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This Sunday – while a long line of boats floats downstream along the Thames to mark the Queen’s sixty years on the throne – hundreds of republicans will be protesting against the monarchy on the river bank. Republic’s jubilee protest will be the biggest and most vocal expression of anti-monarchy and republican dissent there has been in modern times.
Armchair republicans meanwhile have been out and about in the media telling us that the best strategy would be to do nothing – a strategy that for the past 30 years has left the movement lagging well behind other progressive and democratic causes. To do nothing, to buy into the ‘we all love the Queen’ royalist-Britain narrative, is a failure of imagination and ambition that has to stop.
For years republicanism has been treated by many in politics and the media as nothing more than an intellectual exercise for the educated elite. The ‘chattering classes’ like to wear the republican badge – it gives them a warm sense of satisfaction about their rationality – but they have refused to take up the challenge of turning the cause into a serious movement. On the weekend, Roy Hattersley criticised Republic’s campaign as ‘silly’ and ‘trivialising’ the issue – a response absolutely typical of the previous generation of republicans who have spectacularly failed the cause. In the Guardian, Tom Clark was recently suggesting that ‘shrewd’ republicans would simply sit back and do nothing until the Queen dies. This is a passive – and rather morbid – approach that a new generation of republicans are completely rejecting. There is nothing shrewd about do-nothing campaigning.
The monarchy is a political institution and it survives for political and cynical reasons. It’s not going to fade away, and a passive ‘wait for Charles’ approach is a recipe of failure. The palace and the government do all they can to promote and shore up the monarchy – it serves the interests of the Windsors of course, but with the Crown giving so much power to the government it also serves the interests of the politicians. This is a politicians’ monarchy, cynically dressed up in Edwardian pomp to distract attention from a very shabby political operation. The only way it will be disposed of is by republicans taking the fight to the palace and to parliament, winning over public support in the long term and demanding the politicians follow.
Republic represents a new and dynamic republicanism – one that doesn’t accept the monarchist narrative and which is determined to challenge the spin, hype and hyperbole of the royalists. We also do not accept the defeatism of some republicans – such as Peter Wilby, who, the other day, was suggesting protest was pointless and that we ought instead to aim for a scaled down monarchy.
This is why, on Sunday, Republic will be staging the biggest republican protest in living memory right on the banks of the river Thames. It is our intention to make a very clear, vocal and visible statement about our cause and to challenge people to think again about what they’re being asked to celebrate. The jubilee is not just a celebration of one woman’s time in office, it is a celebration of monarchy itself and the hereditary principle. Yet the Queen is just an ordinary woman who at the age of 25 was given a job for life and who has kept that job for life for over 60 years – while allowing all those around her to cynically manipulate our media and politicians in a concerted effort to protect her and her institution from scrutiny or challenge. It is not an achievement to keep such a job for 60 years – it’s just a matter of mathematics.
Republicans have a powerful and positive message about democratic values and a more imaginative and inspiring form of politics. We must make the case for change and take up the challenge to persuade a majority that the case is one deserving their support.
At the same time we must challenge the public to think again about the monarchy, to reject the lazy clichés – and we must challenge the palace head on. Monarchy is not as popular as Tom Clark suggested in his earlier article – 69% prefer the status quo, that’s not the same as saying 69% love the monarchy. Widespread opposition to the taxpayer buying a new boat for the Queen and a clear majority objecting even to changing the name of the Big Ben tower to Elizabeth Tower are just two recent indicators of a much more ambivalent public attitude.
The monarchy’s popularity and survival aren’t the result of its inherent place in the fabric of Britain, but a result of a deliberate and concerted PR campaign from the palace and the complete failure of previous generations of republicans to take up the fight.
That fight is now on, and Sunday’s protest is just the start of a bigger and more robust republican campaign – one that will continue to grow, as it has done over the past eighteen months and which will succeed.
The Republic protest will take place on 3 June, at Tower Bridge between 12-5pm. For more information please visit www.republic.org.uk.