Britain turns against the Royal Family

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The Independent Online
OPINION in Britain is swinging heavily against the monarchy, particularly among the under-25s. Only one in three people believes that Britain would be worse off without a monarchy, while 42 per cent agree that the Royal Family is an expensive luxury that Britain cannot afford. And for the first time, the number saying the monarchy will disappear within the next 50 years exceeds the numbers who expect it to survive.

The results are from an opinion poll of 1,165 adults carried out by MORI for the Independent on Sunday earlier this month. It shows an astonishing swing in recent years against the Royal Family and particularly against the heir to the throne.

The country is now almost evenly divided on Prince Charles; 41 per cent think he will make a good King, 40 per cent a bad one. (The others did not know.) As recently as 1991, 82 per cent said he would make a good King, 5 per cent a bad one. The "anti-Charles" swing of 38 per cent is comparable to the worst Government by-election defeats.

The proportion of people believing that Britain would be worse off without a monarchy has been falling steeply for 12 years: in April 1984, it was 77 per cent; in May 1992, 50 per cent; in December 1994, 40 per cent. Now, it is down to 34 per cent. The numbers saying that the country would be better off if the monarchy were abolished has risen from 6 per cent in January 1990 to 17 per cent now. As many as 42 per cent believe that it would make no difference either way.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are committed to democratic reform of the House of Lords, which would leave the Windsors as the last family in Britain to enjoy political position by accident of birth.

Both parties, however, are nervous of attacking the Royal Family directly. The Independent on Sunday approached 183 Labour MPs for their views; 120 refused to answer any questions on the Royal Family. Some said they were acting on instructions from the whips.

Those who did respond divided evenly between republicans and monarchists. But only 11 of the 63 MPs who answered said they supported the monarchy "without serious reservation".

Their lack of enthusiasm appears to reflect the national mood. On almost every conceivable measure, the Royal Family's ratings have fallen badly in recent years. Only one in five of the population thinks the royals are "highly respected", against well over half six years ago. The proportion saying they are "important to Britain" is down from 68 per cent to 43 per cent over the same period. When one of the main arguments for retaining the monarchy was put to them - that, without it, Britain would be less stable politically - respondents were evenly divided. In 1984, they agreed with the argument by a margin of more than 3-1.

Even those who want to keep the monarchy seem to have lost faith in its future. Six years ago, only one in 10 thought it would fail to survive the next half-century; even two years ago, the majority of people thought it would survive. Now, only 33 per cent say that it will be here in 50 years' time, against 43 per cent who say it will not. People who opposed the abolition of the monarchy were less confident about its survival than people who would welcome its disappearance.

The results are all the more remarkable because the poll was conducted on 7-9 February, when the Royal Family was not making big headlines - stories about the financial troubles of the Duchess of York and about the marital troubles of Charles and Diana had dried up.

Perhaps most ominous for the the Crown are the opinions of young people. Only 19 per cent of under-25s thought Britain would be worse off without a monarchy and a majority thought that it was an expensive luxury that the country could not afford. A third said the monarchy should be abolished when the Queen dies; another quarter wanted it abolished at some other time in the future. Only 34 per cent wanted to keep it indefinitely.

Almost the only encouraging result for the monarchy was that the Queen herself remains popular. Three-quarters of respondents were satisfied with how she was doing her job, a rating far higher than any politician enjoys and almost identical to the support she got in 1992.