferent and call him "Sir" I suspect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    When this topic (it can hardly be called a debate) crops up amongst the intellectuals at my local pub; I ask the Repubs to nominate a republic that has not had a civil war or one that they recommend as an example we should copy from. I also ask them to name a president or prime minister in history they would recommend as a role model for our Head of State and Commander in Chief - - no answers

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    Driven by a want to steal land and sell it off, a blatant short sighted cash grab. I'd rather crown land be owned by my Queen, the embodiment of Britain, than some corrupt Chinese toff.

    Go move to France, republicans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    People are just so stupid and gullible they deserve what they get! The advice of W.C, Fields, "Never give a sucker an even break." rings as true today as ever.


Page 40 of 62


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.