Yesterday I wrote about how people in Britain view their monarchy as they prepare for the coronation of the new king.
Despite some challenges, the institution seems safe for now. But my research showed that in the Commonwealth realms – the 14 other countries in which the king is head of state – the picture is much more mixed.
In six of these countries – Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Canada, Jamaica and the Solomon Islands – more voters said they would choose to become a republic than to remain with the Crown. The question is unresolved — all but two said they didn’t know or wouldn’t vote was greater than the gap between the two parties — but it shows the balance of power and perhaps the direction of the movement.
(Visit www.lordashcroftpolls.com to view each country’s results on our interactive map.)
In the eight countries that would remain with the monarchy, margins ranged from tight (five points in Belize, six in Papua New Guinea) to comfortable (29 points in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 45 points in Tuvalu, a country in the Pacific).
In the photo: Lord Ashcroft. In six of these countries – Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Canada, Jamaica and the Solomon Islands – more voters said they would choose to become a republic than they would choose to remain with the Crown
On the face of it, this suggests a division of varying degrees over what people think about the royal family, or how they view the institution of the monarchy. In fact, it has more to do with how they see themselves, and what they think they gain from their relationship with Britain and having the king at the top of their political system.
In other words, and as I always remind politicians, it’s not about you (Your Majesty), it’s about them.
For Republicans, the objection to the Crown is not that it prevents them from doing what they want, but that it feels irrelevant to their country and that their allegiance to it seems anachronistic.
Some, especially in Canada and Australia, felt it was incompatible with what they perceived as their inclusive and egalitarian national character. Britain’s cultural influence was waning, while relations with partners such as the US and China seemed increasingly important.
The monarchy’s association with the history of slavery and colonialism was another inescapable factor, especially in the Caribbean. Many in Jamaica (where people said they would vote for a republic by a nine-point margin in a referendum tomorrow) said the fact that they were not only nominally ruled by their former colonial masters, but also needed a visa to to visit the UK was an insult to injury.
We heard many calls for the King to apologize on behalf of the monarchy and his country for their past misdeeds – calls echoed by some at home. But that was strongly opposed by the majority of British voters (‘The Royal Navy has freed 150,000 slaves. Why should we apologize to anyone?’ was a typical remark in our focus groups).
While just over half of British Republicans thought such an apology should be made, three-quarters of those who would vote to retain the monarchy disagreed. This will be one of the trickiest questions for the king to answer: appropriately acknowledging the more shameful parts of our history is one thing, but going too far down this road risks upsetting the general public without ever meeting the demands of activists. Many around the world were torn between the desire to assert their independence and end their association with historical abuses on the one hand and the stability and reassurance afforded them by the monarchy on the other.
King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort pose for a portrait in the Blue Room at Buckingham Palace on April 4, 2023
People in Belize spoke of the sense of security they had felt seeing British soldiers in their “nice big trucks,” saying that while the military presence had been significantly scaled back, they felt the crown provided a measure of protection. implied in the face of territorial claims by neighboring Guatemala.
Many in more remote countries, including New Zealand (which would vote to keep the monarchy by a ten-point margin) felt they had more influence and international stature than they would have alone ‘at the bottom of the world’ – not to mention generous visa arrangements with the UK.
Elsewhere, even some who doubted the monarchy were even more reluctant to trust their own political elites (“a president would become a dictator and control everything,” a man in Papua New Guinea warned). Around the world, a significant portion of those who voted to retain the monarchy said it was because the alternative would be worse, or because the process of change would be too disruptive. Few were attracted to the idea of an American-style executive president, but neither did they see the point in elevating one of their own citizens to the position of “phony monarch” or “chief ribboncutter” as they had embraced the idea of a ceremonial home-grown head of state.
Indeed, one of the monarchy’s greatest advantages in this debate is that it seems irrelevant to most people: the cost of living, crime, violence, corruption, the environment, poverty, health care, education, and jobs were all more pressing.
In every country that tends to vote for a republic tomorrow, large majorities also agreed that “in an ideal world we wouldn’t have the monarchy, but there are more important things to us.” As they told us in Jamaica, they could get rid of the king, but “the price of rice remains the same.”
The line of the palace is that the monarchy’s place in the Commonwealth realms is a matter for the people of those countries.
That’s as it should be. But there’s a fine line between not campaigning and not seeming to care. Understandably, some want to leave. But others want to feel that they are being taken seriously and that they are benefiting from their link with Britain. Much of this is due to His Majesty’s reign, and not to the king himself. How important are these relationships and are we willing to invest in them?
Lord Ashcroft is an international businessman, author, philanthropist and pollster. You can follow him on Twitter/Facebook: @LordAshcroft. Uncharted Realms: The Future of the Monarchy in the UK and Around the World is available at LordAshcroftPolls.com