Sunday, 3 June 2012

The woman in the iron mask

As a republican I have no time for the dull cypher that sits on the throne, let alone the gobshite who's next in line, but I do take the monarchy itself seriously, rather than patronising it as an eccentric but lovable remnant.

Coverage of the Jubilee has ranged from the predictably sycophantic to grudging but respectful admiration from self-declared anti-monarchists who seem to be betting on the future accession of Charles finally swinging the public mood. If you're a republican you're against monarchy as an institution, not against particular people, so the case should be made more forcefully now. Equally, those monarchists who hope that a generation will be skipped and William and Kate will ascend after the old queen's death seem to think it's a popularity contest, rather than the lottery of heredity, though to be fair that attitude has been around since the Stuarts.

Constitutional monarchy has always been a nonsense, but a necessary fiction once the divine right of kings was forcefully disproved by Charles I's beheading. If the monarch is not a sacred being then there is no justification for a monarch, in the sense of a single person selected by birth or some unique sign. The executive powers of the monarch are a figment and the ceremonial duties demand no competence beyond keeping awake.

Monarchists have of late taken to the "President Blair" defence, the suggestion being that the appointment of a venal political hack risks saddling us with a liability along the lines of Kurt Waldheim or Christian Wulff, but this misses the point that such embarrassments are fleeting and easily resolved. You just sack them. There's no need for a constitutional crisis, let alone a beheading.

The real assumption behind this argument is that if you don't have a monarch you must have a president. In France and the USA the president is an elected politician. The duties of head of state are just tacked on. In Ireland the president is an elected figurehead, devoid of power, so the presidential election is little more than a popularity contest. In Britain we'd probably elect Stephen Fry, not Tony Blair.

But the argument that we need a national figurehead of any sort is specious. We already have a single office that formally represents the nation independent of the government, namely the Speaker. While Tories would no doubt be apoplectic at the thought of John Bercow hosting state banquets, it's just a job, and not a demanding one at that, and the fella already seems comfortable wearing outlandish headdress.

When talk turns to the more nebulous concept of the monarch embodying the spirit of the nation, then you know you've moved beyond reason. In the patchwork of nations and identities that make up the UK, there is no single spirit, and certainly not one that is especially represented by a fabulously wealthy OAP. A problem of language is that it makes us assume we have more in common with our fellow monoglots, whereas we actually have more in common with others of a similar socio-economic standing in other countries. An English lawyer in London shares more of a culture with a French lawyer in Paris than she does with a labourer in Dundee.

As globalisation makes a mockery of national identity, and as the dominance of London loosens the ties of the United Kingdom, the popularity of the Queen surely reflects a nostalgia for an imagined past when we really were all in it together. She is a blank canvas on which we project a better vision of ourselves. The monarch does nothing, can do nothing. The mystery at the heart of royalty is a vacuum of sense and purpose. The suggestion that the Prince of Wales is impatient to take over strikes me as dubious. A monarch cannot be opinionated, so there will be no tolerance of his chuntering about architecture or alternative medicine. Once the crown descends, intelligent life is extinguished.

1 comment:

  1. As you say rightly say globalisation has made a mockery of national identity, and at the same time the status quo and its vested interests here, want to thank all those docile flag wavers for waving the establishment's flags from the bottom of their heartless hearts, knowing that some of those soft enough to be duped into flag waving, will help deflect attention and criticism away from the establishment's economic policies which are undermining peoples lives of late.

    So flag wavers, with your union flag replete with religious crosses fluttering in the breeze, and Camoron bandying about nonsense slogans like "we are all in this together", your royal "defender of the faith" will be guffawing in private that you've allowed her enriched parasitic luck to hold up for so long...