As the Jubilee approaches I am looking forward to the increased republican mobilisation. However, I fear that much of the republican discourse is in a language that will not really resonate with most people. Much of the arguments seem to be based around the liberal ideas of fairness, meritocracy and allowing anyone to achieve the honour of being our head of state. I totally agree with all of these arguments and think that their advancement is an important way of winning over a particular section of the alliance that is needed to win a republic, but progressives need to go further and recapture the the national stories of the peoples of Great Britain in the campaign against the monarchy.
One of the main arguments used by royalists is that they have tradition on their side and that the monarchy is a link to our history, thereby presenting republicanism as un-British and being the preserve of an urban liberal elite that are out of touch with the peoples of Great Britain. To counter this characterisation we need to embed our cause in the national narrative, proving that radicalism and republicanism are very much part of our heritage and that, in actual fact, it is the Windsor-Mountbatten family that is totally alien to the peoples of Great Britain.
For instance take my own background. I am descended from Irish peasant immigrants to Oldham in Lancashire who toiled in mills, foundries and on roads, working in dangerous conditions for long hours and very poor pay and I am sure that most people share a similar background. The pomp and ceremony of a hideously wealthy family living in a palace is totally alien to me and my family heritage; and is totally alien to the vast majority of the people of this country and their own ancestral narratives.
The royalist idea that the monarchy somehow connects us with our heritage is nonsense as the lifestyle and culture of the Windsor-Mountbattens means that, as far as the ordinary people of this country are concerned, they may as well be from Mars. Republicans need to frame the debate as one not simply of tradition versus progress, but a conflict of their traditions versus our traditions. A conflict of the traditions of a small elitist group that dominates our society, versus the proud tradition of the peoples of Great Britain for protest and popular mobilisation in defence of our political and economic rights.
This is also a lesson for the left more generally. We must draw on the heritage of the Peasants’ Revolt, the Levellers and Diggers, the Radical War, Peterloo and the Chartists in our appeal to the peoples of Great Britain and invoke figures such as John Ball, William Cuffay and George Loveless. A good recent example of such a strategy being successful was Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s large rally at the Bastille in March which proved a hugely effective launch event for his campaign in terms of poll ratings and firmly placed his radical socialism at the heart of the French national story. Above all we need to paint the establishment as alien and out of touch to the peoples of Great Britain and firmly place left and progressive ideas at the heart of our popular identity. It is time we took the right wing idea that the peoples of Great Britain are somehow fundamentally conservative head-on and firmly argue that the left is as much at home here as anywhere else.