The monarchy is more secure than ever

The uncomfortable truth for republicans is that public attitudes to the monarchy have barely shifted

It is the constitutional duty of the head of a republican pressure group to provide a dissenting note during the high days and holidays of Monarchical ceremony.

But if Graham Smith of Republic may have half a point in his call on the media to ensure the alternative anti-Monarchy view gets a voice he also massively overstates his two central claims, that the Monarchy "is able to co-opt almost the entire media output of this country to its own advantage and a media that is failing to report the true story of a changing public attitude toward royalty and monarchy". Neither claim stands up to scrutiny of the evidence.

To concede one point, many listeners to the Today programme yesterday, whatever their own views of the Monarchy, might have been struck by just how different in tone the discussion of the Queen's reign was to everything else on the programme. It does sometimes seems difficult for broadcasters to discuss the Monarchy, and especially the Queen herself, without sounding as though they are broadcasting, with all due deference, from the 1953 Coronation itself.

Still, the Republican claim of a blanket pro-Monarchy media is clearly false. There will, as ever, be plenty of debates about the principle of the Monarchy and whether people still want one. There are four pro-Republic national newspapers in the Guardian, Observer, Independent and Independent on Sunday, making up no less than half of the "broadsheet" press against the Times and Telegraph titles. (The FT pays little attention to the subject). Since around one in five would scrap the Monarchy, that looks more like over-representation than the opposite. Republicanism is also advocated by two of our political weeklies - the Economist joining the Staggers - against the loyalist Spectator.

What Republicanism lacks is a tabloid voice, beyond the Morning Star. But why is that? Being pro-Monarchy is as much part of the identity of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express as being sceptical of it is to the Guardian. Beyond that, it gets more complicated. Britain's most powerful Republican is, of course, the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch. That his newspapers do not express his view must be either a laudable example of editorial freedom or, at least, a sense of which side of the argument will sell more copies of the Sun. The Mirror is another disappointment to the cause. Its big name political columnists, like Kevin Maguire and Paul Routledge, make little secret of their own sympathies lying with a democratic means of guillotining the hereditary head of state; that the newspaper's own editorial line is as traditionalist as that of the Express doubtless reflects research into what the majority of working-class Mirror readers think.

The personal and political turmoil which hit the House of Windsor through the 1990s hardly demonstrated a tame media replicating the self-censorship of the abdication crisis of the 1930s. Pro-monarchy papers hit pretty hard in the battles between the Charles and Diana camps; over Fergie's troubles; and taking on the government to push for the Monarch to pay taxes after the Windsor fire.

What is most striking is just how little difference all of that made to public attitudes. There is very limited evidence for the "changing public attitude" which Smith says the media is ignoring. Robert Worcester of pollster MORI has more persuasively identified attitudes to the Monarchy as "the most stable measure of public opinion that exists in this country", remaining remarkably consistent at just under one in five across recent decades.

Support for a Republic was 18 per cent in 1969. It was also 18 per cent in 1993, 19 per cent in 2002, 18 per cent again in 2007 and 18 per cent again in 2011. During the turbulent period of 1993-2002, MORI found support for remaining a monarchy remained within the narrow range of 69 per cent to 74 per cent in favour. The Jubilee polls are very likely to find very similar levels of support. The threat to the monarchy seemed greatest after the death of Diana, though, in fact, when the Monarch was seen to respond to her people with a televised address and flying the Royal Standard at half-past, support for a Republic very briefly halved, for just a month, before returning to its extremely steady state. Attitudes have fluctuated more on other questions - the status quo versus reform; or attitudes towards particular individuals - but remarkably little on the core question of the monarchy itself.

It is not clear how far there is growing indifference to the Monarchy - nor that this would be to the advantage of republicans, who need there to be a reason to bring about change. Jonathan Parry, the Cambridge historian, has written, perhaps counter-intuitively, that there is little evidence that monarchism was so much so fervent in the past, and that it would be as misleading to take reverential newsreel footage as automatically representative of public sentiment as it would be to assume that everybody shares one approach today. He has written that:

"For most of the time since 1750, monarchy has not been very important ... It would be misleading to assume that royalty occupied a larger place in people's thoughts at the time of Queen Victoria's death in 1901 than at the Queen Mother's in 2002".

Indeed, benign indifference might be thought more appropriate to a constrained constitutional Monarchy than excessive flag-waving, except on special occasions. British Future state of the nation polling found a broad appetite for the Jubilee celebrations, with 68 per cent believing that the Jubilee will boost the British national mood, while 7 per cent say it will have a negative impact and 23 per cent say it will make no difference. It is an attitude held by 69 per cent in England and 70 per cent in Wales, and by a majority (55 per cent) in Scotland too. This put the Jubilee narrowly ahead of the Olympics, which 64 per cent believe will have a positive impact, and 11 per cent negative. (An intriguing detail is that the Jubilee has a considerably stronger cross-class appeal in Scotland than the Olympics: 63 per cent of AB respondents, 56 per cent of Scottish C1/C2 respondents and 50% of DE Scots say the Jubilee will have a positive impact. While the Olympics score 61 per cent among AB Scots, this falls to 31% among social group DE in Scotland, where 51 per cent are indifferent to the Games and 13 per cent say they will be negative)

Perhaps, as Graham Smith claims, "any residual affection" will end with the Queen but it sounds like wishful thinking. The end of a reign and the accession of a new Monarch is as likely to be powerful a moment when the Monarchy is as secure as ever.

In the very different world of 1952, contemporary reports suggest a nation taken aback by the scale of its own sense of shock."The King's death really has swamped politics", wrote a somewhat surprised Richard Crossman, New Statesman assistant editor, exactly sixty years ago this week, noting in his diary that even the left-wing magazine's offices were convulsed by debate over whether the magazine's front page should carry a black border or not.

Sixty years on, republicans are bound to want to use the Jubilee celebrations to raise their own banner. The monarchy seems as secure in 2012 as it did in 1952 - and indeed somewhat more so than it seemed in 1912, the 1860s or the 1990s.

Republicanism remains, of course, an entirely legitimate democratic project, but its advocates must admit that they are a democratic minority, with a sustained democratic majority for a constitutional monarchy, and has made little apparent effort to understand why most people are not persuaded or to respect the views of those who disagree, tending to portray most people as unthinking drones who have been duped by the propaganda. The challenge for republicans is that, while most people understand the arguments for and against, a majority remain unpersuaded that there would be any significant gain, while many would feel a deep sense of loss at the removal of this living link to British history in order to tidy up the constitution and make the country just a little bit more like everywhere else.

Republicans need to do more than shoot the messenger. There is no evidence that newsworthy republican statements would be ignored. The republican street party during the most recent toyal wedding got a fair hearing, as both a light-hearted addition making the national festivities more inclusive, and as a platform to make a more serious point.

A Jubilee year demonstration of 50,000 people calling for the Queen to abdicate would certainly gain national and international press and TV attention. The republican problem would not be getting the media coverage for such an event, but in persuading anybody to turn up.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.