The ceremony is set to cost the public around £100m. With a quarter of voters backing abolition of the monarchy, will the opposition get a hearing? Josiah Mortimer reports
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Republican protesters will line the route of the King’s coronation ceremony in two weeks, in plans for the most significant anti-monarchy event in a generation.
Over 1,000 people are expected to gather in Trafalgar Square, and in a move designed to show a republican presence throughout the procession, smaller groups of one to three people will be stationed at numerous points along the route.
Graham Smith, Chief Executive of anti-monarchy group Republic, said: “This is the first time a big royal event has been directly covered by a larger protest. It will be very colourful and very loud. We’ve not asked for permission, the plan is to just show up and protest.”
Republicans will wear yellow on the day, with yellow placards and flags – the colour of republicanism. Amid fears they will receive no coverage from the main broadcasters, they will make their presence known with megaphones and loudspeakers.
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“The idea is that even if the BBC cameras pan away, they won’t be able to avoid hearing the protesters,” Smith said. Labour for a Republic’s Ken Ritchie added that the groups were having “arguments” with the BBC over “very one-sided coverage”.
“If we have 25% of voters saying we don’t want a monarchy, that’s quite a body of opinion that needs to be recognised by a national broadcaster. We’d be delighted if we got 10% of that,” Ritchie added.
Around 1,200 people have pledged to attend already, according to Republic. Protest organisers plan to base their activities on the day – coincidentally – near the statue of beheaded King Charles I, where protesters will wave their flags against Charles III.
Asked why they will be disrupting the coronation, Republic boss Smith said: “When people hear they’re spending £100m of our money on his parade, it annoys people. It’s a pointless parade. [King Charles] could have said ‘we’re not having a coronation’. Instead they’re doubling down on holy oil and all the rest.”
It comes as The Guardian reports that the King is a billionaire, with an estimated fortune of £1.8bn. Republican protest organisers plan to release more information on Friday. Several republican protesters were arrested last year, including one who held up a blank piece of paper (he was later released without charge).
A City Hall source said the Greater London Authority – which owns Trafalgar Square – was not aware of the planned protests or had any plans to accommodate protesters.
Ken Ritchie, chair and co-founder of Labour for a Republic, told Byline Times that the main organisation, Republic, had a “bonanza” surrounding the Queen’s funeral last year. “Its fortunes rose rapidly,” he said.
Labour for a Republic’s much smaller membership has risen to around 200 (up from 50 before the Queen’s funeral) and a supporter list of 1,000.
The Labour party and leader Keir Starmer supports the monarchy. But Ritchie said: “We’re making inroads. What we feel is that there’s no chance that Labour is going to say it wants to get rid of the monarchy or even make a major challenge. So we’re focusing on things any reasonable member would agree with.”
The group recently made proposals to the party’s National Policy Forum to demand that the Equalities Act applies to the monarchy. It is currently exempt. “The staff it employs are not covered by anti-discrimination legislation. It’s a small point, but we felt that the principle of taking a stand should be a first step,” Ritchie said.
L4R is also focused on ensuring the monarchy is covered by Freedom of Information Act legislation, from which it is also exempt. A petition in Scotland called for this in recent weeks, but was dismissed by the Scottish Parliament this Wednesday.
Few Labour MPs are on the record as republicans. Left-wingers Clive Lewis MP and Richard Burgon MP have publicly supported an end to the monarchy. While there are understood to be more, few speak out about it.
Ken Ritchie said: “There are people that we know are republicans. But they wouldn’t raise their heads and say so. Some are very supportive but always have another meeting on when we ask them to speak…”
Ex-Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad made a joke in 2017 about Prince Harry, saying he “can’t actually fly a helicopter…he just sits there going ‘vroom vroom’.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was previously a republican, according to a video leaked in 2005. Photo: James Manning/PA/Alamy
She said afterwards she was “slaughtered” by the press. “I was Queen of the May at the conference in 2017, after Grenfell. And then…I made [this] joke about Prince Harry not being very clever… I had to get police protection,” she told Byline Times.
“I was followed around all the next day, and I had hateful comments, letters, emails – really hateful, scary mail. I had to report it to the police…They had to go through all my post in case people sent anything nasty. It was quite frightening,” the former Labour MP added.
“People say much worse things…But after Grenfell there were people following us and going through the bins to find anything they could on me. My staff went into my office and said ‘don’t look at the post’. It was really horrible,” she said. Dent Coad was blocked from re-standing for Labour last year over a series of comments for which she apologised.
Ken Ritchie says Labour for a Republic are not currently calling for the Labour party to “stand up and say we’re for a republic – we know what the reaction would be.”
“With the election looming, we know Starmer is doing damn all, waiting to win the election. He’s not going to take kindly to anyone stirring anything more controversial at this stage,” Ritchie said.
Starmer touched on wanting a “slimmed-down” monarchy during his leadership campaign. However, many of his leadership pledges have since been abandoned.
Intriguingly, Byline Times can report that Keir Starmer was credited by the journalist Jonathan Freedland for help with his 1998 book arguing that Britain needed to become a republic. “Bring Home the Revolution: The Case for a British Republic” listed Keir Starmer in its acknowledgements, thanking him for his help with the book. “It doesn’t mean he backs a republic now, but it’s interesting,” Ritchie said.
Keir Starmer thanked for his support for the 1998 Jonathan Freedland book calling for a monarchy. Labour did not respond to a request for comment. Credit: Labour for a Republic
Nearly a quarter of the public back a republic. Some polls show opinion among people who voted Labour in 2019 is fairly evenly split on support or opposition to the monarchy.
Low down the list
Richie argues that support for republicanism is “more advanced” than support for Brexit at the stage that Farage was getting “huge amounts” of political coverage. “By the time debate begins, it will change very quickly,” he added.
The campaigner branded the coronation a “complete absurdity”, adding: “It’s nonsense. It’s about consolidating respect for the monarchy. If the monarchy stops getting attention it will cease to exist. If it’s not seen and worshipped, it no longer has a function. It’s all about marketing.” He acknowledged however, that the debate “had not started” about the need for a republic.
He accepted too, a problem that republicans face: that of priorities.
At an event in the 1990s, Lib Dem Baroness Seers, a woman of the establishment, was heckled. Someone called out “but are you a republican?” during a talk she was giving on proportional representation.
Ritchie says she turned around and said: “Yes, of course I am. You can’t be a true democrat and not.” But then she added: “And it’s number 73 in the list of my priorities.”
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