It was days before another royal funeral – albeit a ceremonial one for Diana, Princess of Wales, 25 years ago – that Tony Blair realized the monarchy was facing an almost unprecedented existential threat.
“I was worried,” he has since said of a time when kings were seen as coldly indifferent to public mood. A poll showed that one in four were in favor of a democracy.
History has it that the Queen, in particular, has turned things around and this week a YouGov poll showed her once unpopular son and heir apparent enjoyed a wave of support for his accession: 63% of people said he would do a ‘good job’ .
The organized side of the British democracy movement has decided to remain relatively quiet ahead of the coronation, which is expected next year, but those keen to abolish the monarchy may be encouraged by the direction of opinion polls, which support the institution at an all-time low.
Groups like Republic plan to prepare the ground through marketing campaigns and say they have attracted thousands of new members in recent days, but strategists say their chances of success depend on the new King – a relatively strong player in recent weeks, but also a man whose indolence on two occasions with a pen was in sharp contrast to his mother’s poker-faced skill.
“The evidence showing a wave of support for him speaks to the power of the institution, which clearly has an influence on the people. There’s a kind of rallying around the flag effect, which I think will endure,” said Gabriel Milland, polling expert, partner at Portland Communications and former No. 10 adviser.
“Assuming his reign goes smoothly, it’s hard to see this country turning against the monarchy, given that the only times that has happened are when things have gone badly for the monarch, such as Victoria’s withdrawal from the public life after Albert’s death, the abdication crisis and Diana’s death.”
As Professor Sir John Curtice, the UK’s pre-eminent political scientist, said, the “broad headline” since the National Center for Social Research (NCSR) began charting attitudes to the monarchy in 1994 is that about two-thirds say it is either very or very important for Britain to have a monarchy, while somewhere between 10 and 20% either say it is not important at all or that it should be abolished. But it’s the variation in these elements that can be critical.
Despite fluctuations, such as after Diana’s death and the wave around the Diamond Jubilee, Curtice notes that the most recent ECEF survey found that the core group who thought the monarchy was “very or fairly important” had fallen to 55 %.
“Why that? Probably, one: Prince Andrew and two: Harry and Meghan. There was a bit of noise in the background. The crucial point is that while there is a certain sense of stability in support for the monarchy, it varies and seems to vary depending on the circumstances. So I think it’s better to categorize it as contingent support rather than unquestionable support,” he added.
Among other surveyors of public attitudes and identity, British Future’s Sunder Katwala said that, beyond a strong core of support, the thinktank’s poll found there were three areas for the monarchy to be concerned about: Scotland, ethnic Britain’s minorities and young people. Less than half of people in Scotland said they supported keeping the monarchy. Across Britain, only 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds supported keeping the monarchy, while 37% of people from an ethnic minority did.
Not that Republicans should assume that future generations will automatically bring with them hostility or indifference to the royals, said Katwala, who has previously “spoken” about being a Republican.
“What Republicans have been bad at, though they’re getting a lot better at, is tone of voice. [They have] to understand why people don’t see this as a slam-dunk issue just because it’s an accident of birth or it seems unfair. If you can’t figure out that it’s not that simple, then what the Republicans are telling people is “you’re all a bunch of propaganda driven sheep”.
“So a softer voice really helps, and you could see gains if republicanism was allowed to come out and become a source of a slightly disloyal opposition that would demand transparency on things like the royal finances, one that could ask questions of parliament.” .
Either way, a de facto referendum on the monarchy will go ahead in the form of ECEC monitoring data, he said.
Katwala added: “If you lose the public vote, then everyone behaves differently and the media behaves differently, although what you don’t understand is one focal point at a time [to challenge the institution]. This is certainly not the right time because of mourning, but the coronation should be the time when people say, “This is the alternative.”