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On Diamond Jubilee's eve, diverse Britain seeks unity in Queen Elizabeth

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As in many parts of Europe, multiculturalism is losing ground to greater assertions of a national set of values and heritage. For many critics of the monarchy, the need for a unifying symbol appears neither urgent nor best served by a hereditary office.

“People will find something to rally around whether it’s the sports teams … or [actor] Stephen Fry,” says Graham Smith, head of Republic, an anti-monarchy advocacy group. “We don’t need to allow these peoples [royals] to co-opt all that in order for their own personal gain.”

His group advocates adopting the Irish model, where there is an elected but largely ceremonial head of state. He points to former president Mary McAleese who, as the first president born in Northern Ireland, helped bridge sectarian divides and unify the Irish people.

“The process of electing her helped the Irish citizens to reflect on who they now were,” says Mr. Smith.

British officials from across the political spectrum have increasingly encouraged reflection on what it means to be British. Under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the government created the group citizenship ceremony in 2004 from what had been a solitary bureaucratic process of saying an oath before a
solicitor.

“It’s that idea that people from such different and diverse backgrounds will have this in common, and to give people a bit of pride. It’s a life event to have this ceremony,” says Bryony Aldous, a local official in the south London borough of Southwark.

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