It’s a difficult time to be a British republican. A couple of reactions to mention of an alternative to having a monarchy is – don’t be a spoil sport or the alternative would be worse.

The national celebrations coming up are not the problem in my mind. Nothing at all wrong with having a big nationwide event in May. Especially given the grim time the hospitality industry has just been through and the natural inclination to celebrate springtime.

Sadly, I have to say that the British republican movement, such as it is, is throwing away the opportunity to pose the questions on the good and bad of having a prominent monarchy in a modern country. “Not My King” is a ridiculous campaign slogan[1]. I believe we’d be better off as a republic but that belief lives with the pragmatic acceptance that there will be a King and he will be the Head of State. Pretending that is not so doesn’t help win the case for change.

Generally, I think there’s an ambivalence[2] about the whole subject amongst the British public. That is however much the BBC talks-up the whole coronation. Nobody much is complaining about having an extra Bank Holiday. Nevertheless, a widely held view is that Charles III will be on probation as a King. If the British monarchy continues to be embroiled in controversy and exist primarily as source of a tabloid headlines, then it will continue to decline as a symbol of the national and last no longer than a decade. The feeling that a monarchy interested in survival should have skipped a generation is a strong one. Their past survival has been mostly because of relative modernisation and not wallowing in ancient rituals.

According to polls, public support for the monarchy is age dependent. This maybe because of the claimed propensity for people to become more conservative, with a small “c”, with age. On the other hand, this is a new age. We have never had the global information revolution that is shaking the foundations of society in the way it is now.

I’m a supporter of British republicanism because we are citizens and not subjects. Although, I do recognise that the different status of people can be of dreadful intricacy given our history.

In Britain, some aspects of our unwritten constitution are “too easy” to change because of a passive Head of State. Conversely, some aspects of our unwritten constitution are “too hard” to change because of being constrained by custom, tradition, and the power of veto by those with inherited influence.

Ironically, post-Brexit, British republicanism is more allied to maintaining sovereignty than our crumbling[3] existing system of governance. That is as much about the sovereignty of the individual citizen as it is of our society or the State. Republicanism has always been about liberty. A few passages from Tom Paine (1737–1809) are enough evidence in that respect.

Good luck to His Majesty King Charles III. He’ll need it.

POST: Not me or, no relation in so far as I know: John Vincent (historian) is a British historian and professor emeritus of modern history at the University of Bristol. He is known for his works on political history, especially the 19th and 20th centuries, and for his controversial views on democracy and monarchy.



[3] The last six years have illustrated the weakness of the current settlement.  

Author: johnwvincent

Our man in Southern England

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