Republicans struggle to get their voice heard amid Jubilee chorus

Anthony Pearce

In 1977, during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols hired a boat and sailed down the Thames with the intention of blasting their anti-monarchy anthem ‘God Save the Queen’ at Parliament.

It was something of a failure, of course, with most of the band being arrested a short while after.

But as statements go, it was a bold one. Fast forward 35 years and punk is an institution, rightfully celebrated across radio and television this Diamond Jubilee.

But once again the Thames is the location of republican sentiment. For among a sea of fluttering flags, red, white and blue, a few hundred protestors gathered on Sunday - the day of the spectacular river pageant - holding up ‘citizen not servant’ placards and chanting 'down with the Queen' - some of them in Sex Pistols T-shirts, of course.

However, they were roundly booed by many of the 8,000 tourists occupying the same space by London’s City Hall, just to the west of Tower Bridge.

Britain, decked out in bunting, has caught the Royal fever for second time in just over a year, so it's not easy being a republican.

But Republic – the group organising Sunday’s protest – remain defiant.

"We really just wanted to make a stand to show that the whole of Britain isn’t just out celebrating the Jubilee and to represent all those people at home who are a little bit sick of it,' said chairperson Emily Robinson. 'In the past republicans have been tempted to just ignore royal events, but we don’t want to do that anymore."

The reality, however, is that many republicans – estimated to be at around 25 per cent of the public – have decided to stay away. 'It’s a bit disheartening,' admitted protester Joe Domican, 54. "We’re about eight million to one here!"

He said, though, that it’s vital that republicans continued to air their views. "We’re all born equal and we try to teach equality. Everyone should be able to grow believing they can become our head of state. Loving your country has been hijacked by the Queen."

But the so-called 'Kate effect' has elevated the popularity of the Royal Family – with the Queen’s approval rating last measured at a whopping +78%.

The British public isn’t in the mood, by and large, for republicanism. And being a republican, isn’t an easy job. "People are fond of the Queen," said protester David Daniels, 24. "I’m quite fond of her. But that doesn’t mean her position is right."

Further helping huge pro-monarchy support on the day was circumstance.

Both London and Tower Bridges were closed to the public, making it impossible to walk to the protest from the north (there is a bridge open, one officer told me: "But it’s, er, in Essex").

Furthermore the security staff managing the area occupied by protesters and royal enthusiasts were limiting the numbers that could enter.

[Related Article: Drizzle and grey skies fail to dampen Jubilee crowd]

When I arrived, it had become a one-in-one out situation. The absurd result was that protesters had to leave the area so that their speakers – such as veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell – could enter to talk. Megaphones had been banned and Adam Barnett, one of the event’s organisers, told me that banners were also confiscated by security on the way in.

What was left was a rather monochrome affair (nearly all placards were black ink on white backgrounds) compared with the colourful jubilee celebrations.

However one protestor Nigel R Mitchell, 56, was dressed in orange camouflage and sported a mask of the Queen with 'scrounger' scrawled on it.

Is she really a scrounger, I asked.

'People are barely existing on the welfare state, and she’s decadently showing off all her belongings, paid for by the people. It’s a parade to the poor people of London,' he said.

The protesters gathered for the republican cause proved to be a mixed bunch. "There are Conservatives, Labour supporters, Greens and nationalists – from Scotland and Wales – here," said Joe Domican.

By chance, I stumbled across a group of republican protestors unable to get through to the main group at City Hall (there were huge queues of people desperately trying to make it to the river front) on the way out. Here, there were chants, as well as ‘keep calm and scrap the monarchy’ and ‘down with the crown’ signs.

All this left many of the tourists around them confused. "Stuff the Jubilee?" I overheard one say. "Really?"