"We love the Queen!" shouted a young woman as she hobbled in heels on the cobble-stoned Tooley Street. It was hard to tell her age; she was wearing a paper cut-out of Her Majesty’s head over her face.
She was shouting over at the loosely formed group of republicans standing in the middle of the road, about 50 metres from the River Thames. The group had been thrown off course after public access was cut to City Hall, on the South side of Tower Bridge. There, other republicans dug in to protest the Monarchy as the Queen and her considerable entourage floated by in the diamond jubilee pageant on the river that dissects London.
The republicans were isolated in their political views, but struggled to get to the Thames foreshore like thousands of others. Access to the Thames and its bridges was unexpectedly closed to the public by 1pm.
Tooley Street, just one block south of the river, became a passage along which disoriented royal well-wishers wandered in the threatened rain, their Union Jack capes trailing deflatedly behind them, hoping the next corner would lead them to a sliver of the Thames not closed due to overcrowding or private parties.
Amid this permanent flow of jubilee partiers (more than one million are estimated to have lined the Thames’ banks) about 150 republicans stood firm. "Monarchy out! Republic in!" they chanted.
An Ipsos Mori poll released last week found that 80 per cent of the British public favour the monarchy. It is at a record high across every age bracket and socio-economic class. Just 13 per cent of Brits are pro-republic.
In the lead-up to the Jubilee, Britain swathed itself in Union Jacks: bunting criss-crosses streets and shop fronts, private home windows and pub dining rooms. From cheese to nail polish, there are few products without a flag-branded option.
Aside from the genuine respect that many Brits express for Her Majesty’s service — and, increasingly, for that of the other royals — the jubilee celebrations, like the Royal Wedding before it, have become a release valve for Britishness in a country without an Australia, Bastille or Independence Day equivalent.
While Burns Night in Scotland unleashes waves of Scottish pride, England has a poverty of national days. St George’s Day is celebrated mainly by a few pubs pushing English brew and has been tainted by the English nationalist right.
So the nationwide explosion of patriotism, manifesting as love for the Queen, the whole Royal Family and the notion of monarchy, is one (ostensibly) unadulterated and undisputed bastion of Britishness that can be unflinchingly celebrated in a multicultural country petrified of racism.
A few metres from the republican protestors, a man and two middle-aged women in tricolour tinsel hurried past in search of a vantage point. Looking over at the chanting huddle, they commented angrily:
"They should kick them out," says the man. "Throw them in the water."
"Why are they letting them do it?" asks one woman.
"On such a day!" adds the other.
"Ten minutes and they should clear them off," says the first woman. "Then they’ve had their say and they can’t say it’s not a democracy. It’s disgusting."
On the south road leading to the closed Tower Bridge, Susan Griffin, from Essex, was among perhaps a few thousand people watching a giant outdoor screen beaming live images of Queen Elizabeth II boarding her boat.
What is she celebrating: monarch or nation? "The Queen," she said.
"The jubilee celebrations are good. It’s what you expect, really. We don’t want it any other way. It’s good to see so many nationalities here, even just in this little area".
On the same blocked-off road Gillie McCourt, a Queen-themed reusable shopping bag over one arm, flag around her shoulders and patriotic eyeliner, said no other country does pageantry like the British.
"The Queen is wonderful for this country. Look at all the people who are here and the money that they’re spending! I think the Royal Family are fantastic. They do a fantastic job," she said.
Republicans, she says, should be "put in the Tower". "It shouldn’t be allowed," she says. "Not on a day like this."
Meanwhile, the republicans were booed as they marched to a spot behind City Hall, just out of earshot of the protestors who made it through earlier.
Over the course of the morning, Scott, a young republican and communist, told New Matilda he had been spat on twice, stopped and searched by police and hit in the face by a skinhead at Victoria station.
Catherine Gray, from Hampshire, left home early in the morning to come to the protest. She has been banned from her local radio station because of her repeat republic-themed calls.
"Yes, I do feel very isolated," she said. "I’m quite sad about it. I would have thought in the 21st century we would have got further."
A space was cleared in the centre of the protest for a woman who shouted about the redundancy of the monarchy, the legal and other privileges they enjoy above other British citizens. Behind her an older woman had cross-stitched "SOD THE JUBILEE" onto a small placard.
The republicans are a group of mixed ages and attitudes, but they are bound by what most agree is their decreasingly popular view about how Britain should be governed and by a passion equivalent to the jubilee fever bubbling around them.
A polite young man holding the edge of a banner was the only one in the group who thinks he might live to celebrate a "republic day".
"I don’t have anything against Elizabeth Windsor. I think she’s remarkably hard-working and I think we’ve been decently well served," he said. "If I had a vote, I might vote for her. The issue is I don’t have a vote."
While some in the republican camp dismiss nationalism as "spurious", the mild-mannered banner-holder said he feels as British as any flag-waver braying at the Thames. "Britishness is not bound up in how loud you sing God Save the Queen," he says.
Another young man, a student by the look of him, was frustrated at the conflation of royalism and patriotism.
"The things that make Britain great have nothing to do with the Queen," he said. "The things that make Britain great are a rebellious spirit, sarcasm, Marmite, tea. The thing that’s most depressing is that in 1977, in the golden jubilee, the Sex Pistols were number one. Nowadays we’ve got Gary Barlow, Jessie J and Cliff Richard headlining some arse-licking event."
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