Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The case for a republic is as strong now as it has always been

A head of state who merits the position should be chosen by the people

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Monday 28 May 2012 12:13 BST

I admire and hugely like the singer Billy Bragg, that proud working-class (English) hero. The last time we met, the Queen's Jubilee came up and also my fierce republicanism. Don't fret, said Billy, understand. Royalty is an integral part of British culture. Respect it, as you ask for your culture to be respected. I have never believed any tradition should be above criticism, just because it goes back a long way. But still, Billy, this time I tried, really tried. And then this week the excessive indulgence of spoilt royals, the oleaginousness and uninhibited ostentation got to me. Objections broke out, like hives. And quite honestly it is a relief after the suffocating restraint of the past months.

I concede without caveat that Elizabeth II is a living chronicle of defining epochs of modern British history. She is skilful, diplomatic, dutiful and has grace and remarkable energy. I have met her twice and witnessed her inborn authority. None of that weakens the republican case. We should question the place of a monarchy in a modern state and start imagining a future free of the shackles of class and sycophancy. This society is said to have lost its deference. Like hell it has. Just look at the queue of bowers and curtsiers, fawners and flatterers. The laughable royalist sentimentality of Norman St John-Stevas and Nicholas Soames is now channelled through former modernisers – Vivienne Westwood, Rosie Boycott, the once republican Guardian which ran a picture of Kate Middleton drinking milkshake on its front page. Wow!

The main argument against the monarchical edifice is one of principle. Even if this family were saintly and super-talented (and it patently is neither) the system validates the revolting dogma of inherited privilege – that some are born to greatness. It is the antithesis of equality, social mobility and progress.

A head of state should be chosen by the people, someone who merits the position. Candidates? Britain is full of gifted people – for a titular head, think Joanna Lumley, Colin Firth, Jenni Murray, Trevor McDonald, Carol Ann Duffy, David Attenborough, David Starkey, David Beckham, Jamie Oliver, Robert Winston, Cliff Richard, Ken Loach, best of all Helen Mirren who acts queenly so perfectly. They would be independents without party allegiances. Our Royal Family's affinities have always been with the Tories.

Then the question of money. The royal finances and costs of these celebrations are kept from our common eyes. In an age of transparency, no other business or political organisation has that privilege. Britons just accept the exceptionalism and favouritism, even the poor. They are happily buying Union Jack plastic cups and bunting, getting ready for the biggest party ever.

The political strategy of no bread but great royal circuses is working. And those hives of mine are now burning and bleeding.


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