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God save the Queen?

By Russell Grenning - posted Wednesday, 13 September 2017


While Australian republicans haven't really recovered from their thrashing at the 1999 Republic referendum and wistfully await the death of Queen Elizabeth II before making a fresh bid to abolish the monarchy, things aren't going exactly gang busters for republicans in the UK either.

There is an outfit in Old Blighty called Republic which carries the flag – although surely not the Union Jackfor the republican cause and to say that it has failed to bring Britons out into the streets in their millions demanding an end to the monarchy is rather an understatement. Given what they have actually achieved they are more likely to get Royal patronage than a republic.

Republicanism in the UK reached its high tide under Oliver Cromwell who, after the Civil War, had Charles I executed. By the time the Lord Protector died in 1658 and his near-idiot son Richard assumed the top job, the republican cause was fast ebbing away. After a brief and ineffectual reign Richard was sent packing and Charles II was welcomed back to great acclaim. The monarchy has remained.

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Republic supporters cling desperately to their hope that the death of the monarch and the accession of Prince Charles to the throne will mean a huge boost for their cause. They are nothing if not strident and their web page is littered with denunciations of the Royal Family.

Yet Republic is not even generating much support, if any, from those who might be regarded as their natural allies. Jeremy Corbyn, arguably Labor's most left-wing post-war leader was questioned last May about why there was nothing in his party's election manifesto about abolishing the monarchy and he replied, "Look, there's nothing in there as we're not going to do it." He added, "It's not on anybody's agenda, it's certainly not on my agenda and, do you know what, I had a very nice chat with the Queen."

For an allegedly activist organisation Republic doesn't do much to bring out their foot soldiers to bond in the noble cause. Currently, their web page only lists three upcoming events – An Action Day in Bradford which will consist of handing out leaflets in a shopping centre on September 16, the John Campbell Lecture on November 1 and the AGM on March 10, 2018.

The John Campbell Lecture will be delivered by somebody named Joan Smith who is the author of Down with the Royals. Her no doubt entertaining and informative lecture will be, she says, entitled Charles the Rash and notice of it is headed by a lovely snap of HRH Prince of Wales taken when he was about 17. The monarch in waiting is described by Ms Smith as "a credulous fool and a man in a hurry" which is a bit odd at least as far as the man in a hurry bit is concerned considering that he is the longest serving Prince of Wales ever and, so far, has only waited about sixty-eight years to come to the throne. I wonder what she thinks he is in a hurry for?

Call me a bit daring, but I am prepared to wager that this event is not opened with a Loyal Toast.

I also wonder if the Republic folk can see any inherent contradiction in two of their statements pushing Ms Smith's lecture? They write, "In Down with the Royals, Joan Smith argues that it has become nearly impossible to question the existence of the monarchy," and yet brave campaigning Joan hasn't found it impossible and she adds in her blurb for her lecture, "The country is bitterly divided. The political class is in disarray. Things couldn't possibly get worse – or could they?"

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Surely if the country is "bitterly divided" as asserted, then surely it is hardly "nearly impossible" to talk about the future of the monarchy?

And Republic has some international supporters! Their 2017 convention featured a leftwing Swedish MP as guest speaker and, no doubt, she passed on a few tips to the assembled multitude about how to achieve a republic. The monarchy in Sweden has never been more popular so perhaps, just perhaps, this special guest was hoping to learn rather than impart knowledge.

And then, of course, there is that pesky national anthem God Save the Queen which obviously would have to go when, or if, the republic comes.

Republic naturally discusses this grave matter and suggests, "For those who do like God Save the Queen it could be retained as a royal anthem, at least until the monarchy is abolished," which is really two bob each way and hardly a line-in-the-sand principle. In any case, they say "God Save the Queen is a dreadful dirge".

Ever helpful, they have suggested alternatives including Land of Hope and Glory which was composed in 1902 by Edward Elgar as part of his Coronation Suite for King Edward V11 and dedicated by the composer "by Special Permission of His Most Gracious Majesty King Edward VII" which hardly indicates some slavish republicanism or, perhaps, You'll Never Walk Alone a catchy show tune by those well-known American republicans Rogers and Hammerstein for Carousel. Just imagine, a brand new Republic of Britain – yes of course the term United Kingdom would go into the dustbin of history – paying royalties to some bloody yanks for the new national anthem. Would loyal British subjects have to stand whenever Gerry and the Pacemakers' 1963 version was played?

Then there is the flag. The Union Jack would clearly have to go because of its Royalist implications. Yes, it would have to be a new flag for a new republic but Republic is a bit uncertain about how this could be achieved noting, "A competition is an option although they don't always work out well – as New Zealand found out when they tried to change their flag". Not working out well translated into plain English ruefully acknowledges the fact that two flag referenda in 2015 and 2016 in New Zealand resulted in their keeping their existing flag.

The latest opinion poll in the UK published by opinion.co.uk earlier this year was headed "Going into 2017: the ever popular Monarchy" and revealed only 19% hoped that Britain would become a republic "at some time in the future, the lowest proportion seen in four waves of this study".

But for all of this grim news for British republicans, their sheer determination in the face of overwhelming evidence shows some good old British pluck. Frankly, they deserve recognition for it – perhaps an MBE, OBE or even a CBE? A knighthood or, heaven forbid, a Life Peerage might be going a wee bit far.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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