Protests and apathy: Why King Charles should be worried about the rise of indifference and republicanism

Charles's coronation may be just around the corner, but there has been a noticeable shift in how the monarch is viewed across the country.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2023/03/13: Anti-monarchy protesters hold placards reading 'Not My King' during the demonstration outside Westminster Abbey, as King Charles III and other members of the royal family arrive for the Commonwealth Day Service. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Anti-monarchy protesters outside Westminster Abbey as King Charles arrived for the Commonwealth Day Service earlier this week. (Getty Images)

When Queen Elizabeth II would step out for engagements, there was an excitement that would fill the town or street she was appearing at. In all stages of her reign, people would regularly line up for hours just to catch a glimpse of the monarch or, if they’re lucky, get the opportunity to say hello. For those stuck several rows of people away, Her Majesty had them in mind too, with her bright sartorial choices always making it easy to spot her in the crowds. As she famously said, to be seen is to be believed.

But since Charles became King in September, there’s a reason why he may not want to follow suit. You see, his engagements have played out a little differently from his mother’s. From flung eggs flying perilously close to himself and Camilla, the Queen Consort, to heckles of “Not my king!”, the head of state’s welcome into his new role hasn’t been universally warm.

In fact, since the death of the late Queen, there has been a notable shift in how the monarch and his consort has been received across the country. Recent polls show that while a majority of the nation still believes in having a monarchy, support for the Royal Family has become softer than ever before. A YouGov poll even revealed that Brits favouring abolition now stood at 32 per cent, while positive views of the country’s current reigning monarch have dropped more than 20 points since the switch from Queen to King.

AYLESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 10:  Queen Elizabeth II, Holding Flowers On Walkabout, Is Greeted By Huge Crowds Waving Union Jack Flags.  The Warmth Of The Welcome She Is Receiving  In Each Place She Visits During Her Jubilee Tour Has Given The Queen Much To Be Smiling About.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II being greeted by huge crowds during her jubilee tour in 2002. (Getty Images)

And for groups such as Republic, who have advocated for the replacement of monarchy with a parliamentary republic since 2006, the moment has provided an opportunity to be heard. With the institution no longer shielded by the nationwide reverence and respect shown towards Elizabeth II, some at least now feel far more comfortable to air their true views about the royal establishment.

At Monday’s Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, the pressure group’s chants could be heard echoing from the street and through the Great West Door. And at a demonstration during Charles and Camilla’s May 7 visit to Colchester, Essex, the couple were greeted by boos from a group of campaigners, who shouted, “Why are you wasting our money?” and “Don’t you believe in democracy, Charles?”. It’s a sight Elizabeth II rarely ever had to deal with, but for King Charles it’s quickly become too common an occurrence.

Read more: 'A cruel punishment': The inside story of King Charles's eviction of Harry and Meghan

“While Republic has its work cut out it is notable that this is the first time since the introduction of universal suffrage that there’s been an active and unapologetic republican movement,” founder Graham Smith tells me.

Behind palace walls, I’m told there is “little worry” at present about a growing republican sentiment in the UK. One royal source says, “There was never any doubt that the public sentiment towards the Royal Family would change with the King. There are plenty of positive things to be focused on.”

Watch: Protester throws egg at Charles during walkabout

It’s worth noting that neither those shouting “God save the king!” or calling out “Not my king!” at royal engagements represent the average opinion towards the Royal Family. Both lie at either ends of the spectrum. But somewhere in the middle is a growing group that the institution should perhaps be worried about — those who don’t care either way.

Recent polls highlight a growing apathy towards the Royal Family in recent years. Indeed, even in my own experiences with talking about my work at universities across the country, I’ve found that students often admit to an indifference towards the Royal Family. News outlets focused on younger audiences have seen a similar reaction. Sophie Peachey, a journalist and producer at The News Movement, says young readers see the royals as just “another” dynasty. “What we found was that what Gen Z was interested in was not the people, it’s the institution as a whole, it’s the themes that shroud the monarchy,” she said at the Society of Editors’ Media Freedom Conference on Wednesday, adding that popular videos included: “Who actually is King Charles?” and “Does the public want a monarchy?”

In fact, on Friday, a young couple aligned to the youth movement No More Royals jumped the security ropes and sneaked onto a bed at Windsor Castle to protest against the Roayl Family. "We have to choose between heating our homes or putting food on the table, while the ‘king’ plans a multi-million pound pageant," they wrote in a tweet.

As Graham Smith admits, that growing apathy is an even bigger problem than Republic campaigners. “We can keep raising awareness of the problems and scandals of the monarchy, getting people to understand why it’s worth caring about getting rid of it,” he says. “That includes connecting the institution to issues of identity, social justice and democratic reform. The royals will struggle to re-engage the indifferent, there just isn’t any reason for people to be interested in them anymore than any other celebrity family.”

Harsh words but he’s not alone. The front runner in the race to replace First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week declared that Scotland could ditch the monarchy within five years of independence and replace King Charles with an elected head of state.

“I don't know why we should be shy about that,” the Scottish National Party politician told The National. “I’ve been very clear, I’m a republican. That’s never been anything I’ve hidden.” Scottish people themselves appear divided on the issue with one recent poll showing 50% of people think the monarchy is worth keeping. Most starkly, however, was a separate question which showed that just 9% of 16-24 year olds think the royals are “good for Scotland”.

YouGov poll

At King Charles’ May 6 coronation, Republic are expecting their largest ever turnout for a protest. Compared to the thousands out in the streets celebrating, it will no doubt be a comparatively smaller crowd, but, argues Smith, “we will have the advantage of standing out, having a powerful message and making an impact greater than our size. Showing the world that we’re not a nation of sycophants and royalists is hugely important and will help shift the debate onto asking why people oppose the monarchy. After the coronation we will continue to protest at royal events attended by Charles and William, continue to ask them difficult questions and continue to tell them that they’ll never be our king.”

Perhaps it’s time for them to start worrying.