Royal Pain: The British Republicans' Waiting Game

By Flamini, Roland | World Affairs, September-October 2011 | Go to article overview

Royal Pain: The British Republicans' Waiting Game


Flamini, Roland, World Affairs


When Britain's Prince William and his wife of three months Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, visited Los Angeles, celebrity capital of the world, in July, the kind of feverish scramble for invitations to the three receptions given in their honor was a thing virtually unseen since the epic contest among leading actresses of the day to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.

Wills and Kate may have had their ten-day honeymoon in the Seychelle Islands, but their global honeymoon shows no signs of having run its course. Kate Middleton is rapidly approaching the status enjoyed by Princess Diana as the most photographed woman on earth. So it would seem that the chronically dysfunctional British royals have at last got themselves a winner. And they do--at least on the international scene, but perhaps less so where it matters most: in the United Kingdom.

The BBC estimated that twenty-five to thirty million television viewers watched either all or part of the channel's respectful, wall-to-wall coverage (or independent television's more spirited version) of the marriage between Prince William, son of the late Princess Diana and second in line to the British throne, and his college sweetheart, Catherine (Kate) Middleton. A further million people packed the royal route in London.

Sure, that's a lot of people, but it didn't meet the British media narrative, which was that the United Kingdom's entire population of sixty-two million found itself swept up in the excitement of the Wills-and-Kate nuptials. In numerical terms, it seems that half the country did, and the other half just took advantage of the official holiday to ignore the whole affair.

The Cameron government might have hoped that the royal event would lift the spirit of a nation struggling with tough austerity measures. But that would be reading too much into it, as the Guardian commented (shortly after dropping its longstanding support for a republican Britain in favor of a continuation of the monarchy).

"The wedding was not a looking-glass event, reflecting the infantilization of a subject nation," the paper said in an editorial. "The curtain rose and then fell. The circus came and went. It did not change anything. Britain is not now a happier or a safer, a more purposive or a less unequal place than it was before Prince William placed the ring on his bride's finger ... "

And it is not much friendlier to the royals after all the glorious huggermugger has come and gone. MORI, a leading British pollster, has been asking the same question since 1993--"Would you favor Britain becoming a republic, or remaining a monarchy?"--and getting more or less the same result: eleven million Britons, or roughly a sixth of the population, say they are committed republicans who would like to see an elected president as head of state in place of the monarch.

It could be said that another twenty million Britons who apparently opted not to follow the prince's nuptials may not favor a Republic of Britain: still, they form a sizable groundswell of public indifference--and that makes them the group to cause the British royals most concern. Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, has a realist's view of the future, as is indicated by his minimalist observation: "If people don't want [the monarch'y], they won't have it."

Such is the dream of Republic, a movement started in 1983, and the leading exponent of the republican cause in Britain. A smaller, more recent, and more virulent movement is ThroneOut. The Republic website (republic.org.uk) trots out the familiar arguments: the monarchy is an anachronism that perpetuates a divisive class system in which being a member of the aristocracy is more important than merit and ability. Today, the idea of the monarch at the apex of a hierarchical society runs counter to most people's values.

Republic's website goes on to say that the hereditary system "leaves the position of head of state to chance. …

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