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 835.

    Our monarchy is a historic and very fragile institution.

    Lets give it time to adapt, like we have seen in recent years before we start knocking it down. It doesn't make sense to get rid of something in such a short space of time when you can let it slowly develop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    It is our Royal Family which makes us different to the rest and keeps the tourists flocking to our country. The EU has done its best to destroy our Britishness without any help from within. Long live the Queen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    Thanks for the history lesson, Stuart Wilson (804) :-)

    However, I'm sure somebody told me when I was at school that we had a republic a few years ago under some bloke called Cromwell and that ended up with us getting a monarchy back after a few years...

    So much for "there's a first time for everything" :-D

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    To me the ethical issue is inherited status and position. I don't see how a monarchy is compatible with the values of democracy and meritocracy.

    Lets find out if the people want to have a monarchy after the current Queen by having a referendum to ratify (or not) any future succession. If the people support a new monarch the monarchy stays, if not, Britain becomes a republic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    mess 807 RedRebel,
    (about Hitler)
    "A dictator who , incidently, the queen`s own mother was an ardent supporter of, but don`t let facts get in the way of pro-royalist propagander."

    You mean a supporter like President George Bush`s grand daddy, Prescott Bush.
    His bank funded Hitler.
    But as you say don`t let facts get in the way.....

  • Comment number 830.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 829.

    823.commandersamvimes - "Re: 813
    So an elected President wouldn't require security measures? Some of the costs are unavoidable for a head of state (look at the White House)."

    BUT (& it needs to be a big BUT) a President wouldn't come with such a hugely extended family of hangers on.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 828.

    793. annieavatar
    "The queen is queen of England - not relevant to other UK countries"

    That doesn't even matter as she's Head of State in about 30 states, which adds to over 130Million people - which (for now at least) include the Scots & Welsh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 827.

    I'm yet to here a royalist make a valid argument that doesn't involve costs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 826.

    Do we really want a someone like Blair or Cameron as head of state. Whatever the rights and wrongs of a constitutional monarchy at least they can't take us into illegal wars or wreck the economy and whatever else it may be the monarchy is a huge tourist draw and we do need those tourists to help balance the books.

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    @822 - After they'd done it for the first 50/100/150/200/250 etc years wouldn't you stop considering them a foreigner?

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    Centuries ago someone appointed themselves leader of the tribe (king) and now there is a continuous line of privileged people who have never been appointed (voted for) and do not carry out any courageous or worthwhile deeds to make them worthy of this position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    Re: 813
    So an elected President wouldn't require security measures? Some of the costs are unavoidable for a head of state (look at the White House).

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    793. annieavatar 12 Minutes ago

    The queen is queen of England - not relevent to other UK countruies

    No, The Scottish King James united the Crown of 2 countries when he took over from the Welsh Tudor dynasty. The last English King was Harold really we English have had a foreigner sitting on our throne for a 1000 years and just get on with it. doesnt both us at all....

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    Personally I'd rather pay for a bit of Royal pomp and colour than a dull bunch of grey suited Republican 'wannabes' adding nothing to life except..blah..blah..and more blah.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    What about simply changing the name of Prime Minister to President+ you could still keep the name of Royal family the same- wouldn't this make everyone happy?

    Ultimately, if the EU is more powerful than the Queen+Royal family
    this would seem to me a bigger issue regarding freedom+equality

    Of course that is more about domination over all of Europe
    vs domination over Britain alone

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    This is a bit of a strange one for me. I'd rather the UK were a republic but I don't think that it's actually worth the disruption and expense to completely change our political system. If we were just starting out as a country I'd want a republic but as we're not I think we should just maintain the status quo. I question the alleged benefits of a monarchy but ultimately it doesn't cause any harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    I have a lot of respect for the Queen due to the long years of service she has given. Its the institution that I don't like. Leaving aside how well she has done and over so long, when she is no longer around I think the people should then have a serious debate on the monarchy and then vote and settle the issue. However, nin my view othing should be done while she is still Queen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 817.

    I think we should all be grateful that we're allowed to have this debate. There are many countries in the world (not all Monarchies either) that would clamp down hard on criticism of the head of state/government. If there is anything wrong with the way Britain is governed then it's nothing to do with the fact we have a monarch or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    The monarchy is effectively, an over-privileged, undemocratic, over-funded, pointless and outdated system; it serves no real purpose to the country whatsoever. I fail to see why the monarchy should have so many privileges over other citizens due to right of birth. Why should the monarchy even be here? Everyone in this country is as much a human being as the queen, so why is the royalty 'better'?


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