If 19-year-old me could have seen myself writing this piece, he would have been appalled. I used to be a member of Republic – the campaign to abolish the monarchy – described myself as a radical left-winger, and believed the royal family were a relic of a past deﬁned by absolute power, class snobbery and undeserved privilege. Where did it all go wrong?
I am not a royalist in the sense that I adore the Windsors and believe that everything they do is a gift from on high. I don’t have any mugs at home adorned with pictures of the Queen, I don’t know the names of all the minor royalty and I don’t even like ‘Pippa Middleton Arse Appreciation Society’ on Facebook . I quite frankly couldn’t care less what the Queen does, what Prince Phillip’s latest illinformed opinion is or which autocratic regime uniform Prince Harry is wearing today. Certainly, I’m under no illusions concerning their greatness – or rather lack of it. However, when all is said and done, I still think the country is better oﬀ with them than without.
If the monarchy did possess any real power, I’d get rid of it
There are two main reasons for this. The most important is stability. Like it or not, it cannot be denied that having a president as a Head of State does bring issues. One only has to look at the US or Brazil to see that, actually, having a president isn’t always that great. Brazil is currently facing a constitutional crisis due to allegations of the ﬁnancial wrongdoing of its president, while there is a genuine possibility of Donald Trump becoming the ‘leader of the free world’ in November. The latter, in particular, shows the absurdity of handing over so much power to one elected individual as opposed to having an outwardly apolitical monarch. Even if we opted for a model where the head of state is almost entirely symbolic – such as in Italy – we still face the challenge of electing someone who will project a positive image of our nation and is respected abroad. To be frank, with politics being in the state it is, we would more than likely end up electing Boris Johnson, Jeremy Clarkson or some bloke who won Series 4 of Big Brother. I don’t want any of them being our face abroad, let alone making national decisions.
The other reason is more simple: people like the monarchy. Although they fail to stir any real emotion in me, it cannot be denied that a signiﬁcant proportion of the population love royal weddings, jubilees and birthdays. Such occasions bring
people together, and give them a cause to celebrate that they simply wouldn’t have with a president. It is events like these that form the backbone of our society and national identity, and the Left should not underestimate the progressive potential of such sentiments. People are far more likely to care about their fellow citizens if they believe they share something in common with them, and apolitical events oﬀer an excellent way to build this solidarity.
There is, though, a certain sense of sneering superiority from too many republicans on the Left. As George Orwell wrote in his seminal work on patriotism and the Left, The Lion and the Unicorn: ‘It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God save the King” than of stealing from a poor box.’ Those who like the royal family and get excited about their aﬀairs are frequently mocked as childish and naïve, and such ridicule leaves me uncomfortable – particularly as it is so often directed at working-class and less-educated people.
If the monarchy actually did possess any real power, I’d get rid of it. Similarly, if people actually thought of themselves as inferior and subject to the monarchy, I’d get rid of it. But in reality the monarch has no real say in the nation’s affairs, and to me this is preferable to the eventuality that we might some day elect a Labour government again, only to have it hamstrung by a Conservative president.
It seems to me that the argument for a republic is one of principle rather than pragmatism, and this is rarely, if ever, a wise road to take. Whenever I talk to ardent royalists about the Queen, the only response I get is something like ‘She’s a good woman’, followed by a solemn nod indicating that the time for discussion has passed. If having a royal family gives people a sense of pride and a belief that there is someone constant and incorruptible in an otherwise ever-changing and insecure world – a monarch whom, rightly or wrongly, they feel they can identify with – who am I to take that away from them?
Along with practically every girl from the 90s, I was born into the princess craze. For a long time – before the discovery of feminism and what a teenage boy actually was – the idea of marrying a prince seemed the epitome of tiara-studded, jewel-glazed, castle-coated perfection. The royals were the be-all-and-end-all, an extravagant existence that a girl would be mad not to strive for.
For many, it’s a dream that still persists. The reality TV show, I Wanna Marry “Harry” featuring a Prince Harry ‘lookalike’ (in other words, he’s also ginger and a male) and a group of braindead wannabe wives is perhaps a more grotesque example of the furore sparked by the Windsors.
In a media dominated by celebrity culture, the royal family has become, it seems, one of our favourite consumerist products. Alongside Kim Kardashian’s bum and the latest C-list sex scandal, Kate Middleton’s clothing, Prince Harry’s love life and the Queen’s imminent death (as alleged by The Globe in 2012) are all pressing concerns that regularly grace the covers of broadsheet media. When, in 1947, Elizabeth II vowed to devote “my whole life… to your service,” it was exactly the afﬁrmation needed by a baying tabloid market to hound the family for the rest of her reign.
For many, this media frenzy sits at the heart of the monarchist debate. Christopher Hitchens famously argued in 2000, not to abolish the monarchy, but to “transcend it,” largely through eliminating “the infantilism and cretinism of the press.” Both The Independent and the republican Guardian appear to have taken slight measures to doing so, and, indeed, were two of the only news outlets to publicise calls for a monarchy referendum last month.
Endorsed by Republic, this organisation has been campaigning for a British republic since its conception in 1983. Aiming to replace the monarchy “with an elected, democratic head of state,” the organisation cites the expenses, political arbitrariness and undemocratic premise of the royals as reasons for a drastic constitutional change.
Certainly, as a family steeped in privilege, the reality becomes easily lost in a murky underworld of politics, money and media hysteria. From the infamous ‘Black Spider’ memos of 2004 and 2005 to the 39 government bills vetoed by the Queen and Prince Charles, the monarchy’s carefully-constructed framework has all too often been shaken by revelations of political scandal. Indeed, with the initial shelving of a 2014 BBC documentary following the threat of legal action, it begs the question of exactly how fragile the Windsors’ credibility is.
The monarchy is a dirt-spattered delusion
Such frailty has been further exposed following the admission last year that – despite government austerity measures – the Queen would not face any cuts to royal ﬁnances until 2017 at least. This in spite of the introduction of the Sovereign Grant in 2013 (which pays 15 per cent of surplus revenue from the crown estate), enabling a staggering £3.9 million increase in the Queen’s income last year alone.
Oh, how sweet – I hear you cry over your scones and oﬀshore trusts – with public health, disability and legal aid cuts left, right and centre, the Conservatives are still pumping money into one of the richest families in Britain! Heart-warming isn’t it?
It is this sense of class-oriented injustice that pinpoints the essential root issue with the monarchy. The antiquated system it legitimises is a baﬄing fantasy of primogeniture and plutocracy, belying the democratic ideals Britain so attempts to project. It’s a dirt-spattered delusion that no number of royal brides or babies can ever truly disguise.
A recent survey from the Institute of Fiscal Studies caused controversy following its ﬁndings that graduates from richer backgrounds will earn more than poorer students on the same course. This in spite of employment quotas, educational reforms and a growing left-wing politicisation that puts social equality at the forefront of its ideology. As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett ironically noted in response: “is there anybody left on these isles who persists in the belief that we inhabit a meritocracy?” Well, with the Windsors at the bejewelled helm, how can there be?