New republicans: there are more than you think

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The Independent Online
RON DAVIES is not alone. The republican views expressed in the Shadow Welsh Secretary's comments on the Prince of Wales are held openly by a surprising number of establishment figures. Supporters of a monarchless Britain include peers, academics, QCs, bankers, businessmen, authors and leading journalists.

Professor Edgar Wilson, lecturer in philosophy and politics at Manchester Metropolitan University, who edits the British Republican Society's magazine, Republic, said: "The number of card-carrying members is relatively small - about 1,000 - but the sort of people who are carrying cards is interesting. It is significant that Lord Dormand of Easington, who is a member of the opposition front bench in the Lords, Lord Sefton and Lord Jenkins are all members, while in the Commons we have people like Tony Benn, Nick Raynsford and Tony Banks."

At least three QCs are republicans: Anthony Scrivener, former chairman of the Bar Council, Michael Mansfield, and Geoffrey Robertson, who brought about the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which led to the Scott enquiry. "We should have an elected president who deals with all the important constitutional issues," Mr Robertson said yesterday. "The monarchy should be confined to ceremonial occasions and riding round their palaces on bicycle."

Many writers are known for their republican views. They include Sue Townsend, creator of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Tom Paulin, the poet and critic, David Hare, the playwright, and Fay Weldon, the novelist, who said: "A country with both a state religion and a monarchy at its head is just going to bumble its way into confusion and hypocrisy. Each institution brings the other into disrepute. Something has to give and I suspect it's going to have to be the monarchy."

Leading republican journalists include Edward Pearce, Christopher Hitchens and Claire Rayner, the agony aunt, who said she enthusiastically supported the Independent on Sunday's republican stance. The writer and broadcaster, who has chaired a republican conference in the past, said of Princess Diana: "The best thing this tiresome young woman is doing is making it all easier." The language of the monarchy is, she said, "pure Gilbert and Sullivan".

Republican academics include Christopher Price, former principal of Leeds Metropolitan University, who lists his club in Who's Who as the ultra- establishment Athenaeum. He said: "I think, like a lot of people, that the monarchy has had it in the medium term but how long that is I don't know. It will only really disappear when one of the heirs says that the game isn't worth the candle. It's bound to happen within the next 40 or 50 years. Yes, people will mourn it, like we mourn everything. It has been much loved in history but it is obviously coming to the end of its useful life."

Professor John Keane, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster and author of a Tom Paine biography, said: "A republic is important for economic reasons. Will Hutton has best put this argument and it is why a magazine like the Economist has gone down that road. There is a growing dispute in British politics not only about policies but the rules of the game. Naturally, the republican issue surfaces."

While recent royal behaviour has made it increasingly easy for closet republicans to come out and declare their true sentiments, many people still prefer discretion.

Howard Davies, for example, deputy governor of the Bank of England, has been reported as a radical republican who believes the British would be better off with an elected head of state instead of the Queen. But Mr Davies was unavailable for comment "because of his position". George Walden, Conservative MP for Buckingham, was careful not to commit himself to a full-blown republic but said: "If the current establishment don't watch out, they will get it. I'm for downgrading the entire royal ensemble but not instituting a republic. We'll have to see how it goes."

Of course, it is not only members of the establishment who question the future of the monarchy in Britain. John McVicar, armed robber turned writer, has similar views.

"I have a real bee in my bonnet about it," he said yesterday. "I am totally against the royal family. People forget what they symbolise - a feudal hangover.

"I think the idea that positions should be inherited is quite horrible and that is the premise that the royal family lives on. And they have such prestige in this country that they drag a lot of nouveaux riches into the same kind of thinking. It deflects away from the entrepreneurial and meritocratic society which is the modern world. It's pernicious and contrary to the whole ethos of modern capitalist democracy."