openDemocracyUK

Claire Rayner: queen of British republicans

A personal tribute to Claire Rayner, the 'agony aunt', novelist and broadcaster who died this week.
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
16 October 2010

I met Claire Rayner when she became a founder supporter of Charter 88, one of its early spokespeople and helped launch its Democracy Day with Ian McEwan during the 1992 General Election. What I really liked about her was her fearless, unpretentious desire for people to be well: this meant to be themselves and as honest with others as possible. Obviously, this had to include the way we run things, which is part of our relationship with others – our self-government.

This defiance of the upper class and expert view that ordinary people are not concerned with how we are governed was conscious and deliberate. Not that she was ordinary. But she worked hard to see things from the point of view of the woman in the street. Doing so with a great laugh behind which one could also feel the love, pain and effort that went into what she achieved. 

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"Of course" (I can hear her voice) we should have an honest electoral system, not be ruled in any way by Lords and write down our constitution. This wasn’t a naïve view. Claire understood very well what we are up against. Hers was a healthy approach, while the system of vested interests that messes up people’s lives and politics remains seriously unwell.

She was as good as you could hope to be. It meant she came to represent what we should all be like. Everyone could feel it, whether they agreed with her views or not, which is what made her so popular. Republican as she was, I hope she took pleasure in the thought that there was no one more fully qualified to be our Queen.

An edited version of these reflections on Claire Rayner's involvement in Charter 88 featured in the obituary pages of the Guardian

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