Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is now the time to overthrow the Monarchy? bring down the Queen and her corrupt family, liberate Europe if you want to liberate the Muslim world

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In a pub just west of the Kingsway and south of Queen Square, they're plotting to overthrow the monarchy.
"It is only medieval societies that tolerate kings," says Stephen Haseler, a professor at London Metropolitan University and a leading thinker of the British anti-monarchist group Republic. His listeners put down their pint glasses long enough to bellow, "Here, here!"
There are about 40 of them gathered - young and old, men and women - and they are united in a common cause: They might not want the Queen's head on a platter, but they would very much like it removed from their money and their constitution.
You might think that these are dark times for British republicans, with the upcoming nuptials of the shiny-maned Kate Middleton to her Prince Charming. As the country prepares to feast and then fall over sated with goodwill, who wants to listen to bolshie talk about the undemocratic nature of a monarchy?
But the republicans, bolstered by their comrades in other Commonwealth countries such as Canada, view the royal bridal-
palooza as a historical opportunity: They say their number is growing - even Colin Firthwas recently outed as a closet republican. And when the international spotlight shines on the Royal Family, the republicans hope, a flawed system will be laid bare.
"Our biggest problem isn't people who love the monarchy," says Republic's campaign manager, Graham Smith. "Our biggest problem is people who don't care."
In the front room of the pub (their original meeting room upstairs has been taken over by a chess club called The Drunken Knights), they discuss strategy. A "Love Republic" party will be held on the wedding day, April 29, as a counterbalance to the official hoopla. More seriously, they plan to demonstrate outside Buckingham Palace against new government legislation that effectively removes the Royal Family from freedom-of-information requests. (One consequence is that the extent of Prince Charles's political lobbying will be lost from public view.)
There is grumbling about the BBC's coverage of the Royal Family (fawning!) and the fact that when the Queen goes, another unelected head of state will take her place (scandalous!). "When David Beckham lost the England captaincy," says one man, "did they immediately give the job to little Brooklyn?"
Another speaks up: "I'm angry, you're angry, the wedding is about to happen. What can we do? We can't bring it down."
Prof. Haseler, a constitutional expert working on a book about Queen Elizabeth II's reign calledInglorious, counsels patience: It's only 10 years since discussing such ideas was legally removed from the realm of treason.
"It will happen," says his colleague, Mr. Smith, "sooner than we think." In fact, tonight's meeting launches Republic 2025, a campaign to abolish the monarchy - or at least have a referendum on the issue - in the next 14 years. They're seeking an elected head of state such as a president, and to strip the Royal Family of its constitutional role.
Powers and privileges
But why bother? There's a nice, hard-working monarch on the throne, tourists like to gawp at trooping the colour and it's all a bit of splash and ceremony. Isn't it trivial to worry?
Republicans argue that it's anything but - that the monarchy is unaccountable and unrepresentative, a drain on public resources that makes a joke of democracy: Only half of Britain's parliament is elected, and the head of state never can be.
Far from being powerless, they claim, the Crown maintains all kinds of privileges and powers. This week, for example, Moammar Gadhafi's British assets were frozen not by Parliament, but by three members of the Privy Council - politicians who are also royal advisers - who gathered at Windsor Castle for a meeting presided over by the Queen.
Republic argues that the Royal Family cost British taxpayers £180-million (about $285-million) through payments, deferred taxes and security costs - a far higher estimate than the Royal Family's own accounting of £40-million ($63-million) a year.
But what about the benefits to Britain from royal-related tourism? Republic argues those claims are overstated. Indeed, the royal wedding, contrary to claims by the official tourism body VisitBritain, might actually drive visitors away: With a freedom of information request, Republic uncovered an internal e-mail from a VisitBritain researcher saying that Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's wedding seemed to have a "negative impact" on tourism that summer.
Richard Chilton, an investment banker, has been by the bar listening to the debate. "It's about accountability," he says. "In this country, 'we the people' doesn't exist. Power is from the Crown downward, not from the people up." He has been a republican since he saw the word "subject" stamped on his first passport.
But perhaps people would rather buy royal-wedding tea towels than think about reworking Britain's unwritten constitution. Support for constitutional reform hovers around 20 per cent.
According to Mr. Smith, Republic has grown by "several hundred" members since William and Kate's marriage was announced in November, bringing the group's supporters to around 12,000. High-profile republicans include director Mike Leigh and scientist Richard Dawkins. And Mr. Firth, theKing's Speech Oscar winner, recently bit the gloved hand that feeds him on Piers Morgan's talk show.
"Do you think the institution is a good one?" Mr. Morgan asked. Mr. Firth paused, looking like he was about to jump into a pool with no water, and said: "I really like voting. It's one of my favourite things."
Meanwhile, in the colonies
In Canada and Australia, republicans valiantly paddle against a tide of indifference. An Ipsos Reid poll in November showed that 61 per cent of Canadians didn't want the Royal Family having a formal role in Canadian society. And 53 per cent thought ties to the monarchy should be cut when Queen Elizabeth II was no longer on the throne.
For Tom Freda, of the group Citizens for a Canadian Republic, it's not so much about disliking the monarchy as it is favouring independence: "The question is," he says, "does a country of Canada's stature deserve one of its own citizens, who we choose, as head of state, or someone who represents our colonial past?"
Also, an elected head of state would act as a check on the power of the prime minister and the ruling government - which is perhaps why it doesn't get much play in Ottawa.
The restless Australians seem closer to cutting their royal ties: In a 1999 referendum, 55 per cent voted to retain the monarchy, but Australia's Prime Minister, British-born Julia Gillard, has said she thinks this Queen should be Australia's last long-distance head of state: "I think the appropriate time for this nation to move to be a republic is when we see the monarch change."
And there it is: The great crack in the House of Windsor that the republicans are hoping to exploit, which just happens to be shaped like Prince Charles. If there's a weak link in the bridge between a popular Queen and her popular grandson, it's the less-popular Prince of Wales.
As Prof. Haseler says, "He's a controversial person. He's a brat. … They know Charles is a big problem. Why do you think we're getting this huge build-up to William's wedding?"
Still, with the sun reflecting off souvenir teapots across the land, it's certainly not as perilous as the other times the Crown has been threatened - Charles I losing his head in the middle of a civil war, Edward VIII choosing a chic American over a shabby throne, the Queen's "annus horribilis" of 1992, when toe-sucking and petulance almost ruined everything she had stood for her entire life.
Odd, then, that republicans are so cheery.
Mr. Chilton, the banker, believes one day Britain will have an elected head of state - and that day is perhaps not too far away: "If you ask me my dying wish, it's that I see my son stand for president of this country."
Elizabeth Renzetti is a member of The Globe and Mail's European bureau.

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