Naked Politics Blogger
Republic, the pressure group advocating an end to the monarchy, has marked Queen Elizabeth’s birthday by calling for a referendum on the future of the monarchy in the wake of her death. While, as a devout republican I appreciate the opportunity to vote on this matter, I can’t help but feel such a move to be insensitive, ill-judged and premature, more likely to harm the movement than achieve its ambitions.
Being against the monarchy at a time of royal celebration can be frustrating. Sycophancy emanates from every cornerstone of society. Elected politicians scramble over themselves to voice their adulations. The BBC ran an article asking what we can learn about longevity from the nonagenarian, apparently oblivious to the well-established role wealth has on life expectancy. Then there is the endless stream of well-wishers, which in days gone by could be ignored by shutting yourself away, but are an unavoidable presence in the age of social media.
Such practices are as archaic as the monarchy itself. When Edward VIII was born, Keir Hardy, the first Member of Parliament representing the Labour Party, was delivering a message of condolences to the families of those who had been killed in a coal mining explosion in Wales, when he was asked to add on congratulation for the royal birth. Hardy instead chose to launch a blistering attack on the monarchy and future King. The outrage over his remarks in Parliament cost Hardy his seat, but for republicans, his powerful words resonate to this day.
At this point I should acknowledge my feelings are unpopular, but they are not petty. I do not reject the monarchy out of spite or jealousy. From everything I’ve seen they can be quite affable and friendly. However what they represent is at best regressive and at worst heinous.
The monarchy captures the worst excesses of crony capitalism, inherited and entrenched wealth, not through invention, creativity or even owning capital, but through birth. The positions of royalty and the aristocracy may be widely viewed as symbolic, but this neglects the reality that through birth right alone, this class has unfettered access and influence over the entirety of the upper-echelons of British society. The existence of the monarchy also gives further credence to other anachronistic institutions.
The House of Lords, the second biggest unelected legislative body in the world after the Chinese politburo, should be seen as a national embarrassment in a country which proclaims to hold in high esteem the virtues of democracy, yet it persists as a permanent fixture in Parliament. The House of Lords doesn’t need reform; it needs replaced with a body which is democratically elected via proportional representation.
How though can we challenge one undemocratic institution, when another is celebrated? For the sake of democratic ideals and principles, I oppose the monarchy. However, this is also the reason why I am weary of Republic led referendum on the issue, especially in the aftermath of the loss of a popular and beloved figure.
The phrase “timing is everything” springs to mind. A loss in a referendum would consolidate the position of the monarchy and by extension all they represent for generations to come. Choosing a referendum based on a symbolic moment in their history, exclusively because you hope public opinion will change is a foolish tactic.
The role of republicans then should not be to force a vote which they are likely to lose. It should be instead to promote the hopeful message of optimism which democratic movements rely on. Building sufficient support against unelected heads of State is the task at hand, and not an easy one at that. It would be best for Republic and their supporters to remember this before charging into a battle it will likely lose.