Comment writer Alex Carter argues that it’s time to abolish the monarchy but the republican movement is missing the mark
It isn’t controversial to suggest that the monarchy is a major political and cultural force in our country – it’s in the name ‘United Kingdom’, after all. Successive monarchs have ruled over a United Kingdom since 1603, albeit with a brief respite 400 years ago. Some have been more popular than others, but they all have one thing in common – their ‘right’ to rule has always been, and still is, based on archaic and illegitimate ‘divine’ justifications. These are simply incompatible with modern national values. I believe that now is the time to work harder than ever to dismantle the institution of the monarchy, by attacking the misconceptions about it rife in public discourse and offering a viable alternative. But is the republican movement in the UK missing the mark?
The primary task for any republican movement is to identify why the monarchy must be abolished. Apart from pointing out the obvious – the moral bankruptcy of an institution that represents institutionalised inequality and harbours unsavoury characters like Prince Andrew – the most effective way to do this is to address the public’s misconceptions about royalty. In his relentlessly logical Abolish the Monarchy, Graham Smith, one of the country’s leading republican organisers and the CEO of Republic, does just that. Smith identifies and dismantles the most common myths about royalty – from the well-rehearsed but logically vacuous tourism debate, to the blatant corruption – and proposes a ‘non-political’ and ‘ceremonial’ elected head of state as a replacement.
What’s more, a string of Guardian articles have recently exposed an institution that isn’t nearly as ‘impartial’ as it claims to be. Perhaps the most shocking breach of so-called royal impartiality was the royal spin doctor’s attempts to censor, both in advance and in real time, coverage of the King’s coronation. It’s what they call a ‘perpetuity edit’, a phrase which belongs in an Orwell novel, not a late-stage western democracy.
This is just one of many examples that begs the question – why is the family that constitutes our head of state able to consistently avoid the media scrutiny which is applied to every other member of society? The answer is clear – it’s one rule for us, and none for them.
It comes as no surprise then, that republican movements in the UK have never been so popular. Just recently, Republic, the foremost republican group in the UK, announced that since the coronation of King Charles in May, its membership has doubled in size to over 9000 individuals, owing largely to the huge publicity garnered by the unjustified arrest of six peaceful Republic protestors at the King’s coronation.
However, despite recent successes, I believe that the republican movement is capable of so much more. Multiple independent polls, collated in Smith’s book, suggest that anywhere between 25% and 35% of the British public are republicans. If, as an organisation, Republic wants to represent the wider republican movement, rather than just the small proportion of it that constitutes its membership, change is obviously needed. But are they able to broaden their appeal to fill this huge chasm?
It all boils down to the idea of ‘democracy’. From discussions of the monarchy by both Republican groups and the mainstream media, it is clear that the public discourse is dominated by this illusive term. Whilst democracy is an essential core principle of any republican movement, it seems to have become a knee jerk reaction to the opaque impenetrability of the royal world. But I would argue that nobody – including our leaders – seem to know what ‘democracy’ actually means.
Time and time again, it has been proven that the British public simply don’t respond to the cold logic of ‘democracy’ alone. I believe that for republican movements to be a success, they need to lay aside their bourgeois obsession with liberal democracy and start attacking the monarchy from a cultural angle. This is where the pernicious tendrils of monarchism are most stubborn.
My own experience as a member of Republic has led me to the conclusion that the fortune of republicanism in the UK is summarised by a single word – apathy. Despite there being almost no logical justification for a 21st-century monarchy, the British people simply don’t seem to have the appetite for the upheaval necessary for such a huge institutional change such as abolishing it. The republican movement needs to find a way to excite and politicise young people and create this appetite. This is a difficult, daunting but essential task, and something that is going to take a long time to accomplish. Whether we like it or not, the monarchy isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
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