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Platinum Jubilees and Republican Questions

The platinum jubilee will bore and cause some to yawn. It might certainly agitate the republican spleen in the fourteen countries where Queen Elizabeth II remains a constitutional head of state. But the question remains: How does the institution this figure represents endure, if it should at all?

A rash of countries have expressed an interest in severing ties with the monarchy. In November last year, Barbados did so with some pomp, swearing in its first president, Sandra Mason, a former governor general. “Today,” Mason proclaimed, “debate and discourse have become action.”

Through 2022, the royals made visits to the Caribbean that showed waning enthusiasm for the Windsors. In Belize and Jamaica, local protesters gathered to call for a formal apology for their family’s role in encouraging that other institution, slavery. A government committee in the Bahamas did not mince its words in calling upon the royals to issue “a full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity”.

The Jamaican Advocates Network was deeply unimpressed by the visit of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, publishing a scathing open letter signed by a hundred people from doctors to religious leaders. “We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind.”

The March tour by the royal couple also proved something of a public relations disaster, poor in terms of what political commentators call “the optics.” During a visit to Trench Town in Jamaica, Kate and William were photographed shaking hands with children through wire fences, the pale hands of saviours making contact with black skin.

The couple then rode the same Land Rover used by the Queen and Prince Philip during their 1953 trip to Jamaica. During a military parade, they stood in the open-top vehicle waving to spectators, spectacularly ignorant to the scene. “These unfortunate images are a relic of the past and could have been taken in the 1800s,” came the scornful suggestion from civil rights campaigner Rosalea Hamilton.

In countries such as Canada and Australia, the monarchy has been battered by occasional republican waves without enduring consequence. An Angus Reid survey published in December 2021 found that 52 percent of respondents thought that Canada should not remain a constitutional monarchy indefinitely, though a quarter did.

In Australia, the new Labor government has expressed interest in revisiting the question of becoming a republic, though it is by no means certain how far they will go. Memories still remain of 1999, when the issue was put to a referendum. The republican movement, self-sabotaging and outmanoeuvred, suffered a stunning defeat.

The party’s 2021 national platform did stump its support for the idea and promised to “work toward establishing an Australian republic with an Australian head of state.” Speaking on the occasion of the jubilee, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, while paying tribute to the Queen’s “remarkable seven decades on the throne” noted that the relationship between colonial power and former colony had altered. “No longer parent and young upstart, we stand as equals.”

One source of potential republican inspiration concerns the issue of succession. Durable, seemingly deathless Queen Liz is popular; the next in line, is not. According to the latest YouGov poll, Prince Charles is the sixth most popular, behind Princes Anne and the Duchess of Cambridge. Popularity measures are also generational, with millennials coming in at 40 percent; Gen X, at 57 percent; and Baby Boomers, at 62 percent. Even ardent royalists struggle to find appeal in the idea of Charles III.

Walter Bagehot, in his 1867 work The English Constitution, put much stock in two ruling concepts: the “efficiency” component comprising responsible government and statecraft and the “dignified” part to encourage homage. The latter was “one to excite and preserve the reverence of the population,” the former, “to employ that homage in the work of government.” With a popular monarch, such matters are easier to reconcile. With a real boob on the throne, things can sour.

Under the Queen’s rule, the institution has absorbed the punches and blows of scandal and threat. Anti-royalist sentiment in Britain has failed to become an indignant stampede of constitutional reform. With the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the Windsors seemed to have reached their lowest point. Scottish academic Tom Nairn, on looking at the throng of mourners in the Mall, saw the “auguries of a coming time” when the United Kingdom would be rid of those “mouldering waxworks” in Buckingham Palace. “England is due a future – one that can smartly exorcise the ghosts of Balmoral and Windsor.”

No exorcism came, and republicans have been left twiddling. This has not stopped the anti-monarchist group Republic from launching its “Not Another 70” campaign. “While a vocal minority will want to celebrate the queen’s seventy year reign,” stated the organisation’s chief executive officer Graham Smith, “we must all start looking to the future. The prospect of King Charles is not a happy one, and there is a good, democratic alternative on offer.”

As celebrations were underway, Smith was full of figures on how many people would be celebrating the occasion. “The polling is quite clear on this, only 14 percent said they were planning to do anything and 11 percent in another poll said they were very interested in it.” Less convincingly, he drew upon figures that showed a fall in the monarchy’s approval ratings from 75 percent to 60 percent, with one poll showing an approval for abolition “up to 27 percent.”

These views, when aired on BBC Breakfast, did not convince the anchor, Roger Johnson. “Why do you not think [the monarchy] is a good idea? The soft power the Monarchy projects, the tourism that [it] attracts in this country? You know the argument.”

The soft power concept, Smith shot back, was “a nebulous and meaningless argument.” The constitution, he argued, should be based “on principles like democracy, not on what people enjoy doing on their holidays.”

Unfortunately for Smith, pageantry and entertainment comes before ideology and political purpose, and when a festival on this scale is organised, entertainment takes precedence. Those keen to raise constitutional questions can come across as prigs. In that sense, the organising machine of Buckingham Palace has been very canny indeed.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    Since William the conquering, thieving, murdering, bludging, greedy bastard, royalty in the British area has accumulated a filthy record, with the alternative under such as Cromwell no better. Parasites, perverts, pissheads, psychos, predators and parrots abound in the history. Nobody, certainly from now, needs royalty, nobility, aristocracy, any more than we “need” socially transmitted diseases. What are they celebrating? Memories? We can learn that a “great;” such as Churchill, also caused, by his orders, directions, advice, actions, attitudes, the deaths and maiming of umpteen thousands and in many places where crime was done. The flag is flying high in these celebrations, as it once did over slavery, humiliations, occupations, predations, invasions and exploitations. We in Australia have a huge task to right recent and ancient wrongs, to make the place fit for civilised progress and decent participation for all. Let us move on from the swamps and plantations associated with greedy and self satisfied monarchy.

  2. Kerri

    I just cannot see myself respecting a monarch whose personal preference was to be a period product?

  3. Fred

    Dr Kampmark: Yet another bag of your “poo thrown over the fence”. Disgusting. I’d be the first to hit the pre-polls to see the back of the Royals, but along to way let’s keep the discussion civil. Please provide evidence of “Lizzy” ever showing support for slavery.

    You well know the UK Parliament sets law and policy and has done so for a long time, including banning slavery in 1833. All of your implication that there is anything to answer for on this matter is scurrilous. Previous royals may have, but not this one. Yes aggrieved people protest about a whole range of issues including those that are nonsense.

    What is “unfortunate” about shaking hands with “blacks” or being driven in an old car?

    As for Dr Smith’s numbers – meaningless… maybe he should have measured UK general apathy at large crowds as a baseline before assessing the “royals enthusiasm”. As for the constitution, it is time that ours was updated because women only have the vote by an act of parliament – it is not “enshrined” and a bill of rights might be useful. How about an article about becoming a republic.

    Far better than your diatribe would be a royals cost benefit analysis, however the value of tourism can be difficult to determine.

  4. New England Cocky

    @ Fred: Why would any thinking Australian citizen have any use for Betty Windsor as Head of State? She never attends the office in Canberra, aided the overthrow of the democratically elected Whitlam government in 1975 to appease the Americans and generally costs Australians far more than any productivity research can justify.

    So between the wars the English government held that the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales would defend Australia in the event of an Asian based invasion. Oops!! The Japanese Air Force put an end to that furphy by sinking both battleships as they ran out of Singapore.

    Singapore … the tale of cowardice by English High Command …. or the loss of the Krait because the submarine commander was not concerned about ”the colonials” waiting to be picked up after a SECOND SUCCESSFUL RAID against the Japanese Navy. In honour of his contempt the sub commander was later promoted to Lord of the Admiralty.

    Then the English are just so good at looking after the best interests of Australia, as occurred at ANZAC Cove in 1915 when the lying English High Command played ”afternoon tea” on the beach as Turkish snipers picked off the English troops in parade formation behind. Meanwhile ANZACs were forced off the objective Lone Pine by Turkish re-enforcements.

    Naturally Kitchener would choose an Australian colonial to shoot as a token admission of guilt over English military shooting Boer civilians, while thousands of Boers died in desperate circumstances in the first concentration camps … later used as the preferred model by the democratically elected German government during the period 1933-1945.

    The above are only a few reasons why Australia as a nation must cut the apron strings to England. It is also why Australia must be self-reliant in every aspect of defence.

  5. Stephen S

    Charles is all entitlement and no judgment. And Australia is sleepwalking to him as our next head of state. The dunce who faithfully relayed Kerr’s conspiracy back to the Palace. Instead of nipping it in the bud.

    Unless Australia Keeps Its Simple, and goes for something straightforward that can win bipartisan support, we will still be stuck with our white hereditary Christian monarchy in 2050.

    Keeping It Simple does not mean agonising over a complicated “republican model”. Which is what FitzSimons wants us to do. It might mean something like (a) Cut the Governor General ties to the Palace (b) Choose the GG via a 2/3 vote of a joint sitting.

  6. Eddie

    Stephen S, maybe first there should be a full Bill of Rights laid out and publically agreed upon before other changes?

  7. Fred

    NEC: Exactly. Militarily we’re just colonial pawns. To be fair the poms did give us a whole bunch of aircraft at the start of WW2 to form the basis of our air force – all the old slow stuff hardly capable of participating in a fly-past. You don’t need to convince me to dump them, but let’s do it for the right reasons not spurious “association with slavery” allegations.

    Stephen S: Please explain Charles’ involvement in these:

  8. king1394

    I prefer to keep the British Monarchy at a safe arm’s length , ie on the other side of the globe, to the type of thing that would replace it: retired military gents and celebrities. I hate it when some MP gets his/her name on a plaque simply by being the incumbent representative at the time. As for the selection of Governors and the GG, least said the better.

  9. wam

    For most of my life, I have been for removing the queen and becoming a republic, with the proviso that the pollies were open, honest and put everything on the table before any referendum.
    30 years ago my darling, a royalist, got a invite to a buck house party.
    She could be accompanied by her spouse and unmarried daughters.
    So a royalist and two republicans rocked up to a very impressive residence.
    Whilst the afternoon was being organised and the lines were formed, my daughter and I had a look around.
    There was water restrictions and her garden was brown and dry. Big tick for queenie.
    We found the dog enclosure with corgis and a little zoo with an emu.
    I reached in and stole a feather, which I wore for golf, bragging about its origin. Nobody really believed it so I had a little giggle about truth, lord..
    When we got home, i wrote to the queen telling her how much the royalist loved the day and the republicans loved the cucumber sangers and the no watering.
    A couple of weeks later I got a letter from an equerry informing me ‘The queen enjoyed your letter’.
    I no longer identify as a republican since trump and the silly ideas of republicans, in the media trashed the word and put me further and further from the concept.

  10. Ron Lee

    New England Cocky has produced an irrefutable list of reasons why Australians are either uneducated or just plain crazy to pledge loyalty to the House of Windsor nee Battenburg. He has however not produced one argument against monarchies. In fact in all the republican “debate” in recent years I have never seen any attempted analysis or debate about which is the better form of national governance. By ‘better” I mean in terms of national social cohesiveness, prosperity, happiness and welfare.

    I am no expert but it seems to me that the constitutional monarchies around the world have performed far better for their citizens than republics. Could it simply be that we chose the wrong monarch? Oh wait. We didn’t choose. One was imposed on us. And what has that monarchy ever done for Australia that wasn’t primarily in the interest of England.

    The prime objective of most republicans is to have an Australian as Head of State and apparently an Australian Governor General will not do. So would an Australian Queen be acceptable? Actually there is one available for recruitment in Denmark! Her name is Mary. And Mary has a son, Christian, who is half Australian and who will be the next King of Denmark and who could be be the subsequent King of Australia.

    What about a proper debate?

  11. Graeme

    I see the Settler society wants to cut ties with the authority by which they occupy these lands.
    By what authority will it then claim legitimacy, when there are no ties to the Sovereigns of the Soil?
    The current government thinks putting the people whose lands it is inside their British legislated Constitution will have a look of legitimacy. I wonder whether some elected “President” will still be answerable to the British Monarch, if elected by Her Majesty’s subjects.

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