There’s a wedding happening today, apparently. The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton – or Catherine, as she now appears to be known – may have gripped many in the United Kingdom, but for the 20 per cent of the population that would rather the UK became the Republic of Britain (or RoB), it has been slightly awkward.
Can republicans enjoy the extra day off, or is that hypocritical? And at a time when most people are wishing the happy couple good luck is it a bit rude for republicans to suggest Wills and Kate should never be King and Queen?
Actually, few are likely to suggest that publicly. Despite republicanism’s relative popularity – 20 per cent is 12m people, after all – it is a movement without any leaders. Most republicans appear rather shy about their beliefs, particularly when the rest of the country is hanging up Union Jack bunting.
Several members of the cabinet in the last Labour government were thought to be republicans, but none of them ever felt comfortable espousing their preference for a democratically elected head of state. Even when out of office, Labour’s republicans appear reluctant to speak out.
Jack Straw, who spent five years as foreign secretary under Tony Blair, ummed and ahhed about his well-known republican views when quizzed on Radio 4’s Today programme.
A large part of this is down to the Queen. Even the most hardened republican would find it difficult to say a bad word about her. She refused to visit South Africa during the apartheid years and a few Christmases ago produced a far better speech about the merits of multiculturalism than any politician has managed. If the Queen stood for election, even most republicans would probably vote for her. Not her son, of course. And that’s the point.
Prince Charles would love to attract a similar level of support as either his mother or his son, but the chances of that happening are slim to say the least. His eventual accession worries monarchists as much as it excites republicans. If the UK is ever to seriously consider bringing an end to the House of Windsor, this will be the moment.
Republicans would need to climb out of their shells though. While anti-monarchy Brits struggle to find the right words, their Australian counterparts seem to have little trouble. Kevin Rudd, Australia’s foreign minister, managed to sum up republican views of the royal wedding pretty well. Prince William, he said, is a “really good bloke” and he wished him well. But he still hoped Australia would become a republic. Just because he likes Wills “doesn’t mean we cease to be republicans”.