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.

Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.