Nik Darlington 10.47am
Assuming all is going to plan, the Queen and Prince Philip will have just arrived at Westminster Abbey. The groom’s father, the Prince of Wales, and his step-mother, the Duchess of Cornwall, should already be there. The mother of the bride left the Goring Hotel for the Abbey a little under half an hour ago. Soon, the bride and princess-to-be shall make the same journey accompanied by her father.
The occasion is being co-ordinated with military precision and regal splendour. Aside from the Alternative Vote referendum next Thursday, this is the event of the year.
Had you for a moment.
There are few clear and self-evident truths in this world but one of them is on display today: we, the British, love our monarchy. What is more, travel around the world and you will see that millions of others love our monarchy too - millions more than living just in the seventeen countries that share our Queen. Americans fought a bitter war to rid themselves of the British monarchy but there are few nations today more excited about this wedding than the USA.
Though in a liberal democracy, people are entitled to take an opposing stand, so I welcome Alexander’s article this morning about the future of the monarchy.
It is true that the hereditary principle sits uneasily with democratic values. It is true that we are fortunate that our current Queen just happens to be one of the most able holders of this ancient crown, and has held not only her institution, but also her family together during a reign of fifty-nine years. It is true that her son and heir, Prince Charles, possesses a more politically forthright - thus more dangerous - character.
It is also true that Conservatives believe in success through merit. However, as I posted on Monday, a more classless and meritocratic society is not necessarily a more mobile society. Eventually meritocracies create their own aristocracies.
More importantly, Conservatives also believe in strong institutions and in the United Kingdom you do not find many stronger, nor more valued and revered, institutions than our monarchy. And what does the United Kingdom become if it is no longer a kingdom? The United States of Britain? The Commonwealth of Britain? The Federal Republic of the British Isles? The People’s Republic of Britain?
I agree that in principle the “lottery of birth” is not an attractive job qualification. But in practice, what is the alternative? Who are these better qualified and experience people?
Yesterday, Timothy Garton-Ash, no uncritical observer, wrote an article in the Guardian, a republican newspaper, saying that we could do worse as a democracy than have a ‘King Wills and Queen Kate’.
“If things continue as they are, and Prince Charles succeeds his mother to reign until his death at a ripe old age, then some time around 2040 the young couple getting married in Westminster Abbey tomorrow will be King William V and Queen Catherine. By the sheer accident of birth, William will then be the head of state of whatever is left of today’s United Kingdom. Would that be all right? My answer is: in theory, no; in practice, probably yes.
If William and Kate behave themselves, unlike some of the gamier members of Britain’s royal family, and contribute to the development of a modernised, slimmed-down constitutional monarchy, this can actually be better than the likely alternatives. As I look across Europe, I don’t think countries like Sweden, Holland, Denmark and Spain…are worse off than those that have party politicians directly or indirectly elected to be president. Or would you rather have Buckingham Palace occupied by a President Blair?
With one brief interlude…there have been kings and queens in England…for more than a thousand years. That is an amazing thing. It is the stuff of poetry. Imagine Shakespeare purged of all references to kingship. Before you abandon a thousand years of poetry, you should be very certain that you will fare better in prose.
There might well be many rational reasons why, in theory, we should abolish the monarchy and force the British people to elect a political grandee as president in their stead (not to mention force the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Antiguans, Barbudans, Jamaicans, Solomon Islanders, Bahamians, Bajans, Grenadans, Papua New Guineans, Tuvaluans, Saint Lucians, Vincentians, Belizeans, Kittians and Nevisians to do the same).
There are far many more reasons why, both in theory and in practice, we should keep our head of state above the often murky and sometimes coarse realm of politics.
Walter Bagehot wrote in The English Constitution (1867) of our constitution’s two components: what he called the “dignified” (or symbolic) and the “efficient”. As long as our monarchy remains a dignified and symbolic embodiment of our nation, we must do all that we can to protect, to cherish and to preserve it; for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.
Then the next king or queen takes over, just like that. Really rather efficient too, don’t you think?
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