A week ago the British Republican Movement held its Annual Convention in Newcastle. The theme of the 2017 Convention was “Taking Back Control – Just how democratic is Britain?” The Annual Republic Convention is a follow-up to the movement’s Members’ Day and Annual General Meeting, which this year was held in London during the month of March.
Republic’s Members’ Day is an opportunity for the movement’s members to discuss the Republic campaign, debate the issues with which it is involved and to hear about the movement’s plans for the year ahead. The Annual Convention provides the opportunity for Republic members to delve more deeply into the issues with which Republic is involved and campaigns for, and to share these issues with like-minded individuals, groups and organizations.
More specifically, the role and function of this year’s Convention was in order to discuss, debate and evaluate such critical questions as, (a) If we really want political control, what reforms do we need in Westminster?, (b) How does the monarchy shape and reflect a centralized and secretive British state?, and (c) Can we learn from our European neighbours?
The 2017 Republic Annual Convention featured a number of prominent political figures addressing important issues, for both the country and Republic Movement.
Two speakers spoke to the first general title of ROYALS AND REFORM.
Natalie Bennett, the former leader of the Green Party, addressed the issue of “Making our government work: the wider democratic reform agenda”. Ms Bennett was of the view that, if we’re going to make government work for the people, then it needs to be democratic. That means wider democratic reform, changing the way that parliament works, devolving power and improving the quality of governance.
In the recent General Election, Emma Dent Coad MP narrowly won the London seat of Kensington and Chelsea for the Labour Party- shortly before the tragedy of the fire in Grenfell Tower (with which she has been heavily involved). No surprise, therefore, that Emma Dent Coad spoke on the matter of “The Royals in the Royal Borough of Kensington – monarchy and equality”. In her address, the MP raised the dual question of what relationship do the royals have with the local community in Kensington and, following, can that relationship show a link between monarchy and equality in Britain?
Two different speakers addressed the second general title of LESSONS FROM ELSEWHERE.
As the Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University, Dr Simon Philpott is well versed in matters relating to democracy and republicanism. His address focused on “Republicanism and democratic reform in Britain and abroad”. In particular, he looked at the values and principles that lie behind republicanism, and what lessons we can learn from other countries. Of special interest was whether other heads of state, written constitutions and elected upper houses offer guide to reform in Britain?
The Swedish MP, Christina Örnebjär, sought to bring “Lessons from Sweden: Sweden’s monarchy and the case for abolition”. In doing so, she informed the Convention that Sweden’s constitution is more democratic that Britain’s, but further asked about what that country’s constitution really looks like and why is it still important for Sweden to become a republic?
The third general title of the Convention was TAKING BACK CONTROL, and this topic brought three further speakers to the microphone.
Graham Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of the British Republican Movement. He spoke to the Convention about ”“Taking back control: Parliamentary democracy made democratic. Where does control lie in the Westminster system, and how can we take the parliamentary idea and make it genuinely democratic? What would be the role of an elected, effective head of state?
The same general title was addressed by the Newcastle University historian, Dr Martin Farr. He focused on the matter of a “Modern monarchy: some perspectives on a peculiar phenomenon”. Dr Farr’s reflections centred on the phenomenon of monarchy – something he considers to be a prominent, yet overlooked, subject. His contribution was gleaned from years spent in archives, media and seminar rooms.
This topic’s third contribution came from Chi Onwurah MP. Ms Onwurah is the Labour Party’s MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central. Her primary concern for the Convention was the issue of “Democratic reform in post-Brexit Britain”. In particular, how do we make parliament and politics more democratic, more relevant and better suited to the needs of ordinary people? So too, what are the challenges that face Britain’s democracy in the years ahead?
The Convention programme, as outlined above is certainly contemporary, is seen to be urgent by the Republican movement and is entirely relevant to the British people. The matters focused on at the Convention will have a significant impact on Republic’s campaigning in the future.
In the week prior to the Republic Convention a short article appeared in a tabloid newspaper under the title “Avoid that throne call”. The article said: ‘I’m not sure why Prince Harry got quite such a kicking for saying that “no Royal wants the throne”. Prince Charles has long made it known he doesn’t “hanker” to be king. While the Queen Mother was furious for a lifetime that Edward VIII’s abdication sent her husband to the throne and an early death. And Queen Victoria definitely didn’t want her partying to be interrupted by having to become queen at 18. So nothing has actually changed – other than a bit of (what I’d call rather refreshing) honesty.’ I’m unsure if the author of this bit of news attended the 2017 Republic Convention, but the items commented on are not unrelated to that event.
There are members and supporters of all the major political parties in the overall constituency of Republic. So, as a supporter (but not a member) of the Labour Party, it was no surprise that, prior to the Convention, I received an email from an organizer of the Labour for a Republic movement. The latter is a campaigning group within the Labour Party aimed at promoting the cause of democratic republicanism. As an affiliate of the national Republic campaign, its aim is to engage with Labour members, supporters and elected representatives in pursuit of their republican concerns.
Contacting me was, in part, due to the Labour Party’s participation in this year’s Republic Annual Convention, especially by the Labour duo of Chi Onwurah and Emma Dent Coad. This should not really come as a surprise because the 2017 Republic Convention was, amongst other things, asking how citizens can really take back control from the powerful institutions of Westminster, how ordinary people can take back their rightful powers in a genuine British democracy, rather than be dominated by the British establishment. This is a cause close to the heart-beat of the contemporary British labour movement.
As Ken Ritchie, the Labour for a Republic organizer, pointed out: “Just a couple of weeks ago we saw MPs take an oath of allegiance to the Queen, but some chose to show that their allegiance is to the people – many of them Labour MP’s, so it’s an exciting time to hear other Labour MPs speak at Republic’s biggest event of the year.”
Indeed it was, and it was more than a mere convention!