Neither a monarch nor a monarchical president

Smother, stifle and suppress

Saturday’s coronation was accompanied by a clampdown on anti-monarchy protestors. Eddie Ford wonders what the state would do if faced with a serious republican movement

On the day of the coronation, the liberal campaign group, Republic, staged a pretty impressive anti-monarchist demonstration in central London, with some reports saying up to 2,000 took part. As most readers will know, the central slogan was “Not my king”, but there were others - “King parasite”, “What a waste of money”, etc.

However, what was not so pretty was the arrest of 64 people connected to the protest. This included what can only be described as the pre-emptive arrest in the morning of Republic’s chief executive, Graham Smith, and other organisers of the demonstration. Smith had been collecting drinks and placards for the protestors who were to gather in Trafalgar Square two hours before Charles III was due to arrive at Westminster Abbey, when he was stopped, along with five others. They were searched and then arrested - something caught on film. One police officer can clearly be heard saying, “I’m not going to get into a conversation about that. They are under arrest - end of.” This is despite the fact that Smith had had four months of “close conversation” with the Metropolitan Police about how Republic would conduct their demonstration, with the force saying “repeatedly”, right up to the day before, that they had no concerns about the protest plans.

Smith came to the reasonable conclusion that the Met had lied to him all along, having every intention of making the arrests despite reassurances. Naturally, Republic is now threatening legal action for wrongful arrest.

As evidence, earlier in the week the Met had issued a fairly sinister tweet saying they would have an “extremely low tolerance” of those seeking to “undermine” the day - explicitly implying that any expression of dissent against the constitutional monarchy would be regarded almost as a criminal act (if not treason) in and of itself, regardless of whether it was totally peaceful. As part of the clampdown, Republic had received a series of intimidating letters from the home office warning them about new powers handed to police to deal with public demonstrations.

Smith told the BBC’s Today programme he had been detained for 16 hours because the Met had received ‘intelligence’ that he and other group members were carrying lock-on devices to tie themselves to inanimate objects - a tactic which was outlawed just a few days before the coronation weekend. Naturally, the accusations against Republic were pure nonsense - the ‘lock-on devices’ were actually straps or bits of string to be attached to the placards. Smith even had three officers turn up on his doorstep two days later, personally apologising and handing the straps back to him!

Similarly, Just Stop Oil said 13 of its protestors had been arrested on the Mall. In another exchange also caught on video, one of the campaigners was told by a police officer: “You need to educate yourself on what peaceful protest is” - which is actually excellent advice. Additionally, Animal Rising said a number of its supporters were arrested on the morning of May 6 while at a training session “miles away from the coronation” - with a spokesperson for the group understandably complaining about “a totalitarian crackdown on free speech and all forms of dissent”.

Completely exposing the deeply oppressive and utterly irrational nature of this Tory government, three of the 64 lifted were Westminster council volunteers arrested around about 2am on Saturday in Soho - then later released on bail after they were found to be in possession of rape alarms. We were told by the police, quite incredibly, that “military colleagues” had believed such devices could be used to disrupt parading horses, thus posing “significant risk to the safety of the public and the riders”. As it happens, the alarms were for the volunteers to give out to vulnerable women and - even more ironically - they were funded by a home office grant. They also gave out flip-flops, vomit bags and water to revellers in need. But none of that prevented them being arrested.

You could hardly make it up, but welcome to Rishi Sunak’s Britain.

Golden Orb

Six Republic activists were detained under the Public Order Act 2023, which was rushed through parliament so that King Charles III and his consort, Camilla, could have an enjoyable day out, to be treasured forever by them and ‘the nation’, without any ghastly disruption by ‘extremists’. Or, in the words of commander Karen Findlay, who was leading ‘Operation Golden Orb’ to secure the coronation, the force had acted on the understanding that it was a “once in a generation” event - hence had to be policed in such a way.

So measures previously rejected by the House of Lords in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 were reintroduced - including banning individuals from protests. The prime minister, back in January, when his government announced plans to amend the Public Order Bill before it becomes law, argued that it was done “to broaden the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, give police more flexibility, and provide legal clarity on when the new powers could be used”. Consequently the act introduces new offences for “locking on” (with 51-week sentences), interfering with “key” national infrastructure, “obstructing” major transport works, causing serious disruption by “tunnelling” (sorry, Swampy), together with greater ‘stop and search’ powers to prevent “disruptive” protests, and the power to issue “serious disruption prevention orders”, which can “restrict people’s freedom by imposing conditions on repeat offenders”. Yes, making no bones about it, the act is explicitly targeted at protestors, such as “the current outbreak of climate protests across Britain” - Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain were specifically named as justification for introducing the act. Interestingly, there is also a section on “interfering with access to or provision of abortion services” - in response to religious demonstrations outside clinics.

Anyhow, the Republic activists were arrested “on suspicion of going equipped to lock on”. Under section 1 of the POA 2023, “locking on” is defined as attaching yourself to “another person, object or land … that causes or is capable of causing serious disruption to two or more individuals or an organisation”. Locking on is a tactic, of course, that has been regularly used, in particular by protestors from the organisations named above. But section 2 also makes it illegal to carry an object that could be used for locking on, if the intention is to do so.

According to a later press release, the Met used two other pieces of legislation to deal with protestors on May 6. There were arrests under section 5 of the previous Public Order Act (1986), which stops people causing “harassment, alarm and distress” to others - with two people being charged and another receiving a penalty notice. Under the same act, there were also arrests for breach of the peace - a common law offence that prohibits “threatening, abusing or insulting behaviour with an intent to breach the peace”. Others were arrested for “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”, which comes under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. That legislation also makes it illegal to “create a risk of or cause serious harm to the public” or “obstruct the public”. Furthermore, this act introduced the novel idea of a “noise impact” consideration, or noise limits - so none of that dreadful shouting at your next demonstration, otherwise you could be placed under arrest.

In other words, the British state has accumulated a vast panoply of powers to smother, stifle and suppress protests and generally discourage almost any form of public dissent or anger. Doubtlessly this trend will continue, as appetite comes with the eating, unless the government meets militant resistance. Naturally, as an instinctive anti-democrat, Sir Keir Starmer has said that he has no plans to repeal the POA - telling the BBC that he accepted that Scotland Yard had got some of their “judgments wrong” with arresting the Republic campaigners. But it was “early days” for the POA, and rather than doing anything dangerously radical like scrapping it - he is not Jeremy Corbyn after all - he proposed “fresh guidance” that could make “improvements”, so it would not be used by the government to clamp down wholescale on dissent, which would upset the ‘British values’ of decency and fair play. This is like asking a lion to become a vegetarian - and it clearly indicates that democratic rights and freedom of speech would not be any safer under a Starmer-led Labour government.


Of course, as communists, we criticise the politics of Republic. They want a directly elected president just like in the US and France, thinking that a Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron would be better - or more democratic - than a Charles III or Elizabeth II (or King William V). We beg to differ. We might have a chief speaker, or chair, in the House of Commons, or popular assembly - perhaps someone who meets foreign dignitaries and opens public events that could possibly go by the name of ‘president’. But we do not want someone acting as an ‘elected monarch’ lording over us.

More generally, communists are intransigently opposed to the monarchical, Bonapartist, bourgeois, bureaucratic approach to politics - all variations of one-person management. We call for indirect elections and recallability when it comes to particular posts. For example, if we look at the Bolsheviks in 1917, the government appointed was the result of a deal between them and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries - whose ministers could be recalled at a moment’s notice. This is part of the democratic basis of socialist government. But, when you have sections of the left who elect their treasurer or media spokesperson on the basis of a membership ballot, so they cannot be removed till the next round of elections, irrespective of almost any failing - that shows you that they have bought into the dominant ideology of the bourgeoisie.

Almost needless to say, the bourgeoisie is not a democratic class. Look how workplaces are run: they are dictatorships with managers controlling the labour of wage-slaves. The only democracy that is really acceptable to the bourgeoisie is that of shareholders, whereby companies appoint directors not on the basis of one person, one vote, but votes according to the number of shares. In other words, a plutocracy.

The arrest of the 64 people on coronation day was an outrage. Clearly these people were causing a “nuisance”, as far as the state was concerned, but, if they find placards a nuisance, imagine what they would do if confronted by a serious, mass working class, republican movement. Would they tolerate it because we live in a ‘bourgeois democracy’?

‘Bourgeois democracy’ is an oxymoron. We live in a system where every democratic right we have has been won by struggle from below, and grudgingly conceded from above. Last weekend’s events have demonstrated that such rights are permanently under threat, to be overridden whenever the ruling class believes that they are just too damaging to its interests.

This situation will continue until we expropriate the capitalists and begin the transition to communism.