Despite being a Republican, I managed to sit through the Queen’s Westminster address today. In reality it wasn’t hard at all. The pageantry may have swung between the impressive and the totally baffling. The fawning coverage of every minor detail of proceedings might have grated. The pompous and overblown nature of the event may have led people to question how much this would all cost. But they got away with it, because of the Monarchy’s greatest asset. The Queen.
Unobjectionable, neutral (or at least neutral enough) and studiously professional, The Queen is the weapon that has repeatedly crushed any semblance of Republicanism in the UK. Any argument against the Royals is usually rebutted with a stout defence of Her Majesty. And she’s good at the job, so that, usually, is that. The existence of the monarchy is the settled will of the British people.
I’ve argued before that those who support the Republican cause should focus on the real iniquities of the constitutional monarchy – in particular the (thankfully theoretical) right of the Monarch to veto legislation. Then again, since some on the left see this as a legitimate campaign tactic, perhaps that’s something we should be more concerned about.
Similarly a trimming of the civil list seems sensible. Parentage seems little reason for a country struggling economically to bankroll one of the world’s richest families. These are the only realistic goals for the British Republican movement, even in the long term. The Queen is popular. There is no appetite for the end of the monarchy. Most conventional Republicanism is pushing against a door that is not only closed, but is also barred. Possibly with a golden mace.
Plans to demonstrate against the Jubilee celebrations are likely to be as effective as kicking manure up a hill, and as popular as rolling in it.
Yet what concerns me is that the popularity the Queen enjoys has neutered any sort of rational debate about either the monarchy. Indeed, as we saw just a few weeks ago, mild mockery of the kind our politicians are subjected to every day is deemed unacceptable when it comes to Elizabeth Windsor, and open republicanism is deemed to be career kryptonite by most politicians. Media coverage is near 100% positive. Fawning. Bowing and scraping.
And yet despite the overwhelming popularity of the Queen, there is still a sizeable proportion of the UK population who support a system of government based on democracy an merit, not parentage and privilege. Is there to be no outlet for them? No-one to speak up for them? Is Republicanism the last taboo of British politics?
You can do what you like in British politics it seems. Dismantle the NHS. Remove industry and manufacturing. Blight communities for generations. Cut pay for the poor and taxes for the rich. Increase unemployment while cutting away the safety net. And leaving the disabled and the vulnerable without the support they need.
But don’t ever question the role of the monarchy in a democracy.
Don’t ask why the country must fund a wealthy family.
Don’t question why such a system can exist in an otherwise enlightened society.
If you do that, then you’re on your own – there’s no room for snowflakes in British politics…