Outwith the Royal traditions, pomp and splendour that will surround the day, the coronation this weekend is also, inevitably, a platform for global protest and political comment. Our public affairs Senior Account Executive, Rebecca Watson, looks at the background of some of the political stories running alongside the celebrations.
While the crown might still retain majority popular support in the country overall, there are signs this popularity may be waning among the young. A recent YouGov poll found that while 60% of Britons believe the UK should continue to have a monarchy, there are deep generational divides, with the monarchy being significantly less favourable with younger generations. Data shows 77% of Britons aged 65+ say the monarchy is good for the country, with just 32% of 18–24-year-olds agreeing with them.
The republican agenda, assisted by some high-profile protests, has been successful in attracting far reaching publicity and commentary. We have already witnessed multiple protests against the new Monarch, including when eggs were thrown at the King and Queen Consort during a walkabout in York. The pair were also greeted with chants of “not my king” at York Minster as they arrived for the monarch’s first Royal Maundy service. To some, the horse-drawn Gold State Carriage being driven through London is the embodiment of the dichotomy between the millions spent on an event, while the country faces a cost of living crisis. This and the accompanying pageantry) has heightened the feelings many share about the King’s reign and the future of the monarchy.
Politically, perhaps the most significant announcement is the acceptance of the offer to attend the coronation by Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill. While it is standard protocol for such an invitation to be made to all significant political parties within all the nations of the UK, given their history and ideology, the acceptance is a real sign of the times and how they’ve changed. It also demonstrates the development of a new relationship between the Royal Family and the Irish republicanism – although unsurprisingly, O’Neill’s announcement created some backlash with many highlighting the hypocrisy of attending the coronation while still refusing to sit in Westminster.
In Scotland, despite calls for independence from the governing party, it is still the current policy position of the SNP that an independent Scotland would retain the monarchy. The First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf, has accepted an invitation to attend, along with Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, chief whip Brendan O’Hara, and former Westminster leader Ian Blackford. However, the Scottish Greens, who are currently in a power-sharing agreement with the SNP and have Ministers in the Scottish Government, have confirmed no one from their party will attend. Co-leader Patrick Harvie previously stated the party – which has called for a debate on the future of the monarchy – would turn down their invitations as no-one is “remotely interested” in attending. Across Scotland, there will also be several independence rallies happening at the same time as the coronation in amongst the inevitable celebrations. We can expect more too, when the newly crowned King comes to Scotland this summer to receive the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish crown jewels).
However, Westminster has taken centre stage and become a viral focus for protest in the last few days, not least around the UK Government using the coronation to push through legislation. This week the new Public Order Act 2023 received Royal Assent. This controversial Act increases police powers and sentences for what might be deemed disruptive protesting. The key changes in the bill include: the definition and restriction of serious disruption and an increase in sentence for protests that interfere with key national infrastructure; and increasing London police powers to prohibit a perceived disruptive protest.
Many see this move as using the cover of the Coronation to limit civil liberties and the right to protest. Be ready to see more angry responses to this move – if the proceedings of the next few days continue without high profile protests, it will be a surprise, as some have already used social media to highlight the implications.
For over 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II played a key role in her Commonwealth, but since her death its future remains in the balance more than ever. In 2021 Barbados officially removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and other countries look to follow suit. Jamaica’s Prime Minister has announced a commitment to move swiftly towards a republic and Antigua and Barbuda’s leader said he plans to hold a referendum on becoming a republic within three years. It was also reported that representatives from 12 Commonwealth countries have called on the King to acknowledge and apologise for Britain’s legacy of “genocide and colonisation”. Given the globally divided views on the purpose and future of the Commonwealth, this will be one of the biggest challenges King Charles will face during his reign.
So Charles will head to the Abbey, a crown will be placed on his head and some of us may pledge allegiance to him, but as the Government continues to crack down on protesters, the Commonwealth fractures and some parties resist Westminster rule, it’s clear the world is a very different place from what it was in 1953. How our new King handles this and how the day itself pans out will be watched the world over, and there can be no doubt that by the time the next coronation comes around – things will be even more different than they are today.