It is a frequently held view that, in the UK at least, Republicanism is a concern of socialists and communists. ‘You’re just a bunch of ‘loony lefties’ is an occasional accusation, though I’m never sure whether the accuser is claiming that all ‘lefties’ are ‘loony’ or that only some ‘lefties’ are ‘loony’! Setting that aside, is the accusation correct?
Republicanism Predates Modern Political Notions of Left and Right
A brief look at the roots of modern Republicanism reveals that this cannot be the case. Influential early Republican thinkers such as Macchiavelli and his colleagues in Renaissance Florence lived during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries well before the concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’ were conceived. Later, during the English Civil War of the 1640s many of the Parliamentary forces which opposed the king, Charles Stuart, were led by aristocrats such as the Earls of Manchester and Essex who had no interest whatsoever in sharing either their lands or wealth very widely. Similarly, the aristocrats were joined by the wealthy traders and merchants who viewed the fact that the King possessed the rights to extensive natural resources such as minerals as an obstacle to the development of free trade. Interestingly the modern-day rivalry between the north-east cities of Newcastle and Sunderland dates to this era when miners of the Tyne were given the coal trading franchise by the King at the expense of their Wearside competitors. So at the outbreak of the Civil War, Newcastle was a Royalist stronghold and Sunderland fought for Parliament. It has been argued by CB MacPherson and others that the emergence of Britain as a modern free enterprise mercantile nation could not have occurred without a successful opposition to the monarchy. This was reinforced by the fact that the King claimed the power to raise taxes under certain circumstances independently of Parliament, such as for purposes of warfare.
The Modern View – Libertarians and Others
Some modern libertarian thinkers follow this view. As examples, the Royals can be viewed as distorting market competition in two ways. Firstly the Duchies of Cornwall (Prince of Wales) and Lancaster (the Monarch) behave as de facto Corporations with substantial land and property development interests. The problem is that the Duchies negotiate their own favourable tax arrangements with Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs (HMRC) not available to companies such as, say, Land Securities PLC. Secondly the Royal Warrant system serves to distort competition with, for example, Prince Philip notoriously being given an Aston Martin car in return for a Royal Warrant. In general, this view considers the existence of an ancient privileged class inhibits the proper development and flowering of a free market capitalist system. From a completely different tradition of the far right the British National Party (BNP) has espoused Republicanism at various points in its history.
In my own experience working for a small but dynamic IT company in the Midlands the Royal PR claim that the Queen is somehow good for business abroad is redundant. Firstly no foreign customer (often American in our case) to my knowledge has ever remarked that they have bought our products because the UK has a Monarch! Secondly when we are looking for new ventures and business partners the sole criterion is whether it improves our competitive position, the nature of the Head of State is irrelevant.
So it is no surprise that the Republic campaign group draws support from all political parties including the Conservatives and UKIP. Republicanism is most certainly not the sole interest of lefties, loony or otherwise!