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Sheffield gives lukewarm welcome to new hereditary head of state

Some councillors have called for an end to the monarchy, while campaigners have criticised the blanket royal coverage during a cost-of-living crisis.

Charles

The then-Prince Charles delivering the Queen's Speech in May.

House of Lords.

Parts of Sheffield have given a lukewarm reaction to the accession of the UK's new hereditary head of state, amid growing apathy about the role of the monarchy in a modern democracy.

Charles Philip Arthur George – styled as King Charles III – instantly assumed the throne upon the death of the Queen, though he has since had to be 'proclaimed' as such in cities across the UK, including Sheffield.

Protestors holding up anti-monarchy signs, and others who have heckled the proclamation ceremonies, have been arrested across the country in a move civil liberties watchdog Netpol has called "alarming".

One campaigner in London, who held up a blank sign outside Buckingham Palace, was told by a police officer that if he wrote "Not My King" on it he'd be arrested for causing "offense."

“These arrests are unfortunately not surprising – time and again the police act in an arbitrary manner and abuse their powers to crush dissent," Emily Apple, communications coordinator at Netpol, told Now Then.

"This isn’t the first time that spurious arrests have been made during royal events. In 2011, people dressed as zombies were arrested during the royal wedding while sitting in Starbucks. In 2002, during the golden jubilee, 41 people sitting in a pub were arrested."

"Anytime there is a royal event, the police act disproportionately to ensure that opposing voices are not heard on our streets."

Now Then asked South Yorkshire Police whether they would charge someone holding a "Not My King" sign with a criminal offence but they declined to respond, saying that they "do not comment on speculation."

Republicanism in Sheffield

In Sheffield a small crowd attended the proclamation for South Yorkshire on the steps of City Hall, surrounded by armed police in case of trouble.

While polling still shows strong support for the monarchy in every part of the UK, public patience with the behaviour of some senior royals has been wearing thin.

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A small number of flowers in the Peace Gardens on Tuesday.

In July, the then-Prince Charles was investigated after cash donations to one of his charities totalling €3m were handed over in a suitcase and a shopping bag – he also accepted £1m from the family of Osama Bin Laden.

The return of Prince Andrew to public life over the past few days has sparked anger due to his association with convicted sex offenders Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell (in Scotland, a man was arrested for heckling that he was a "nonce").

It's yet to be seen how much public support for the royals was tied up with Queen Elizabeth II herself, and how much will carry over to her eldest son, who is widely seen as less personable.

Since the accession of the new king on Thursday, several of Sheffield's Green politicians, including City Ward councillor Martin Phipps, have expressed support for abolishing the monarchy and introducing a democratic head of state.

"The monarchy puts inequality at the heart of the UK's governance," Cllr Phipps told Now Then. "The monarchy vet laws and can opt out of them entirely, as they have with over 160 laws including equality and animal welfare laws."

"I believe the people should choose who represents them, instead of our current system with an unelected head of state, an unelected second chamber and an incredibly unrepresentative voting system."

Four years ago, former Lord Mayor and MEP Magid Magid called for the abolition of the monarchy, telling The Guardian that he "wants to live in a society where, no matter what your background is, you have the opportunity to be the head of state."

A 2019 study by UnherdBritain found that, out of 650 constituencies, Sheffield South East (represented by Labour's Clive Betts) is the seventh least supportive of the monarchy in the UK.

Sheffield Heeley, Sheffield Hallam and Sheffield Central are also among the least royalist constituencies in the country, though all still retain a clear majority in favour of the monarchy.

Media consensus

The almost non-stop coverage of the accession on television news has sought to downplay anti-monarchy sentiment – either by not reporting it at all, or by having royal correspondents rush to imply that it represents a tiny minority of the population.

Alongside national newspapers, our local legacy media including the Star and the Telegraph have filled their pages and social media feeds with wall-to-wall coverage supportive of the royal family.

The Star even opened their own book of condolence for the late monarch, among dozens of stories exploring her and her son's somewhat tenuous links to Sheffield.

But some commentators have pointed out that, at least amongst the public, the reaction to the Queen's death has been more muted than to that of Princess Diana in 1997.

In the Peace Gardens, which has been designated a site for tributes, the modest number of flowers laid by Tuesday afternoon pointed to the smaller role the monarchy now plays in people's lives.

Mixed feelings

Given the more ambiguous mood towards having a hereditary head of state in 2022, many have called the reaction to the Queen's death and the accession of the new king excessive.

The Football League has been criticised by fans across the political spectrum for cancelling all matches last weekend including a Sheffield Wednesday game, while some economists fear that Monday's state funeral could tip the UK into recession.

In Sheffield, some residents have reacted with disbelief at the announcement by Veolia that "all recycling and waste services in Sheffield will be suspended" for the funeral on Monday.

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Buckingham Palace is one of thirteen residences available to the new king.

Sung Shin on Unsplash.

At Wednesday's Full Council meeting in Sheffield, almost all the substantive business on the agenda – including motions on support for city residents during the cost-of-living crisis – was postponed to make way for tributes (most Green councillors stayed away).

Anti-poverty campaigners now fear that this obsessive interest in the royal family will distract public attention away from the worsening cost-of-living crisis as we head into winter.

"At a crucial time in the run-up to a cost of living crisis, both the media and politicians are talking about nothing but the monarchy," Emmott, who volunteers at Foodhall, told Now Then.

"People will be choosing between heating their homes and eating from as little as two weeks away when the energy price cap increase means bills will rise by 30%."

"We need our MPs and councillors to be able to talk about and take action on this, but anyone in politics is being silenced and those with any power to help are parading around in a display of performative grief."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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