This has been the best ever year for Republicanism in Britain. So say the pressure group Republic, who doggedly campaign to abolish the Monarchy. Their membership has doubled, and they are up to 7,000 followers on twitter. The bigger picture suggests the Monarchy ended 2012 more secure than ever. Even when things went wrong, as the Thames river pageant turned into a grey and cold test of endurance in the driving rain, it was the BBC which seemed to cop the flak. The Queen’s surprise Olympic contribution to a James Bond stunt helped to seal Danny Boyle’s great fusion of the traditional and the modern in the Olympic opening ceremony, writes Sunder Katwala.
It is not surprising that 2012 was a good year for the Royals. But this was not much about a “Jubilee bounce”. In fact, pollster Bob Worcester has noted that views on the Monarchy are the most stable attitudes in British public opinion. 19 per cent wanted to abolish the Monarchy in 1969; the number has hovered just below 20 per cent across four decades, dipping slightly to 16 per cent this year. If Republicanism could not advance an inch during the Royal turmoil of the 1980s and 1990s, it will have its work cut out as the William and Kate generation emerge.
2012 showed a great appetite for moments that bring a diverse society together, whether greeting the Olympic torch or attending a Jubilee street party. It seems churlish to regard the bunting and trestle tables as a forelock-tugging national embarassment, when it is far from clear that pageants for an elected President would offer similar enthusiasm for meeting the new neighbours.
How much these occasions can bring a new Britain together struck me when I attended a Jubilee refugee street party in Brixton. Paul Sathianesan told me of his pride at having arrived from Sri Lanka with one bag of clothes thirty years ago to now conducting citizenship ceremonies in the name of Queen and country, as a councillor welcoming new arrivals in the borough of Newham. Grace Adok remembered the 1977 Jubilee celebrations in her Ugandan primary school.
For Republicans, all of this is irrational, sentimental nostalgia. People are emotional as much as rational beings, but there is a reasoned opposing view too. The opportunity to choose a ceremonial head of state, when we already elect those who govern, does not seem a compelling reason to break a living link with centuries of British history. If we had no Monarchy, my own choice for an elected head of state might well be JK Rowling. But I am not sure she or Bradley Wiggins could represent, say, reconciliation with Ireland or our solemn history of remembrance during the centenary of the first world war as well as the British Crown.
For Republicans, the hope remains that future Royal publicity will help their cause too. “A Royal baby is great news for the Republican movement”, said Republic’s latest press release. They won’t be giving up, but it looks like a very long haul.
This article was originally published in The Big Issue.