1 of 9 | King Charles III shakes hands with members of the public during an impromptu walkabout in London a day before his coronation on May 5, 2023. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
LONDON, May 5 (UPI) -- Seven decades after his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, rose to the throne in Britain's last coronation, King Charles III will be officially crowned on Saturday amid evolving attitudes toward the monarchy in Britain and abroad.
Notwithstanding its centrality to Britain's system of government -- constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign is head of state but power to make and pass legislation resides with Parliament -- the monarchy continues to play an important role in the life of the nation.
Supporters point to the many positive aspects of the monarchy, including the estimated $1.95 billion it brings into the economy from tourism, trade and endorsements that they say more than pays for the $130 million "Sovereign Grant" it receives to fund the royal family's official expenses of maintaining palaces and castles and attending around 2,300 engagements annually.
Some opponents, however, view the coronation as a conspicuous and costly display of wealth and privilege that is being seen as extravagant and even unseemly amid a cost of living crisis, a stagnant economy, industrial unrest and double-digit inflation at a time when Britons are becoming poorer and the gap between rich and poor is widening.
In government, a future republic is already policy within the Green Party, but the party has only one seat in Parliament and has little mainstream electoral support.
Labor for a Republic, a splinter group within the opposition Labor Party that campaigns for the party to adopt a policy to abolish the monarchy in favor of a democratic republic, believes the writing is on the wall for the monarchy.
"Although there still appears to be majority support for the monarchy, it's fragile. There is a majority that either opposes it or has no interest in it," LFR secretary Ken Ritchie told UPI.
"This is before the debate has even begun. When it does, things could move very quickly. Few predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall a year before it happened and similarly the Arab Spring, and not many thought Britain would support Brexit."
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, whose country is one of 14 outside Britain ruled by the monarchy, said Monday as he traveled to London for the coronation that "ideally, in time, New Zealand will become a fully independent country."
Protests and counter-programming
Pressure groups lobbying for a switch to a republic with an elected head of state are stepping up their campaigns with planned demonstrations in London and elsewhere to coincide with Saturday's coronation procession and ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
Republic, whose membership has grown to 80,000 with 130,000 financial supporters, is planning a mass "Not My King" protest in Trafalgar Square and micro-demonstrations elsewhere along the procession route.
Republic chief executive Graham Smith told UPI "the future prospects for the institution are dwindling by the day" and that he doesn't believe Britain will see George, Charles' eldest grandson and second in line to the throne, crowned as king.
"The fall in support for the monarchy in public opinion polls from about 75% to about 55% shows the tide is moving in our favor and even more tellingly that the public have made it clear that they're just not that bothered about the coronation or whether or not we have a monarchy."
Smith said he was not concerned about changes to the way protests are policed in legislation that became law on Wednesday. The government says the move is aimed at tackling the disruption tactics of environmental groups such as Just Stop Oil and Climate Emergency. Controversially, the Public Order Act shifts the responsibility of being aware of and following restrictions on to protesters, who will have committed a crime if they fail to do so punishable by a fine of up to $3,145.
"The police have said that the rally type of protest we're holding won't be affected," Smith said.
Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Ade Adelekan said officers were not going to arrest people exercising their right to protest.
"Protest is lawful," he told reporters Wednesday. "If at any point any protest, either during the coronation or afterward, moves from being a protest that is lawful into criminal intent, then you will see extremely swift action from us."
While the BBC plans to feature the coronation as "the centerpiece of live coverage" on Saturday, Channel 4 will instead offer "altogether different royal programming," including Frankie Boyle's Farewell to the Monarchy, in which the comedian likens the monarchy to "a zoo that's fallen on hard times" and an episode of The Windsors, a parody of the royal family, that sees Harry Enfield portray a version of Charles weighing the idea of a "cut price coronation."
"Channel 4 exists to provide viewers with an alternative, so as the nation is engulfed by pomp, circumstance and forelock-tugging, we'll be offering a rather less reverential slate of programs," Channel 4's chief content officer, Ian Katz, said.
Footing the bill
Charles' coronation is expected to cost an estimated $125 million and is attracting a level of controversy not seen for previous royal displays of pageantry such as Queen Elizabeth's gold and platinum jubilees in 2002 and 2022.
Slightly more than half of adults questioned in a YouGov poll believe taxpayers should not be footing the bill. That compares with 32% who think it should be state funded. Again, the percentage of those against rises in inverse proportion to respondents' ages.
Labor for a Republic claims the number opposed is even higher at 67%.
Smith pointed out that the drain on taxpayers was one of the driving factors between changing attitudes toward the monarchy.
"What they care about is the cost, a new monarch they've no say in choosing who doesn't pay inheritance tax and the monarchy being out of touch with ordinary people. The queen was the monarchy for most people, but now she's gone, the royal family have lost their star player," he said.
The late Elizabeth II was unquestionably popular, even loved. A YouGov poll taken the week after her death in September found 44% of Britons cried on hearing she had passed, while in a follow-up poll, more than three-quarters said it had upset them. Her role as a unifying force in British society, however, is less clear. Two in five people said the queen's loss would bring people closer, but an equal number said it would have no effect.
"According to the BBC, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 was watched in the U.K. alone by over 28 million viewers and many more across the globe," Rosalind Ward of the London School of Economics' Religion and Global Society unit wrote in a blog post Thursday.
"Whilst viewer numbers for King Charles III's coronation are harder to predict, their eventual abundance or deficit could be seen as representative of the monarchy's ongoing relevance to an increasingly diverse society."
The 2022 British Social Attitudes survey, which coincided with the queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations, saw a surge in positive views about the monarchy, with 62% saying it was very or quite important, reversing a decade of falling support, in the National Center for Social Research's polling.
But the center's latest survey data published last week show the jubilee effect has evaporated with those strongly supporting the monarchy falling to a record low of 29%.
NatCen said that taken together with the 40 years of data collected via its annual social attitudes survey, the results reinforced a longer-term trend of declining support for the monarchy.
More worryingly for the monarchy in the medium term was a consistent trend for younger people to be less likely than older people to say it is "very important" that Britain has a monarchy.
Only 12% of 18- to 34-year-olds view the monarchy as "very important" compared to 42% of those 55 years or older.
At the time of the last coronation 70 years ago, when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, Britain was a more religious, deferential but class-divided society, war-time rationing was still in place, and three in 10 people believed Elizabeth could claim direct descent from God and still believed the monarch ruled by divine right.
"NatCen has been collecting data on public attitudes towards the monarchy for 40 years. Those who think it is very important for Britain to have a monarchy is at its lowest point since we have collected this information. Whilst we are observing a downward trend in support for the monarchy, it is clear from the data that important national events and celebrations, such as jubilees, marriages and births have a clear and positive effect on society's views towards the monarchy."
Mixed feelings about Charles
Then there is the king himself. Having traveled the length and breadth of the country over five decades as a working member of the royal family, Charles probably knows Britain better than any sovereign before him.
His once controversial beliefs on the environment, conservation, sustainability, multiculturalism, architecture, organic farming and many other issues he has championed are now all accepted mainstream views. He used his position as prince of Wales and king-in-waiting to influence successive governments in Britain and around the world to shift the dial on the issues he cares about.
Charles' coronation ceremony will have multi-faith elements, including symbolic inputs from representatives of the Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish faiths who will perform various roles such as handing the sovereign's ring to the king or carrying the royal robe while the first processions into Westminster Abbey will be those of faith leaders.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a practicing Hindu, will also give an unprecedented reading from the Bible, maintaining the tradition of prime ministers giving readings at events of state.
"King Charles will surprise us. The man whose family has served as the physical symbols of colonialism has spent his life trying to free his mind from the calcified prejudices of empire," said the Atlantic Council's Ben Judah.
"Britain's new head of state is a loud admirer of Islam, a critic of Western interventionism and a champion of multiculturalism who will win his country new friends -- and some populist enemies -- across the world."
However, the negative stories and missteps keep coming. Public perceptions of the House of Windsor took a hit from the 2020 departure from royal life of Prince Harry and Meghan, the duke and duchess of Sussex. Harry was then stripped of his right to be known as His Royal Highness. The failure to keep the couple in the fold is seen as a missed opportunity to portray a more modern diverse and inclusive image that people could relate to.
Relations between Harry, who is attending the coronation without Meghan, and the rest of the royal family came under increased scrutiny after the publication of his memoir, Spare, in January and tell-all American television interviews given to CBS' 60 Minutes and Oprah Winfrey.
Last week, Britain's Guardian newspaper published documents showing that direct ancestors of Charles used slaves to work tobacco plantations in Virginia. One document shows plantation owner Edward Porteus was involved in the purchase of at least 200 slaves from the Royal Africa Co. in 1686. Charles, who has backed further research into the royal family's slavery links, is related to Porteus via his grandmother, the late queen mother.
Charles, dressed in the ceremonial uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regiment of Wales, is accompanied by his sister, Princess Anne, on the drive from Buckingham Palace to the Guildhall for the traditional ceremony admitting him as a Freeman of the City of London. File Photo courtesy of British Information Services | License Photo