As a board member of Labour for a Republic, I’m often drawn into discussions about republicanism with fellow Party members. Generally, I find that most of them – after a furtive look around – are happy to agree that yes, they too are republican, or at least are incredibly sympathetic to our aims.
Their main concern seems to be that republicanism as an issue simply isn’t a vote-winner – but they’re wrong about this. In fact, Labour for a Republic is working to get the Labour Party to adopt a policy of republicanism in the longer-term; nobody is suggesting we head into 2015 on this issue. Right now, we want to work towards the point where it’s possible to have a frank, open discussion about the monarchy inside the party.
Sadly, this simply isn’t the case at the moment. Every argument in favour of republicanism is countered by those who unthinkingly support the status quo. Is it true that the monarchy is a harmless ornament detached from politics? Of course not. We already know that members of the Royal Family legally need to be consulted on a wide range of legislation, just like we know that they’ve actively lobbied MPs and ministers on certain issues in the past. We just don’t know how widely, because any communications between our elected officials and the Royal Family are exempted from FOI legislation.
But what about all the money they bring into the country? Funnily enough, Visit Britain no longer uses this as an argument, after it was revealed that their own data completely fails to support the idea. The reality is that the trend linking tourist revenue to the royal family is very weak. If anything, tourists are put off Britain by the crowds and disruption that accompany royal events. In an age of satellite television, curious foreigners opt to follow events from the comfort of their own homes, rather than go through the bother of flying over here.
Or how about the idea that in fact they’re already great value for money, that the royals don’t cost very much at all, and we republicans are just being Cromwellian curmudgeons? In fact, we don’t really know how much the Royal Family truly costs, (and neither does the National Audit Office) because there’s no way of verifying their figures, and they don’t include everything (security costs are a particularly large omission).
Could we be reducing the impact of NHS cuts by making a few cost-saving changes to the way the Royal Family functions? That’s a debate I’d be interested in having, but am prevented from doing so because the costs of the monarchy are shrouded in mystery. I don’t believe that’s right.
So, why do I fight? I fully believe that we deserve a head of state that is fully accountable to the people, and I feel that the Labour Party is the one movement in this country that can open up our monarchy to public scrutiny. My firm belief is that once people are aware of the truth about how this system operates then they’ll come around to support republicanism, and I challenge any royalists who disagree to have the courage of their convictions and to join with me to open up the whole structure to public scrutiny and prove me wrong.
This is a very important issue to me and one I could write about for pages, but for the sake of brevity I’ll close and leave you with one last thought. How can we ever make our society fairer, more equal, and more meritocratic, when installed at its very centre is the concept that some people are better than others just because of who they are – and isn’t this the very idea that the Labour Party is supposed to oppose?