by Peter Franklin
Friday, 16
September 2022
Analysis
07:00

Republicans may not like what comes after monarchy

There are more alternatives than they think
by Peter Franklin
Careful what you wish for. Credit: Getty

British anti-monarchists are having a moment. Hashtags like #NotMyKing are trending on social media and fatuous tweets like this one are getting more attention than they deserve. 

They’ve been helped by our increasingly idiotic police, who seem to think that protecting the public from other people’s opinions is more important than clearing up crime. Every time that a republican protester is arrested, the anti-monarchist campaign gets stronger. If your whole schtick is portraying the status quo as reactionary, then seeing some placard-waver bundled away by the coppers is propaganda gold.

And yet the republicans are making a big mistake of their own. As progressives always do, they’ve assumed that the arc of history bends in their direction. But that isn’t always the case. 

25 years ago Tony Blair came to power promising change. Among his reforms was a pledge to take Britain into the European single currency. This was opposed by the Conservative leader, William Hague, who made keeping the pound his signature issue. And so that is how the pro-Europeans framed the issue: one could either stay stuck in the past with the clapped-out Tories or move into the future with New Labour.

But, as we now know, that wasn’t the real choice at all. What British Europhiles had failed to foresee was that the status quo — Britain in the EU but not the Eurozone — was the best they could have hoped for. 

The first sign that the arc of history was bending away from them came with the 1999 Euro-elections. In Britain, this featured an outfit called the Pro-Euro Conservatives, which was created to undermine Hague’s Tories. But despite being hyped up in the mainstream media, this spoiler party failed to win a single seat. UKIP, however, made its first big breakthrough, sending three MEPs to Brussels (including a certain Nigel Farage). 

It was the start of a process that would culminate in the referendum of 2016 — and Britain’s exit from the European Union. But in 1999, misled by its progressive scheme of history, the Europhile establishment had no idea what was heading its way. 

As progressives campaign to abolish another British institution they should bear this lesson in mind. The alternative to the status quo isn’t necessarily what they think it is. They may assume that the natural progression is from constitutional monarchy to egalitarian republic, but that doesn’t mean that history can’t take a different direction.

This time the warning signs are plain to see. Earlier this year, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally became the second biggest party in the French parliament. In Sweden, a party supposedly of the far-Right is set to gain a share of power. In Italy, an even bigger shock to the system is expected later this month. Meanwhile, polling across the western world — including Britain — shows a growing disenchantment with democracy (especially among the young). 

It’s against this background that republicans want to remove the keystone of our constitution. Let’s hope that they — and we — never experience the consequences.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
40 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
AC Harper
AC Harper
8 days ago

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the first President of the United Kingdom… President Blair!
Be careful of what you wish for.

Harry Child
Harry Child
8 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Never Never! He was a (unrecognised at the time) disaster. Not just the Iraq war nor the 28700 new pieces of legislation but as the author of the woke emotional religion that has beset the UK ever since..

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

More likely a hard leftist. Labour got 40% of the vote under Corbyn in 2017 and in a run off against a Tory, a hard left candidate would have a great chance of winning.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
8 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I think that’s exactly what about 96% of Britain’s republicans wish for.

In the spirit of this article though, I’m looking forward to Grauniad types realising over the next few years that a King who likes refugees, Islam and environmentalism is about as good an opportunity as they’ll ever get, and calling for the restoration of personal rule.

D Glover
D Glover
8 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

No-one would vote for President Blair.
On the left they hate him because he followed George W Bush into wars, and lied to do it.
On the right they hate him because he opened the gates to increased immigration, without any mandate.
Who’s left who would vote for him?

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

Whatever makes you think that the first UK President would be selected by an election open to all voters? I have sneaking suspicion that the President would be chosen by the powers that be, rather like the EU.

D Glover
D Glover
8 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I regard the EU as the diametric opposite of a democracy. It was that that made me vote for brexit, not any illusory economic advantage.
Unelected presidents are a curse, but why do think that they have to be unelected? Better constitutions are available than that.
Americans did well to get Washington, Adams, Jefferson & Madison. I concede that there have been some duds lately.

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

Quite so. We are in violent agreement.

R S Foster
R S Foster
8 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

…nobody now would vote for President Blair…but assuming the most popular politician of the day got the job, our Presidents over the last forty years would definitely have included Thatcher, Blair and Johnson…who would probably still be in charge now. All of them were brought down by their MPs…whilst still pretty popular with their party members AND, bar Johnson, with the people at large…

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
2 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

It’s never long before someone comes up with this ridiculous argument. Which neglects that people would have to vote for him.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
8 days ago

I remember being chided by a German girl about the snobbery of the English. My response was that a bit of snobbery ensured that the British were not tempted to elect a vulgar authoritarian corporal like Adolf or even a baronet ex-Labour minister like Oswald Mosley. A king and a descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough served us well during the last war.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
8 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

What a splendid riposte!

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
2 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Silly English exceptionalism. You must be very pleased with yourself.

Brett H
Brett H
8 days ago

I sometimes think that Republicans believe that change makes it modern. That the past reeks of corruption and waste. So that what we have now must necessarily be corrupt. So many demands made by progressives seem to be knee jerk reactions to what they’ve come to despise; change is necessary, without change we stagnate. The very name “progressive” suggest a modern, dynamic view of the world. But they rarely seem to have a long view of things. It’s all sound bites and feel good platitudes. Hardly enough to rebuild a sound future.

Vivek Rajkhowa
Vivek Rajkhowa
8 days ago

Republicans are a dangerous breed. No attachment to the country and no attachment or understanding of history. No republic ever.

Clara B
Clara B
8 days ago
Reply to  Vivek Rajkhowa

The most strident republicans I know have no attachment to anything at all (king, country, God). They appear to live in a world without belief and without values. And they don’t seem any happier for it (and, yes, I accept that not all republicans are like this).

Andy White
Andy White
8 days ago
Reply to  Vivek Rajkhowa

Total cobblers. I wonder if all your political judgements are that far off the mark … if so, that must be frustrating!

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
2 days ago
Reply to  Andy White

It is total cobblers indeed but there’s obviously a bug audience for that here.

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
2 days ago
Reply to  Vivek Rajkhowa

Ridiculous comment. Plenty of republicans display these qualities. The eminent historian Piers Brendon anyone? Philippa Gregory? Julia Hartley-Brewer? Meanwhile, the likes of David Lammy and Emily Thornberry are monarchists.

Jim R
Jim R
8 days ago

The greatest threat to the monarchy is the monarch. If the new King starts expressing opinions or asserting any kind of authority at all, he becomes a legitimate target and things will start to unravel very quickly.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
8 days ago

From over here in the States, it’s hard not to see the monarchy as other than a stabilizing influence. You might grouse about particular monarchs, but the institution itself seems to help represent something greater than and older than current concerns. Our intellectuals in the U.S. tell us that we are a “proposition nation,” implying that if we all agree on some purely abstract sociopolitical points, we’re somehow a country. I suspect that I’m not alone in disagreeing with this; there is much to geography, country and history. If you boot out your monarchy (and why not the nobility while you’re at it?), I worry that you might be tossing out a good deal of what’s left that makes you a nation and not a mere administrative zone over which atomized groups fight each other over power.
erikhildinger.com

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
5 days ago
Reply to  Erik Hildinger

Well said: I think you’ve hit on an important point there.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
7 days ago

For a long time I was an ardent republican. Then I changed my mind and decided that the monarchy is a good thing. Now I’m not sure. I’m not sure mainly because of Charles himself.
One argument against the monarchy is that it’s not democratic. We should vote for the head of state they say. But the Monarch has practically no power at all. He/she has to do whatever we say. Voting for someone who has no power is no more democratic than voting for someone on Britain’s Got Talent.
The other thing levelled is that “It’s not fair”, I hear them whine. Which is true. This was brought home when it was said before the Queen died that her doctors (in the plural) were concerned for her health. This at a time when most people had trouble even seeing any doctor at short notice. But I think that misses the point. If you got rid of the royal family nothing would change in that respect. We would still have trouble getting a doctor. The problem is that various governments have failed to get the health service working as it should.
I think that the Royal Family is an asset to the country. Given that a president would have no more power than the King then we might as well stick with a head of state which does benefit the country. The alternatives to the monarchy are not better. Having a president would be so dull, colourless and boring.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
7 days ago

I thought it was interesting that Nicola Sturgeon has said that an independent Scotland would have the Queen as its head of state. I assume she would also accept Charles. So if Scotland became independent and the rest of the United Kingdom ditched the Royal Family then Scotland would be a Monarchy and England a republic.

Andy White
Andy White
7 days ago

1. Peter Franklin isn’t saying so, but to the commenters who think republicanism is intrinsically left-wing, look across the pond to our friends in the US of A. It plainly isn’t.
2. The BBC’s decision to exclude the views of a sizeable chunk of licence fee payers from its wall-to-wall coverage is an injustice plain to see. The longer it goes on the more the injustice will be highlighted.
3. An activist president, the great bogeyman of this article, would mean ripping up Britain’s system of parliamentary and cabinet government. Which is why a symbolic, ceremonial president as in Germany, India and hopefully soon, Australia would suit our system better.

Harry Child
Harry Child
7 days ago
Reply to  Andy White

You really think there can be a symbolic ceremonial president elected in the UK without that person getting involved in the dirty business of politics. The Monarchy needs to be slimmed down but I cannot think of any current public figure that I would seek to elect to the role of Head of State. However if Charles starts to use his position for political purposes I can see the situation changing very quickly.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
7 days ago
Reply to  Andy White

What would be the point of an elected symbolic president? It’s the worse of all worlds. It would probably be better to choose the head of state by a lottery draw and (s)he could “reign” for a year; kind of like the nine Archons were chosen in 5th century Athens.

Philip Crowley
Philip Crowley
7 days ago
Reply to  Andy White

This Australian strongly disagrees with your “hopefully soon”. The Firm generally keep their noses out of our affairs and the Governor General fulfils a symbolic roll and is only wheeled out on ceremonial occasions. The last thing we need is another politician.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
7 days ago

The word “Progressive” means many different things to different people.
Personally, I think it means “the impossible”

Max Price
Max Price
7 days ago

The “progressive” Republican clowns should be careful. Carrying on like classless cretins at a time like this will not be forgotten easily. Hardly a good way to win people over; May actually turn (young) towards the Monarchy.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
8 days ago

I see, “progressive” is synonymous of “republican” or at least the latter is a subset of the former. Who would have thought.

Last edited 8 days ago by Andrea X
Mike Seeney
Mike Seeney
8 days ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

I am more on the republican side of the argument, but certainly not a progressive! It is possible to love your country (as I do) yet struggle to justify how in 50 or 100 years we will seriously be crowning hereditary heads of state. I have great respect for the Queen as an individual and indeed the way she conducted herself and served the country. Perhaps in 1952 a new Queen to oversee what she had to over many turbulent decades was the right thing, but very much ‘of its time’.

Last edited 8 days ago by Mike Seeney
Brett H
Brett H
8 days ago
Reply to  Mike Seeney

“ … very much ‘of its time’.”
Why is there no place for The Crown in the future? Is this self fulfilling? If you don’t value it then it will certainly not be there. So why allow it to slip away? And what exactly is the future that has no place for a Monarchy?

Mike Seeney
Mike Seeney
8 days ago
Reply to  Brett H

I take your point Brett. But I genuinely think the future won’t really have a place for a hereditary head of state. I may well be wrong of course (!) and just to stress I don’t not value what the Monarchy has done (on the contrary, I appreciate what the Queen has done). A future without the Monarchy will take some serious thought…but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing and perhaps a new way forward.

Brett H
Brett H
7 days ago
Reply to  Mike Seeney

There is a modern frame-of- mind that feels the past has to be burnt away, that it’s either responsible for the current sad state of affairs, or a hindrance to progress. Once something is gone you can never get it back, That’s a lesson that can only come from older members of the community. Unfortunately they are also branded as part of the problem. Once the Monarchy is dispensed with as having meaning then you really will have what is merely pomp and circumstance. That would be sad, as it is to see anything propped up with pretence. But I feel that, like Christianity, The Crown will go the same way.

Last edited 7 days ago by Brett H
Ibn Sina
Ibn Sina
8 days ago

Precisely

Daniel Goldstein
Daniel Goldstein
2 days ago

What a silly article. UnHerd writers and readers cannot bear to entertain the very logical arguments for republicanism, so instead repeatedly mock it – borne out of fear, I suspect. Peter, how exactly has our wonderful constitutional monarchy protected us all these years? Typical scaremongering as usual from the “we know best” crowd. This country needs a democratically elected head of state in a republic. This comment won’t be popular, because it seems to terrify people who can’t imagine the alternatives.

Marc Hermans
Marc Hermans
8 days ago

The consequences will depend on what you replace it with. The suggestions I see, are all not new. They are repetitions of past mistakes, as is keeping on the monarchy. These times ask for truly new solutions that should not include all those things that have not worked and were only kept (like the monarchy?) to avoid something even worse (like the far-right?). We can’t keep applying and maintaining patches as if they are actual solutions anymore. Obviously, that will not work long term, and it is time we wake up and see things for what they are because no one will never want to experience the consequences if we don’t.

Last edited 8 days ago by Marc Hermans
Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
8 days ago
Reply to  Marc Hermans

Got any ideas then?

Brett H
Brett H
8 days ago
Reply to  Marc Hermans

I think The Monarchy is hardly a patchwork affair.