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Whatever happened to Labour republicanism?

It’s just a guess on my part, but even today, a significant minority of Labour MPs would perhaps privately profess support for a British republic.

Maybe even Ed Miliband, if you caught him alone over a beer, would concede the absurdity of selecting our head of state exclusively from the ranks of a single family of state-supported billionaires through application of the hereditary principle. It represents the ultimate symbolic negation of social mobility.

A handful of usual suspect backbenchers might even be ready to make such a case in public. But as far as I know, not one has made a major issue of opposition to the monarchy, in the manner of the late Willie Hamilton, the otherwise entirely forgettable old school Labour rightwinger who represented Fife between for 37 years after 1950.

Hamilton’s memorable denunciation of Princess Margaret as ‘a floozy’ would alas not today be considered politically correct, although his characterisation of Prince Charles as ‘a twerp’ is somewhat harder to dispute.

But let us not forget that anti-monarchism formed a central component of British radicalism from the days of Thomas Paine until relatively recent times. A small pressure group, Republic, continues to fight the good fight. Yet for the bulk of the current left, republicanism is at best something taken as read but rarely explicitly stated.

Nowadays such attitudes have been replaced with the deference inherent in Tony Blair’s description of Diana as ‘the people’s princess’, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

I do have to admit that, as a former obnoxious teenage punk rocker who went through an anarchist phase in 1977, revulsion at royal jubilees is part of my political DNA.

As a result, I cannot help being struck by the lack of popular dissent from the stage-managed shenanigans the country is currently going through ahead of next week’s street parties. Thankfully I will be in Greece for the duration, and up to my neck in work, so I shall entirely miss out on all the fun.

Indeed, whether by accident or design, I have managed to absent myself from all major royal occasions since the hey-day of the Sex Pistols, catching only the briefest glimpse of last year’s wedding on the television in the breakfast room of a low-grade motel in Tennessee.

For a purely electorally-driven party such as Labour has become, there is little immediate mileage in an overt republican stance. But at an intellectual level, this is a major collapse, indicative of the lack of any cohesive vision for creating a more equal society.

Constitutional reform is not a subject to get pulses racing. But opposition to the monarchy – alongside opposition to other crass anachronisms such as the House of Lords and an established church – still needs to form an integral part of any renewed socialist politics.

One Comment

  1. Mick Hall says:

    Indeed, the reason there is no republican faction worthy of the name within the LP is because today a majority of members are followers not leaders and followers of what? The status quo of course, the ‘natural’ order of things. Accept there is nothing ‘natural’ about the status quo.

    If LP members cannot see, or as is more likely, refuse to see the monarchy is the pinacle of the British class system then they will never, ever tilt at the windmills of the British State.

    More here

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