“For all the issues Republic campaigns on our focus has never wavered. Our mission is simple: to achieve the abolition of the British monarchy in favour of a democratic republic. That’s a tall order, a tough challenge and there are no quick fixes or silver bullets that will get the monarchy abolished next week or next year. Yet Republic remains as committed as ever to achieving that goal as soon as possible. I believe we can do it a lot quicker than most observers might assume.”
These were the words of Graham Smith, the CEO of the Republic movement, as he addressed Republic’s members prior to their annual conference last week. The conference was held in Stokes Croft, a fascinating urban area of Bristol. The conference theme, as might be anticipated from the above quotation, was “Growing to win”.
Republic campaigns for an elected head of state and an end to any political role, or state funding, for the royal family. The movement proposes replacing the monarchy with a directly elected, largely ceremonial head of state.
In a publication called “Royal secrets must end”, it is shown that the governing principle of democracy is at the very heart of the movement’s thinking and acting. “Hereditary public office goes against every democratic principle. And because we can’t hold the Queen and her family to account at the ballot box, there’s nothing to stop them abusing their privilege, misusing their influence or simply wasting our money. Meanwhile, the monarchy gives vast arbitrary power to the government, shutting voters out from major decisions affecting the national interest.”
It is the view of Republic that “the monarchy is a broken institution. A head of state that’s chosen by us could really represent our hopes and aspirations – and keep politicians in check.”
With a membership of over 35,000 republicans from across the political spectrum (30% of whom have joined within the last six months), everything that Republic does is aimed at raising the level of debate about the monarchy and persuading British people to support the movement. Republicans are active in numerous areas – representing republicans in the media, protesting at royal events, exposing royal corruption and putting pressure on politicians. The annual conference is just one of a lively programme of events that seeks to spread the republican word as wide as possible.
With the concern for democracy being at the very centre of Republic’s life and activities, it comes as no surprise that this year’s annual conference had a particular focus on this matter. A special feature of the conference programme was the group discussion that took place on a set of six questions appropriate to the subject. The discussion topics included the following:
1. How would a republic work better than what we’ve got?
2. What would be the social and cultural impact of being a republic?
3. What would be the political impact of moving to a republic?
4. Why is a republic a good thing?
5. Is getting rid of the monarchy enough?
6. What is so great about democracy?
There are linkages between some of the above questions. However, as a package they have a clear concern for the impact a republic would have on the life of the UK and, indeed, wider.
The questions themselves demand critical thinking about the nature and role of monarchy in a truly democratic society, as well as a thorough appreciation of the democratic system of governance – upon what is democracy based and what exactly does it offer a nation. So too, there is a demand that the demise of the monarchy requires a mature approach to decision-making based on an understanding of our nation’s history and the changing nature, role and context of historical institutions, for example, the Church of England.
The campaigns and conferences of Republic are supported by a growing list of publications. The following is a selection of the available pamphlets:
1. Monarchy must go – a campaign for a democratic alternative to monarchy.
2. Royal secrets must end – the secrecy surrounding the institutional machinations of monarchy.
3. Royal expenses-£334m per year – counting the real cost of the monarchy.
Each of these pamphlets focuses on various aspects of particular issues, but overall they seek to inform the public about issues, many of them controversial, involving the royal family.
These issues include: the fact that royalty is shrouded in secrecy and beyond the reach of freedom of information laws; the power the monarchy gives to politicians to declare war, sign treaties and change the law (all without parliamentary scrutiny) and the influence on government as a result of lobbying by royals; the substantial hidden costs of maintaining a monarchy (a fact admitted even by such a royalist newspaper as The Daily Telegraph) and the lack of public accountability for these costs; the myth of the boost to tourism that the monarchy provides.
Republic seeks to raise the level of understanding and debate – and hopefully decision – about the above and other matters relating to the British monarchy and its place, or otherwise, in a 21st century UK democracy.
Republic is a movement that is making an impression on the imagination of the British public.
Republic has shown that it has a voice to be listened to; a content to be argued; and a context that is very much at home within contemporary Britain as, through its various campaigns, it seeks to “grow to win”.
For those who are members of the Republic movement it is axiomatic that “Britain deserves better than to be lumbered with such a secretive, self-serving institution that stands so firmly against all our best instincts and values”.
Let the last word belong to Graham Smith: “I know we can and will win this campaign. I know also why it’s so important we do succeed – I don’t need to tell you that! The monarchy is a core part of Britain’s ailing political system, it is clearly wrong in principle and bad for British politics, and it is simply not fit for purpose”.