Arrested for being a republican – Labour for a Republic


“The assault on civil liberties only stoked anger at £250 million being spent on an event which was constitutionally unnecessary and which appeared to be little more than an attempt to boost the flagging support for the monarchy.”

By Ken Richie, Labour for a Republic

When a group of six republicans arrived near Trafalgar Square on the morning of the coronation, they were confronted by a contingent of police officers. They were arrested and taken to Walworth police station where they spent the rest of the day, and the van, loaded with ‘Not My King’ placards, was confiscated. Those arrested included Ben Clinton, Labour for a Republic’s Campaign Coordinator, and Graham Smith, CEO of Republic.

Although they had discussed and agreed their plans with the Met and had been assured that their right to protest would be respected, by the time it came to the day of the coronation it was clear something had changed. A few days beforehand, Suella Braverman had rushed her new anti-protest laws through Parliament and letters, warning that “we will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration”, were sent to several protest groups. When Clinton, Smith and their colleagues got to Trafalgar Square, it appeared that the police were awaiting their arrival with plans to get them out of the way until long after the coronation was over.

The only ‘evidence’ the police could find for the arrests was luggage straps in the van which, they claimed, could have been used for tying people to railings. It was, of course, absurd, and two days later the Met more or less admitted that when they expressed regret and dropped all charges. However, by that stage the objective appeared to have been achieved – six leading campaigners and dozens of placards had been kept well away from the coronation.

Conservative Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, had argued that the new laws would allow the coronation to “showcase our liberty and democracy”, but the result was comparisons with Putin’s Russia: in this Braverman New World, the objectivity of the law and the impartiality of the police seemed to have been sacrificed in what the Home Secretary sees as her war on woke.

The arrests, however, were a bit of an own-goal for the monarchist establishment, drawing attention to the growing numbers who are not enamoured with the new king. The hundreds who turned out in Trafalgar Square and along the Mall to wave their banners and raise their voices in protest were clearly not intimidated: the assault on civil liberties only stoked anger at £250 million being spent on an event which was constitutionally unnecessary and which appeared to be little more than an attempt to boost the flagging support for the monarchy.

While the protesters may have been quite a small part of the coronation crowd, they represented a significant chunk of public opinion. Polls have shown that most people had little, if any, interest in the monarchy and coronation, and that support for the monarchy continues to ebb, albeit slowly. Although there is still a majority who would choose retention over abolition, a recent poll found that more people want to abolish or reform the monarchy than want to keep it as it is. Moreover, as republicans point out, that’s before the debate has even started.

The shift in public opinion is a challenge for Labour. Keir Starmer, no doubt with votes in mind, has heaped praises on the king, but the electorate may be moving faster than Labour. Some polls have shown that those who voted Labour in 2019 are fairly evenly divided between retention and abolition, and amongst younger electors there is a clear preference for an elected head of state. Labour cannot just ignore this trend, and Labour’s republicans argue that the Party must be ready to engage in the debate. Labour for a Republic also wants to see the next Labour government take action to get royal spending under control, to extend the Freedom of Information legislation to make the monarchy more transparent, to ensure that the royals are subject to the same laws as the rest of us, and to change the oath of allegiance which MPs must swear to the king.

However, even a more popular and more frugal monarch would still present a problem for Labour. The monarchy is a pillar of our constitution, and what it supports is a society in which rank, status and class are important – the sort of social structure which Labour was created to overturn. While Labour maintains that we should all be born equal, the monarchy embodies the idea that some are born good and great while the rest of us are just ordinary – it presents hereditary power and privilege as being an acceptable and necessary facet of society. The monarchy therefore appears to be incompatible with Labour’s values of democracy and equality.

There has always, since the days of Keir Hardie, been republicanism within Labour, but it’s been described as a dog that never barked. Now it’s starting to growl.

  • Ken Ritchie is a founding member of Labour for a Republic and is currently its Secretary. For 13 years he was CEO of the Electoral Reform Society. He has been a Labour candidate in three general elections and a Labour councillor.
  • You can follow Labour for a Republic on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured image: Republican protesters arrested during the coronation. Photo credit: Labour for a Republic/Twitter

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