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By Bishop of Leeds
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Queen Is Popular Across The Political Divide But Opinion-Splitting Charles Poses Questions For Monarchy’s Future

The Queen is popular across the political divide, but as her reign draws to a close there are questions over the monarchy's future (Alamy)

6 min read

MPs of all political persuasions will be publicly celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations this weekend, but with support for Charles seeming more divided, could we see a shift in tone when she’s no longer head of state?

Elizabeth II enjoys near-universal support from voters across the spectrum, including a high positivity rating from Labour supporters, who overall are less likely to be pro-Royal.  

But Charles, who will become King after her death is not so universally revered, drawing significantly more support from Conservative voters.

YouGov runs a regular tracker of public sentiment towards the Royal Family, and the Queen’s favorability rating across the political spectrum is regularly over 80%, with a net positive sentiment of around 70%.

Charles rarely scores above 60%, and because he has a much higher number of negative responses, his net positivity has been hovering at around just 20% for the past few years.

Broken down along party lines shows a significant difference in sentiment between the Queen and her successor. A poll last August found the total positive score for the Queen was 93% with Tory voters, 73% for Labour and 87% for Lib Dems.

But Charles was at 73% with Conservatives compared to 45% for Labour voters, and 53% with Lib Dems.

It means his overall net positivity with Tories is +51%, but for Labour it’s -2%, revealing a marked difference in opinion of the man set to take over the throne, and how much of Labour’s positivity towards the royals is focused on Elizabeth II personally.

The divide was even more stark when YouGov asked last month whether the UK should keep the monarchy, or abolish it. Among Labour voters 44% were in favour of keeping the monarchy, and 43% in favour of abolishing it.

Among Tory voters, 84% were in favour of retaining the royals, and just 13% wanted to abolish the monarchy. 

The Prince of Wales has already started standing in for the 96-year-old Queen at key events, including delivering The Queen’s Speech to Parliament last month giving a flavour of what his ascension to the throne will look like. But it has also prompted wider questions about the future of the Royal Family in public life.

Pressure groups including Labour for a Republic hope the end of the Queen’s reign will prompt questions about the abolition of the monarchy or moving to an elected head of state. They pointed to polling that shows the dial beginning to shift in their favour after some recent scandals.

In 2019 a YouGov poll found 65% in favour of a monarchy, 19% wanted an elected head of state. Last month the same pollster found the number in favour of keeping the monarchy dropped to 60%, and those in favour of abolishing had risen to 27%.

In the intervening years the Royals have dealt with the high-profile exit of Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, who later accused someone in the family of making racist remarks about their son.

The Queen’s second son Prince Andrew paid a financial settlement thought to total more than £10million to Virginia Giuffre to end a civil case brought against him in the US, which accused him of involvement in rape and sex trafficking.

He denied all the claims, but lost his military titles and royal patronages, as well as the use of the His Royal Highness title, and apologised for his association with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party was accused of having become less patriotic. It was reported that he chose not to follow precedent and kneel before the Queen when he was sworn in as a member of the privy council, which many believe reduced his popularity in Labour heartlands that the party lost in the 2019 general election. 

Since Keir Starmer took over the party leadership in 2020, there has been a clear shift in tone around the royals.

A leaked strategy document last February urged Labour to embrace the Union Jack and deploy patriotic themes to give voters a “sense of authentic values alignment". 

A senior official said the language in the document came from an outside agency’s research rather than their own phrasing, but since then there has been an undeniable increase in flags as backdrops for Labour events.

“Think of all that the British have to be proud of,” Starmer said in a speech in Birmingham this January. “The rule of law. Her Majesty the Queen. Universal public services.”

This week Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said he was helping to organise a street party for the Platinum Jubilee this weekend, and urged people to respect the Queen’s seven decades of service.

After left-wing former Labour MP Laura Pidcock said there was a “real grossness” to the Jubilee celebrations, Reed told the Telegraph the left tended to "confuse narrow nationalism with patriotism”, adding that if he was to become a government minister he will display a Union flag behind his desk.

Ahead of the jubilee weekend, Starmer wrote an op-ed for The Telegraph filled with glowing praise for the Queen. 

“The first Platinum Jubilee in our nation’s history is a chance to celebrate a truly extraordinary Queen, to reflect on the difference she has made to her country, and to consider what our Elizabethan age has meant – and what it will mean for our future.”

The Labour leader said the four-day weekend is a time to “reflect on the values the Queen represents and how they have made her such a popular, unifying and enduring figure”.

But Charles is conspicuous by his absence from Starmer’s writing, as are the wider Royals. He includes nothing about the role of the monarchy or its future, just fulsome praise for the Queen herself, which begs the question of whether Starmer will retain such full-throated support after she is gone?

A Labour insider rejects the suggestion that Starmer and Labour’s support for the head of state is conditional on Elizabeth the II holding the role, and said there would be no change to their position on the monarchy with Charles on the throne, but pointed out that Starmer has focused on lots of different elements that make up the British identity.

They also suggested that if the Queen was no longer around, Starmer’s speeches would be the same, simply with “His Majesty the King” swapped in for “Her Majesty the Queen”, despite Charles’ lack of popularity in comparison with his mother.

This will be disappointing to Labour for a Republic, who said they “will not be out celebrating this weekend”, because the monarchy “represents the sort of society that, over a century ago, Labour was formed to change”.

A spokesperson for the organisation said: “We do, however, take some satisfaction in the realisation that the Queen’s reign must be nearing its end, and that we’re nearer to a time when we can have serious discussion about what sort of head of state we want and how we are governed.” 

Republic, who are holding an International Anti-Monarchy Conference this weekend as an alternative to Jubilee parties, say the succession is going to happen in this Parliament or the next.

“That means MPs need to stop avoiding the issue of the monarchy’s future and start talking openly and honestly about the institution,” Graham Smith, their CEO, told PoliticsHome.

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