In recent times republicanism in the UK has presented itself to the public consciousness as a negative concept, defined by opposition and protest rather than a vision of what it represents. This is understandable since the central core of republicanism has largely been the pursuit of an anti-monarchy agenda. Similarly, wider concerns have often been characterised by an oppositional stance, abolition of the House of Lords for example, or the disestablishment of the Church of England and the removal of Archbishops (Lords Spiritual) from the Upper Chamber. Like my fellow republicans I too am highly critical of the outdated unearned privilege the Royals enjoy, in part because it is much easier to say what you oppose than clearly defining what it is that you want. The problem with this approach is that it is limited and ultimately doomed to failure. If people are going to identify with a position they must be able to ‘buy into’ an idea. We can see this elsewhere in society but most clearly in the commercial world; Samsung will attempt to sell their phones by promoting price, features, functions or quality and only obliquely refer to the competition, stopping well short of saying their competitors are rubbish. Now in the post-Brexit mess in which we find ourselves, understandably worrying to so many of our fellow citizens, UK republicans must present a positive statement of the case; we must sell them a positive vision.
History shows that an anti-monarchy message alone is insufficient
Historically the advance of republicanism has been associated with campaigns with wider currency. For example. at the high water mark of English Republicanism in the mid-seventeenth century the calls for a republic were the natural outgrowth of a campaign for the establishment of civil liberties and religious tolerance. Likewise in a second wave of republicanism in the nineteenth century, it was associated very closely with Chartism and the campaign for greater participation in political decision making, relief of grinding poverty and the promotion of workers rights. Similarly, today republicanism is a natural corollary to many other demands which cut across party political lines (see my not just a leftist concern) and the abolition of hereditary and many other sorts of unearned privilege can be presented as an inevitable consequence of a new vision which chimes with the aspirations of young people in particular.
Promoting positive visions of Republicanism
So what are the positive message which we can promote as republicans. There are many, but here are just a few ideas. Starting with the more narrowly focussed campaign for a change to our head of state, in some cases they are the mirror images of campaigns already mounted by the Republic campaign group. For example the campaign to end royal secrets leads more widely for a call for far greater openness in Government in general. Republicans should overtly campaign for such a policy. On the other other hand, I know from personal experience in street and event level campaigning that the #bornEqual campaign cut through with the public and this can be followed up with similar positive visions of a republic which places the promotion of the common good as a central facet. Likewise the interconnection of individual freedom and civic participation is of overwhelming importance following a referendum campaign dominated by a few high profile individuals peddling misinformation and outright lies.
As Republicans we must make every effort to present the positive case. The UK is passing through a tumultuous time and it is possible that as a consequence, greater intolerance and loss of liberty may be the long term outcome. We have a message of an open and tolerant society which WILL resonate with many fellow Britons. Over the next few weeks and months in my blog I will develop further how republican ideas can be positively promoted.