Votes not boats, say UK anti-royals

2012-06-03 22:53
Anti-monarchy protesters gather close to the river Thames in central London, where a 1 000-boat celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne, was scheduled to sail past. (Lefteris Pitarakis, AP)

Anti-monarchy protesters gather close to the river Thames in central London, where a 1 000-boat celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne, was scheduled to sail past. (Lefteris Pitarakis, AP) (Lefteris Pitarakis)

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London - Britain may have been riding a wave of royal fever as it celebrated Queen Elizabeth II's royal jubilee on Sunday, but a small yet vocal group of anti-monarchy demonstrators tried to rock the boat.

Hundreds of protesters gathered south of London's River Thames as a huge waterborne pageant took place on Sunday, waving placards declaring "Citizens, not subjects", "We want a vote, not a boat" and "Don't jubilee've it".

But their numbers were dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see the show, and protesters close to the river bank were booed by royalists, who began singing the national anthem "God Save the Queen".

"They've been saying we're party poopers but we're standing up for democracy," Andrew Child, a director of campaign group Republic, bellowed through a megaphone at a second group of protesters outside the security barriers.

"This will be a day you can look back on with a great deal of pride.

"The queen is a woman who pays hardly any tax - she could show she understands the plight of her subjects by paying more tax."

To huge cheers, he added: "You've all heard the phrase 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Well, it is broke!"

About 500 protesters in all chanted "Monarchy out! Republic!" and handed out badges reading "Sod the jubilee", telling bemused passers-by not to be content with Britain's constitutional monarchy.

One protester held a handmade cross-stitched sign reading "Down with the crown" - carefully covered with plastic against the rain, while another group brandished Welsh-language signs.

Royal parasites

"At the end of the day the government should be of us, by us, for us," said Mark Jones, 54, a petrol station worker from Wolverhampton, central England.

"As a Christian I don't think it's right," said Christine Gray, 68, a receptionist from Hampshire in the south.

"The queen is supposed to be the defender of the faith but she has too much to do with the military. They're free loaders and parasites.

"Other countries have made more progress in 50 years than we have in 500."

But as they spoke, an impromptu counter protest started up outside the security barriers, with people waving flags, whistling and chanting "we love the queen".

The anti-monarchists face an uphill battle. Since Prince William's spectacular wedding to Kate Middleton last year, Britain appears to have fallen back in love with its royal family.

A recent poll found 80% of Britons are happy for the country to stay a monarchy.

But protester Anthony Russell, 27, a medical practice manager from Southampton in southern England, said polls showing a majority would prefer William as the next king - ahead of his father Prince Charles, the queen's son and first in line to the throne - indicated a hidden preference for an elected head of state.

"If you want to choose your head of state, we can do that!" he said.

Democratic drag

Republic's argument focuses on the monarchy's lack of accountability and "drag on democracy", plus the expense to taxpayers.

It estimates the cost of the royal family at over €247m each year, although Buckingham Palace's official figure, excluding security, is €32.1m for 2011.

But Sunday's good-humoured protest was somewhat swamped by the flood of bunting, flags and Union Jack accessories that has descended on Britain.

"Colourless, abstract republicanism needs its own patriotic street parties," wrote one commentator in the Times newspaper ahead of the jubilee.

But Republic head Graham Smith told AFP ahead of the event: "It's a protest, not a party.

"People aren't having fun because they love the monarchy. We're saying to them, go and have your fun, but this is a serious problem."

Read more on:    queen elizabeth ii

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