It’s time for Labour to take back the Republican cause

7th June, 2012 12:12 pm

In 1894 Keir Hardie, leader of the Independent Labour Party, wrote:

the life of one Welsh miner is of greater commercial and moral value to the British nation than the whole Royal crowd put together, from the Royal Great-Grand- Mama to this puling Royal Great-Grandchild.”

This was in reference to the birth of King Edward VIII, an event which was celebrated in the United Kingdom as a glorious moment for national unity. Hardie’s comments in the Commons regarding the birth caused outrage which punched a hole in the air of sycophantic loyalism that arose around this “national” event. Fast forward to 2012 and the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband says:

The Queen’s reign is a golden thread that links people across the country and across the generations: united in the respect and genuine affection for Her Majesty. And in the reverence she has inspired in people across this country, across the Commonwealth, and across the world.”

What a change. Perhaps most controversially would be the line:

She exemplifies a care for the common good of all to which we can all aspire.

How we are all expected to aspire to a care for the common good in a position which is hereditary and unelected, I don’t know, but the republican voice of the Labour Party has been in a complete lockdown during this Jubilee.

The Labour Party has always had a tradition of republicanism running through it – unsurprising, since it’s always had a tradition of Socialism as well. Tony Benn’s Commonwealth of Britain Bill in 1991 has been one of the few attempts in modern times to do away with the Monarchy. And the list of Labour MPs (past and present) who have mumbled their way through the oath to the Queen has become as much part of Parliamentary tradition as the oath itself. But Labour has never managed to advocate an official policy of Republicanism in its history, even at its Socialist height in 1945, although there has often been a marked tension between Labour and the Monarchy whenever they have been handed the reins of power.

It’s true that none of the big three mainstream political parties follow a policy of Republicanism. The Green party does and is, as such, the main standard-bearer. This is key, of course – Republicanism is seen generally as political suicide. The baffling support for the Monarchy (or at least for the Queen) means that no party in right mind, in these days of soundbites and media manipulation, would ever criticise the Monarchy if it ever wanted any chance of electoral success.

Well, we hardly expect principles in politics, nowadays, do we?

The lack of dissent on the part of Labour MPs over the Diamond Jubilee has been shocking; social mobility is completely stifled – in no small part thanks to having an innate system of privilege still established in this country. The Labour Party was created as a counterbalance to heritage and aristocracy and yet it has never established an official policy towards the Monarchy, in spite of pressure from Republicans in its own ranks. It would also be true to point out that the Monarchy is more popular than it ever has been – almost 70% of the country in favour according to a Guardian poll – and so for Labour to pick this time to take another stand would seem pretty ill-timed. But with the revelations that long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations, the clear moral argument against a celebration of wealth and privilege is clear – in our nation, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

In this sense, it is possible to see the jubilee as a form of social masochism and for Labour, the supposed party of fairness and egalitarianism, to jump right in with the whip is doing nothing to address to address the economic hypocrisy at play here. Even the party’s traditional Republican wing, whether it be Roy Hattersley, Dennis Skinner, Tony Benn et al, have been absent; the party has firmly towed the monarchy line.

It is 2012. The monarchy is so much more of an anachronism now than it was when the Labour Party was first created. Once all the joys and festivities over this mass fetishisation of inherited wealth are over, dissenting voices must again arise with Labour’s ranks – Republicanism, which is old hat to most of the world, should not be confined to the far-left and, er…Rupert Murdoch.

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  • James

    If Ed Miliband or senior Labour individuals ever even questioned the role of the Monarchy, the next election would be a Tory whitewash as they could just jump on the ‘Red Ed hates the Queen’ bandwagon, and Labour could probably forget ever winning an election for the next 20 years.

    There is simply no great desire from the British people to overthrow the monarchy or to have a President instead of a Queen or King. Indeed, following the royal wedding and Jubilee, the Monarchy is probably more popular than it has been for decades. Most polls show that between 75% and 80% of people either support the monarchy, or oppose a republic Britian. Which means only between a quarter and a fifth support a change. If Labour stuck it’s neck on the line and supported the end of the Monarchy it would be putting itself in a very small minority.

    I’m not a particular supporter of the Monarchy, nor am I a major advocate for doing away with them either. I’m rather apathetic towards them. But I am certainly not expecting Ed Miliband to stand on a stage and say ‘down with the Monarchy’ or words to that effect, and it would be political suicide for him and Labour if he did.

    This is one of those subjects Labour just has to bite it’s tongue about….for the good of the future of the party.

    • aracataca

      My views entirely James.

    • robertcp

      I agree.  Unpaid stewards sleeping under London Bridge is an issue for Labour but not the monarchy.  I favour republicanism in principle but it would be political suicide for Labour.

      • James

        Absolutely, and it’s those issues that Labour needs to tackle, not whether we want to do away with Ol’ Queeny.

        I’m one of a growing, but admittedly still quite small, number of people who think Ed M has done a very good job as Labour leader so far. Particularly how brave he was over hacking and tackling the Murdochs head on. But this is one fight that neither Ed, nor Labour, nor any of us ‘Republican at heart’ supporters can tackle.

    • treborc1

       Totally agree with you, anyone attacking the Queen now would be committing political suicide, maybe when Charlies takes over, he wants to be the head of all faiths, and takes advice from an Oak tree in his garden.

      But it will take a brave leader and right now after listening to Miliband speech today he’d be kicked out within weeks.

    • Slakah

      Completely agree, there are far bigger fish to fry than the Queen.

  • retundario

    I love it. One weekend during which people show a bit of patriotism and you lefties can’t handle it. Sour grapes indeed.

  • John Dore

    The world economy is on a precipice and you want to wage class war? Genius.

    “The lack of dissent on the part of Labour MPs over the Diamond Jubilee has been shocking” because the Labour party is not stupid. It knows that the country do not share your views. It knows that most of this is classwar crap. We did this in the seventies.

    •  It is precisely because the world economy is on a precipice that we want not to wage class war but fight back against those who are attacking and impoverishing us.

      • treborc1

         Of course that would be seen as a class war, listen to Miliband to day the bloke is talking not about working class but he natters on about hard working, so if your not in work vote Tory then.

        If he becomes Prime minister I’ll eat my bloody cat.

        • “I’ll eat my bloody cat.”

          I’m against unnecessary consumption, particularly the unnecessary consumption of animal flesh, but this would make a fantastic LL webcast.

      • John Dore

        I agree. The issue for the UK is the stranglehold the city and men in suits has on us. It knows that it funds a vast swathe of government spending and we need to fight back. The question is how do we do it?

        •  Its very easy to dismiss the argument for electoral reasons – I’m fully aware of why Ed wasn’t critical of the monarchy over the jubilee. But dare I suggest that at some point politicians should stick to their guns?

          Besides, more importantly, I’ve never mentioned anything critical about Liz – from which the monarchy is very much separate. She is a popular and successful head of state who also happens to have not been elected as such. But her institution will be teetering on a cliff-edge when she dies and I don’t public support is going to swing (as many have said) behind Chuck when he takes over.

          As for this “bigger fish to fry” attitude – I’m rather sick of this being bandied about every time people want to cover up an issue (the Tories are using the same tactics on gay marriage) it’s perfectly legitimate to be critical of something even if you don’t consider quite as important issue as something else. Besides, although I know the Blairites would love to try and dismiss class as an important facet in modern society, the fact is that social mobility (as Alan Milburn recently reported) is appalling in this country. Class is still an issue and the importance of having a privileged, unelected head of state (not to mention unelected second chamber with hereditary peers) is not lost upon social attitudes in this country.

          At least the bankers can profess some semblence of meritocracy…

          • Billsilver

            Chip on shoulder Alex?
            Apart from weird Treborc1 who thinks Charles would seek advice from an oak tree, there is no proof that the death of our dear Queen would lead to anything of a revolution.
            Indeed the very words ‘President Blair’, ‘President Brown’ will be enough to keep the monarchy in place for another 1000 years!

          • Yawn.

          • treborc1

            Is this Guy or is this Doe it hard to figure out with Tories these days

    • PaulHalsall

      I think there is a class war in this country.  As usual the war of the very rich on the middle and the poor is almost impossible to resist.  We should be willing to fight political war to defend the majority.

      But the monarchy in the UK is not an issue. Personally I like it because of the history, the continuity, and because I like poetry and pageantry.It is still worth noting, though, that the monarchy in the UK has not been opposed to Democratic Socialist policies – it accommodated the  rise of the Labour Party, supported all the Parliament Acts that reduced the power of the Lords, and provides a focus for “one nation” politics, both Tory and Labour.

      As Labour Party members surely we have a kind of Burkean approach to socialism: we want an equal society, educational and health provision for all, opportunity to succeed for those who can, and full inclusion in society for the 60% of society that, by definition, cannot be in the most successful 40%.   But we also recognise that revolution and efforts to propose a social *tabula rasa* have all failed in the most disastrous ways.The British monarchy hinders no social progress; does support one nation cohesion; and provides a poetic and organic connection to our past.

      I would, obviously, not support a monarchy if we were beginning our political society ab initio, but we actually live in a country where that would be impossible, and even if possible, not desirable. 

    • Jonny

      There already is a class war. We’re losing.

      • John Dore

        No Jonny, its an opportunity war that we are losing.

  • While I am a fervent republican there is just no point in pushing that noble cause right now.

    After the break-up of the UK and a few years of Charles III things may be very different.

    • treborc1

       Perhaps he have a Charles the 1st hair cut

  • Andrewlondonuk

    Living in London I was able to see all the Jubilee events and how London was celebrating. What shocked me was the way in which places like Chinatown were decorated with Union Flags alongside Communist Chinas flag… The last weekend cemented the Monarchy for another 100 years and as others have said there are FAR more important issues that Labour can use and WIN the next General Election. Final point the Monarchy costs every taxpayer 70p a year…

    • treborc1

      That’s nice, sadly the next  bloke on the throne use to talk to tree’s he married  but did not have the guts to tell his family nope I do not love her and will marry whom I want, once she gets divorced.

      he sticks his nose into things he should not, so I’ve a feeling the high of the queen will soon go and then we will see.

  • Scarlett

    While I hate to blow my own trumpet, this, along a very similar issue, is worth a read  http://britishrepublicanblog.org/2012/01/18/why-labour-should-support-republic/

    • Bill Lockhart

      There are two untruths in that sentence.

  • ThePurpleBooker

    *sigh*
    This has got to be one of the biggest piece of actual rubbish I have ever read in the last week, that it is making me weep. The idea that the Labour Party can go into the next election and abolish the monarchy is MAD. We would be slaughtered. Secondly, in a way the Monarchy is democratic because it is the popular demand of the people. You do not need ballots to test the amount of people ‘voted’ for it. Only 10% of people want republicanism and just look at the millions who celebrated our Queen! British Republicanism in that sense is inheritantly undemocratic. Thirdly, this article gives no other alternative to the Monarchy whatsoever – well let me put that to you, President Cameron! No one wants a ‘Head of State’ that is political, it goes against the grain of national unity and also you will get conflicts of interest (even if it is done under the Irish system), no great national love whatsoever. Lastly, the Labour has NEVER held or been a party of the republican cause. In the 1983 suicide note, we did not even advocate the abolition of the monarchy it has never EVER been party policy. Now, many of the founders of the Labour Party were monarchists and remember Clement Atlee’s comments on the coronation of Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh – now our great Queen! Remember, that Bernie Grant – one of our most leftwing MPs – was a devout monarchist. Rememeber what Harold Wilson said about how the Monarchy is one of the things that keep us from being a democracy! I think it is just a nonsense to suggest that Labour should convert to the flawed, undemocratic and un-British ideology of Republicanism.

    • Redshift

      I actually agree with you that to make republicanism Labour party policy would be a terrible open goal for us. 

      The rest of what you say though is stupid. There is nothing ‘un-British’ about republicanism and there is certainly absolutely nothing ‘un-democratic’ about it. The only thing undemocratic here is your intolerance towards a perfectly valid (if academic) political opinion and to try and close down debate without constructing a proper argument. 

      • ThePurpleBooker

        Is stupid? I tell what is stupid and who is being stupid – the Republicans. There is everything un-British about republicanism. I have seen republicans denounce this country and loathe patriotism comparing it to nationalism and fascism. Secondly, what makes Britain – and Labour, unlike the Conservatives – is a strong belief in civic institutions, British values, national identity, tradition and history combined with the social progressivism, modernity, multiculturalism and ‘liberalism’. Republicans want to get rid of all that tradition and history, which is exemplified by the Monarchy, in order to replace it with a system with ultimately little accountable which enjoys no public support. Also, it is undemocratic because at the end of the day, Republicans are campaigning for an institution which has the full support of the country. The country has ‘voted’ for the Monarchy and for the Queen, not by ballots and politics, but by love, celebration and overwhelming support. Going out and having street parties, lining the Mall, the Jubilee concert and the rejoicing that millions have taken part in. That is in a way a version of democracy. Republicans want to ignore the popular demand of the country and replace it with a system that concentrates power in one hand, rather than having a Head of State (though the method of selection is archaic) has got the full and utter endorsement of the country and even across the world. It is madness.

        • That’s like trying to argue that something should be defended just because people like it. 

          Populism, in other words – a right wing philosophy

  • No it’s not.

    By the way, in a recent poll 74% of Labour voters backed the Monarchy (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/10250269).

    It’s not just the country at large that disagrees with you, it’s Labour voters too.  Including me.  I actually really like the Monarchy and had a belting good weekend!

    • ThePurpleBooker

      And it’s never been party policy to get rid of the Monarchy (not even in pseudo-Marxist 1983 suicide note). It would be undemocratic to get rid of the Monarchy and there has been a strong monarchist tradition in the Labour Party, from Clement Atlee to Harold Wilson. Bernie Grant, a champion of the Socialist Campaign Group, was an absolutely fervent monarchist.

      • “It would be undemocratic to get rid of the Monarchy”

        That claim deserves a special award.

        • Dave Postles

          We are saturated with symbols of the monarchy: on our coinage; on our stamps; on our commodities; etc – a form of interpellation.  One change in recent years has been a more demotic approach to paper money and stamps.  There are other symbolic representations: Marianne for the French; we could have Britannia for the British (not that symbols have an essence or univeralism).  I doubt that I will live to see the republic as opposed to the res publica.

      • treborc1

         This is why you left the Liberals then, for New labour

    • treborc1

       New labour voter

  • Daniel Speight

    Labour doesn’t need to make a big republican stand. At the same time there’s no need to spout the sycophantic drivel of the kid below. Dynasties eventually bring about there own demise. I can’t see in this modern world the citizens putting up with some of the idiots that the Saxe-Coburgs have managed to put on the throne in the past. I even have doubts whether they will last another generation.

  • Barrie

    Lets not forget Elizabeth 2nd is there because the people want her there we can get rid of the Monarchy whenever the people wish to.  Do we at this time really want a president Bush,  or Blair type character I don’t think so and, this last few months have proven that the majority of British People are more than happy with the present situation I would suggest they will remain so for the rest of this century.  We, the people, fought a civil war in the 17th century to get rid of the absolute monarchy and chopped his head off, flirted with a republic found it didn’t work because Mr. Cromwell became a dictator as bad as some of those around today which the Arabs etc. want to get rid of.  So let things stay as they are why knock ourselves out trying to change things now, lets tackle the important things first like getting rid of this awful coalition government, if future generations want to have a republic they can do so without any bloodshed.         

  • Tony Burleton

    Apathy appears to be the name of the game when dealing with the Republican v Monarchy question.
    There should be no question – an unelected, hereditary head of state has no place in democracy.
    Republicanism is more popular than the Conservative, kow towing, forelock touching, lickspittle press and media would lead us to believe.
    Who are these Hanoverian, Saxe Coburg and Gotha, Battenburg, (Mountbatten) usurpers? They sure as hell didn’t originate in this country and are in no way of British stock.
    The first three Georges hardly spoke a word of English; my father said he heard Edward VII speak with a German accent. George’s I to IV and Queen Victoria all married Germans, and Victoria preferred German to be spoken at court.
    George VI was the only Hanoverian monarch to marry outside German stock, even the present Queen had to choose her husband from Greece, with more connections in Germany than either Greece or Britain.
     It was only an afterthought after three years of war against Germany that George V reluctantly consented, prodded by Lloyd George, to changing the name from Saxe Coburg to Windsor. Then George V didn’t have the guts to authorise a rescue operation for his blood cousins, the Russian Royal Family, and was, in effect, partly responsible for the mass execution of Nicholas, Alexandra and their children because his throne was on such shaky ground at that time?
    The link between JamesI (VI of Scotland) and his great great grandson, the Hanoverian ‘Protector’who became George I, is very tenuous, there are also questions about heredity after that.
    If is comes to heredity, many people of common stock in this country, can trace there ancestry farther back that the present Royal Family of German stock.
    Tony Burleton

    • To the Anglo Saxons.
      Who happened to orignate who….Oh yes Germany.

      • treborc1

         So your against immigrants who have been born here for a few generations then, just wondering. So Ed Miliband will never be British then.

        • No I’m not. It’s the man above opposed to immigrants. I couldn’t care less if Miliband’s Dad came from Eastern Europe.

    • Tony Burleton

      Sorry – ‘their’ not there, my mistake.
      Tony Burleton

  • Speaking of Anachronisms didn’t democracy originate several thousand years ago in Greece?

    Getting rid of the Monarchy won’t actually achieve much. How about abolishing politicians instead? I imagine that would do much more good.

    • treborc1

       And what have the queen run the country, done that it did not work really.

      • No, why not give power back to individual people instead?

  • I am a Republican through and through. However, I am willing to bide my time and wait for the succession of  Charles, who will I think have a somewhat different effect on the population than Mrs Windsor

  • Billsilver

    Another suicide wish for Labour.
    It is completely staggering that feeble efforts like this are given space here, rather than any serious discussion of policy which might lead to any improvement in the lot of the ordinary man woman and child, whether it be education, housing, or participating in and developing society.
    What about a sensible article about these Mr MacDonald, rather than what appears to be a an egregious example self=promotion?

    • treborc1

      I mean you do not need to read it, or comment on it if it’s so silly for you, but I see no reason why a person cannot talk about the Royals.

      I mean the Tories have a cracking site for the Tory voter I’m sure you would be welcome.

      But a blog will discuss many part of society, some people will agree with and some they will not.

  • Felton Newman

    Living near the Poundbury “carbuncle’ granted tacit planning consent and now dominating the Dorchester skyline, demontrates in just a modest way how undemocratic Royal pressure can achieve in planning terms what no other National Developer could even dream of!!!

  • 1earthmother2

    There are a number of people who did not eat too well as the Foodbanks were shut.It could be 1 million people in the UK are being given emergency supplies at Foodbanks across the country.Yet Adrian Beecroft’s Wonga,offering pay day loans of over 4,000% interest,I guess,would have done pretty well out of the Jubilee.William Hill,the bookmaker,is making £60 million a month profit as people anxious about money gamble more.There is at least one bookmaker and payday loans company springing up on many high streets.The Foodbanks are a bit more “out of sight out of mind”
    The Jubilee was a celebration and illustration of this dramatic inequality in the UK,the monarchy,the bookies and Wonga all doing well but trumped by the Foodbanks doing even better.
    It is that inequality,not the monarchy on its own,the Jubilee may be remembered for.

  • LesThompson

    it is my beleef that to mack a distincshon of repoblicon verses Royal is not help full we have to  lern to exsept the mojoretey vote or at lesr exsept the difrens of the ndevivual not to triy and devid the mases  in other words leav well be ..les

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