/ 3 May 2006

Republicans push to end monarchy in UK

Britain’s Prince Charles may have a fight on his hands when the time comes to inherit the crown from his elderly mother, Queen Elizabeth II, if a growing band of republicans has its way.

The movement wants to swap the monarchy for an elected head of state, effectively making Charles and the rest of the royal family redundant.

Standing in its way, however, is this centuries-old institution, which is still loved by millions of loyal subjects.

Republic, the pressure group demanding an end to Britain’s hereditary based system of privilege and wealth, admits it has its work cut out. But, in a sign of a rising, albeit still meagre, support-base the organisation held its first spring conference in the northern English city of Leeds on Saturday to discuss campaigns and policy.

Campaign coordinator Graham Smith said: ”Charles is becoming more unpopular, the queen is getting older, so there is a feeling that now is the time to start pushing up the level of activity and bring more energy into our campaign.”

In a sign of the uphill struggle ahead, barely 30 of the group’s 1 000 paid-up members attended the one-day meeting at a hotel near the city centre.

The atmosphere inside, however, was optimistic, with participants –largely white, middle-aged men with a couple of women and a few younger faces — united in the belief that a democratic society has no place for an unelected, though largely symbolic, king or queen.

Instead, people should be able to vote a ”commoner” into the highest role of public office, similar to the presidential model used in Ireland.

”I think an end to the monarchy is inevitable,” said Stephen Haseler, who chaired the meeting.

”When Charles takes over people are going ask, ‘Why and under whose authority?’ Then the issue will be whether we want to dispense with the institution or validate it,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Queen Elizabeth, who turned 80 barely a week ago, has been a difficult obstacle for the fledgling republican movement because she has barely put a foot wrong in more than 50 years on the throne, experts say.

But she cannot last forever and the looming prospect of Charles — a gaff-prone figure haunted by his failed marriage to Princess Diana — taking charge is seen by republicans as a great chance to challenge the legitimacy of the monarchy and hold a referendum on whether to abolish it.

”The heir to the throne will probably take over in his 70s or 80s, which gives us, as the main organisation which on principle is opposing this system, a chance to work out a policy to present to the public for the future,” Haseler, a professor of politics, told the meeting.

The royal family, however, appears acutely aware of the need to be more relevant and keep up-to-date with the changes in society.

Suzanne Campbell, a member of Republic’s executive committee, said: ”They have a big public relations machine that recognises how essential it is to keep them looking very good.”

In May, Charles and his sons, Princes William and Harry, are due to give their first, joint television interview to help mark the 30th anniversary of the Prince’s Trust, a charity for young people set up by the Prince of Wales.

The republicans remain resolute, noting that membership to the group, which was launched in the early 1980s, has doubled in the past year alone as it makes serious efforts to raise awareness.

Republic hopes this momentum will continue as people who have already joined are encouraged to campaign in their local towns and cities. In addition, the group, which also meets annually in October, is declaring June 2 — the anniversary of the queen’s 1953 coronation — Republic Day.

Liam Robinson (23), a station manager from London who was at the meeting, said it was important to spread the word.

”We need to be pushing our case so it is not some kind of extreme viewpoint but a modern, common sense, positive alternative that would be better for the country as a whole,” Robinson, who only joined Republic six months ago, said. — Sapa-AFP