October 16, 2021

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UK republicans take heart from royals’ recent travails

UK republicans take heart from royals’ recent travails
It has been another run of weeks in which the royal family’s open sores have been publicised around the world.Prince Andrew was confirmed to be a “person of interest” in a new US investigation into the disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein. Days later, it transpired that a new epilogue of a biography of the Duke…

It has been another run of weeks in which the royal family’s open sores have been publicised around the world.

Prince Andrew was confirmed to be a “person of interest” in a new US investigation into the disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein. Days later, it transpired that a new epilogue of a biography of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex states the pair believe the royal family did not take accountability for the concerns raised in their interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Separately, an unwelcome development of a different kind for the royals came on Sunday when a charity founded by Prince Charles said it was launching an ethics investigation into claims of “cash for access” – the allegation that middlemen were taking payments for setting up dinner between wealthy donors and the future king.

It is a backdrop that leaves those making the often lonely case for a republic in the UK convinced they are quietly making headway, not only by claiming a recent increase in formal support but also by the reaction to a publicity campaign designed to get people talking about their cause.

A set of billboards rolled out by the campaign group Republic is unprecedentedly stark in calling for the abolition of the monarchy.

And it has achieved one of its desired goals – provoking a reaction – even if that includes at least one being vandalised. New billboards, including one depicting Andrew as “Wanted”, are set to go up in the near future.

But while royal controversies continue to indirectly aid the cause, lesser-appreciated and perhaps counterintuitive factors are also driving newer recruits into the republican fold, not least the television juggernaut The Crown.

Richard Crane, 23, a PhD student at York University who joined Republic two months ago, credits the series with beginning his journey from being a “half-monarchist” to somebody actively supporting the institution’s abolition.

“It prompted me to do a bit more research about what their role is, and what systems are in place in other countries such as India and Ireland, which made me realise a lot of things,” he said.

Another who joined in the past year, Henry Beach, a conservative-leaning 29-year-old Londoner working in marketing, is an example of the campaign reaching further than left-of-centre silos, despite it remaining small.

“My interest actually kicked during the purchase of the flat where I live with my girlfriend,” he said.

“It’s under leasehold and there’s a freeholder above that, which I find quite wrong. It really sparked the idea that we are still living in a feudalistic system and all that flows from that.”

Republic’s CEO, Graham Smith, expresses satisfaction with the impact of the latest campaign and claims the winds are beginning to change. And he credits the furore around Prince Harry and Meghan as one trigger.

“It’s dividing opinion again. I think there are a lot of people who are sympathetic to them and lot of people who really wish they would go away,” he said.

“But I think a lot of people were pretty shocked by the allegations of racism, towards Meghan’s health for example.”

Smith said Republic’s main focus remains on preparing for the opportunity around the royal succession. He said a potentially much less popular King Charles presents a headache for those seeking to preserve the monarchy.

“I don’t think a constitutional crisis will be inevitable, but I think it is a very serious problem,” he said. “We feel he will find it very difficult to keep his mouth closed and to say nothing on issues that matter to him. I think he has a kind of messianic complex way, he feels he is here to save us from ourselves.”

Polling consistently underlines the popularity of the monarchy in the UK. Three in five Britons (61%) still support the monarchy, according to YouGov polling in May, a small fall on the previous year. However, the same polling found that 41% of 18- to 24-year-olds say Britain should have an elected head of state, while 31% continue to support the monarchy.

Malcolm Turnbull, the former Australian prime minister who led his country’s Republican movement in a failed 1999 poll, stresses this is a key moment on the other side of the world, too.

“The Queen’s death or abdication will be a historic watershed, and we just can’t be sure what attitudes will be on the other side,” he told the Guardian.

“In the United Kingdom the argument has to be an egalitarian one. In a modern democracy, republicans will argue, every office should be open to every citizen. Why is the taxpayer spending a fortune to keep one family in such incredible grandeur?”

He added: “In the UK I think it’s a harder sell but the message in Australia is still the same and I think that the view in London, among most people and certainly in and around the royal family, is amazement that Australia isn’t a republic already.”

Turnbull is also confident that the aura around a new generation of royals will not be enough to save the monarchy in any future poll in Australia.

“There are a lot of people that think there’s just such enthusiasm for the younger royals and that will overwhelm it, but I think that is confusing enthusiasm for celebrity with something else entirely,” he said.

“The Americans are great fans of royal gossip and the glamour that comes with it, but they are not about to become a member of the British Commonwealth.”

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