Just like Graham Richardson's article last week, this is quite extraordinary - an admission that republicanism in the UK and the Commonwealth is all but dead. No, it isn't extinct, but it's irrelevant to most people whatever their political persuasion.
The 90s, a difficult time for the Royal Family, was supposed to be the political moment for republican sentiment, especially in Australia. Had Australia voted for a republic in 1999, I've no doubt that beyond the inevitable media blabber about it being the "real end of the British Empire" (ad nauseum), it would certainly have left the monarchy and the Commonwealth more vulnerable.
The reasons for the decline of republicanism in the Commonwealth may come down to the following things:
- even when republicans have been PMs in Commonwealth realms, almost none of them ever take concrete steps towards a republic knowing the public doesn't care, and there are other much greater priorities. This was true in Australia when we've had Rudd, GIllard and Turnbull as PMs - none of them ever pushed it in office, knowing it would be toxic with the electorate.
- Republicans in the UK and Australia do a spectacularly good job of turning people off republicanism, even those that are not convinced monarchists. Many come to our side as monarchists in the end. Republicans, like "progressive" people in general, like to see themselves as forward-looking and optimistic, but in reality are always miserable and unpleasant.
- the growing populist tendency in Western democracies in which fashionable elite opinion is distrusted and outraight despised. This figured in the 1999 referendum in Australia, where a populist distrust of politicians and fear of potential power grabs played into the hands of the monarchist campaign. Never mind typical elitist hypocrisy epitomised by Polly Tonynbee.
- the generational factor. Republicanism in Australia has been dominated by the Baby Boomer generation. The influence of this has been fading and with it, and there is little in a way of renewal for the cause. A similar trend can be noticed with the separatist movement in Quebec, which is also in terminal decline.
- the post-9/11 political trends in which the Right articulates a case to defend "Western Civilisation", doubly so in the Anglosphere nations where a shared legal and constitutional tradition exists, and the Royal Family embodies that heritage and continuity, and a closer sense of togetherness among the Commonwealth nations.
- further to that, the increasing polarisation of society and politics, a demographic, cultural and political Balkanisation of the UK and Commonwealth nations, which reinforces the value and necessity of the monarchy as an institution above partisan politics.
- as uncertainty stalks the world, the value of the Commonwealth can only be reinforced, especially for its smaller Caribbean and Pacific members. Scott Morrison's recent moves in the Pacific are a good example.
It would seem as such the decline of republicanism in Australia and the Commonwealth would be a strange phenomenon in these times. But maybe it is not so: it is something which has run its course and is quietly fading away.