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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  • Comment number 1235.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1234.

    What ever the causes of WWI millions of British and Commonwealth soldiers had a diiferent mindset to one we have today. From birth people were, I will not say indoctrinated, brought up with a sense of duty to King / Queen and country. After the war to end all wars was followed by WWII and the UK had to again pick itself off the ground people hoped for a better life. Are we there yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1233.

    I am with The God Save The Queen brigade.An old fashioned gal. have toasted The Queen at functions and have always sung The National Anthem with gusto and pride
    Republicans can go and live in one

  • rate this

    Comment number 1232.

    We should keep the queen if she actually rules us like one. Gets rid of the government which tells her what to do.. It is pointless having a Queen if she is not going to rule us like a Queen.. Lets be honest the would be less rules and more hangings. get to put people in stocks an throw moldy food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1231.

    1218. Name Number 6

    Thats the whole point, I don't have to address them on bended knee and I was referring to Micheal Higgins diplomatic abilities not his looks. But now you come to mention it.....
    You are right, unless you are going to be a failed politician and get knighted, there is nowt to do with bended knees, they breathe the same air and live as long as you or I. Equaliser or what?

  • Comment number 1230.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1229.

    1217. Blythkeith
    "Indeed - but republicans don't get that choice, do they?"
    Nope. Because they live in a century old monarchy that I would give my life for to defend. If you don't like it, go and live in a republic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1228.

    "The argument that we could have 9560 nurses instead of the queen ignores the income the royals generate for the country from tourism"
    Unbelievable! People still believe that crap! can you actually live in the same world with unevolved people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1227.

    "we would be the ones, helping to defeat an evil regime, with great personal sacrifice, stoicism and bravery. "

    In other words - the gullible cannon fodder put between the elite and the enemy...

    Good God - just how brainwashed to you have to be to actually ASPIRE to that role?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1226.

    It's a struggle sometimes to justify hereditary position and privilege, though discerning a viable alternative to having a monarch as head of state, albeit in name only, is elusive.
    The only alternative is to have a politician standing for president. Could you stomach a President Blair, Cameron or heaven forbid President Brown. Give me a Queen over a second rate duplicitous politician any day!

  • Comment number 1225.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1224.

    I simply enjoy the tradition, the history, the colour and the pageantry of the monarchy. I would much sooner have a monarch than a president. Isn't it funny when republicans are so patronising. If 69% of the population of the UK want a monarch, well I would say that is case closed. I think that we would be poorer for not having a monarch and I don't care that they aren't elected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1223.

    a more than likely future:-

    "it is reported today that an investigation is being launched about the expenses of President Cameron and Prime Minister Clegg after a freedom of information request found that expenses had been falsely claimed and why these current heads of state are costing 10 times the amount that the previous monarchy cost per year."

    Republic - No thanks
    Monarchy - Yes please

  • rate this

    Comment number 1222.

    What a brilliant example of how the media leads us into polemic confrontation to distract us from ever thinking outside prescribed lines. Both these systems are fundamentally floored and we are tricked into arguing which one is best. Post Modernity = conform, consume, obey. Where is the vision? People seem to be saying they just want more of the same. I don't want either of these for my children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1221.

    Retaining monarchy shows that Britain is either apathetic or is content to continue living in the past. Either way it does not suggest we are a society with a positive and constructuve vision of the future. The key national resources are in the hands of a privileged few, able to maintain the status quo and supress social mobility, yet are unelected and unaccountable. Long live the republic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1220.

    God Save the Queen. If u want a republic go somewhere else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1219.

    Perhaps Royalty is successful because you do not have to vote for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1218.

    1211. paulmerhaba
    Calling a president 'cracking' will not do, stately or regal is a much better description. Males do not get a look in.
    Thats the whole point, I don't have to address them on bended knee and I was referring to Micheal Higgins diplomatic abilities not his looks. But now you come to mention it.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1217.

    "I am a free man, I'll decide who I want to fight for, thank you very much. If that is to be the Queen, then who are you to tell me that I can't do that? Mind your own business."

    Indeed - but republicans don't get that choice, do they?

    Pure hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1216.

    Oh god they do go on. This is so last Century-the beginning of last century. The next thing they will be advocating a communist party-just remind them that has already been done


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