I was today reminded of one of the most common and perplexing responses to British republican sentiment when monarchists took to newspaper websites in their hundreds to comment on widely reported remarks by Labour London Assembly Member Tom Copley berating politicians for falling over themselves to celebrate the recent birth of Prince George. Note, this was an attack on politicians and their skewed priorities - not an attack on a baby who just happens to be third in line to the throne.
Many of the critical comments - and there were an equal, if not greater number in support - were variations on a theme: essentially "if you don't like the monarchy, why don't you go and live in another country." The suggested countries often include, but are not limited to, North Korea and Syria.
The assumptions behind such crude insults are worth pondering because they reveal some quite interesting.
The first and most troubling of these is that to challenge the status quo by seeking debate not only calls into question an individual's patriotism, but their very right to reside in the country. The implications of this line of "logic" are frankly bizarre. Nothing can be challenged and de facto nothing will ever change. Want separation of church and state? You must be a Communist. Want equality of sexuality? Go and live in the Netherlands. Don't like coalition politics? Go and live in a one-party state. Don't like the NHS reforms? Try your luck in the US. In short, if you think Britain - quite possibly your country of birth - is anything less than perfect, lump it or emigrate. Except that this logic is seemingly exclusively reserved for matters concerning the monarchy.
I would like to argue that wanting something better for my country and being willing to speak out and fight for it is a much better benchmark for citizenship and patriotism. There's many things about Britain that make me very proud: our innovation, our tolerance, our sense of fair play. But our monarchy and its system of government is not among them. I don't have to accept the good, the bad and the ugly in some nonsensical zero-sum notion of citizenship. I think we can do better - a lot better - and I think the British people deserve better.
To cite N Korea and Syria as examples of republics is deeply insulting. Just because a country calls itself a republic does not mean that it is one. Dictatorships are anathema to the idea of republicanism, which has at its heart the idea of popular sovereignty. In both these instances power has passed from father to son. Sound familiar? Yep, they're monarchies in all but name.
It is ludicrous to assume that Britain is the best of all possible worlds just because I was born and live here. I think there's much we can learn from the experience of other countries around the world - many of them "real" republics. To draw on the experience of other countries would be to the betterment of Britain. Ireland shows us we can have a directly elected head of state who is more popular than any monarch could hope to be. France shows us that it is possible to run successful state-owned enterprises - but not the way that we've sought to do it in the past. Despite having become a republic France is a country with a strong sense of identity and tradition, and guess what? It's the world's top tourist destination. Britain, conversely, lies in 8th place behind Germany. Does that mean I'd rather have been born French or that I'm not grateful I wasn't born in North Korea? An emphatic NO.
I wouldn't seek to tell you to go and live in Saudi Arabia if you're a supporter of the idea of monarchy. But would that be any more ridiculous than telling Tom to go and live in another country because he dares to criticise fellow politicians for sycophancy towards the royal family?
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