Upon reading about today’s 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation and the corresponding ceremony, it occurred that, despite all the monarchic pomp and ceremony, the average republican might be quite pleased with the state of affairs. This might sound strange after a flood of grand events in the past decade, jubilees and weddings, not to mention the press fanfare and public rapture over the activities and developments of the royal family. But the less sanguine and more forward thinking of those who would be happier with an entirely ‘royal free’ UK, are probably content just letting the clock run down.
I don’t want to go through a history lesson, anyone with half a sense of the nation’s past will understand the general downwards trajectory of the power and political influence of the monarchy since even before the Civil War. Absolute monarchy is a thing of the dim and distant past, and most of the intrinsic authority that remained, through cultural deference to the institution and aristocratically informed politics, has waned. Today, the technical definition of our political system is a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, but that last aspect is a formality, short of being nominal. Being cynical you could call it clinging to a lost empire, or less so, a nod of respect to tradition and a dash of pride.
The reporting of the Diamond Jubilee was, as you no doubt remember, a vast and detailed enterprise, with every aspect of the event, and many of the historically preceding events, given great attention. Looking back only so far, we saw that occasions centred around the British royalty were once of a magnitude that you could fairly call them bloated obscenities, especially in contrast to the greater social economic divisions of the times. As expensive as that rain-soaked day was last year, in terms of a normal person, and as much of an outpouring of appreciation as there was for the stoic and enduring Queen Elizabeth II, it was a shade of the past.
A past that will continue to slip away from contemporary reality with every new generation that assumes the crown. It’s not something I relish in any particular sense, and will admit to getting a sort of patriotic vibe in recognition of the monarchy’s meaning to most of the nation and its prosperous history, but I’m no monarchist. When the sad day comes when the Queen passes, with her will go one of the last tangible connections to when the monarchy had a truly substantial meaning to the public, beyond social intrigue, the Second World War. Prince Charles, despite his perfectly legitimate and worthwhile activism in a variety of progressive areas, doesn’t carry the same sense of affection.
That would perhaps be the best word to describe the greater public feeling towards the British Royal Family – affectionate. The prominence of royalty in British society hinges on the degree of this sentiment towards this tiny elite, and while there’s no overt sense of dislike towards the Prince that I’m aware of, I would think that his time as King will be a comparable dearth of celebration and recognition on the scale that has greeted his mother. That’s not meant to be a slight against the man, just the way things go. It was the Diamond Jubilee that sowed the idea and today’s Coronation events that brought it to life. The UK and royalty are essentially going through their last hurrahs.
All of the princely public engagement and princeling image management, I suspect is simply a means to see the process out gracefully. I’ll be fascinated to see how the royals are gradually disengaged from the political formalities, as surely they must be, as the thought of King William opening parliament and delivering annual policy overviews seems absurd, farcically unnecessary. If I’m 50 years old and they are more than a semi-relevant social elite with benevolent or charitable pursuits as befitting their former status, I’ll be surprised. So republicans, relax. Slowly but surely, the whole thing will be disassembled. Civil List and all.