Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Why I am not a republican: Thoughts after the Jubilee

When the Queen chose Leicester to begin her Jubilee tour I wrote:
To me the great virtues of having a monarchy are that it separates the office of head of state from party politics and makes it possible to have as little reverence for the position as I do.
I shall return to that in a moment, but first a few thoughts on the events of the past few days.

Heresy Corner is right: the Thames pageant was a wash out, but no one had the courage to say so. As he put it:
Yet how typically British that we should celebrate the longevity of an 86 year old woman and her 91 year old husband by making them stand for five hours, in inadequate clothing, getting wet. How even more typically British that no-one is allowed to suggest that the soggy spectacle was anything other than a triumph. 
I suppose this is what is meant when people praise the Queen's sense of "duty". It means standing in the rain, peering through the mist at a whole lot of boats passing by, affecting enjoyment. (At least we were told that she was enjoying it; she looked pretty grim-faced to me most of the time, but not being a BBC commentator I wouldn't know.) It means reinforcing the self-delusion of the crowd that this was a sensible way of spending an afternoon.
And the critics of the BBC's coverage of the event were correct - it was pretty awful. I soon turned over to Sky, who at least showed you what was going on, before giving up on the event altogether.

This should not be such a surprise, because the idea that the BBC's coverage will automatically be the best is becoming harder to sustain (despite the best efforts of ITV's football pundits and commentators). When Channel 4 won the rights to show test cricket, its approach showed you how formulaic the BBC had come.

Who, too, could forget the mess that was the BBC's coverage of the last election? I for one am still trying. That mess, incidentally, proved that sending for a Dimbleby does not automatically solve your problems.

What the coverage of the pageant and of election night had in common was an unwillingness to trust the event or to trust the viewers. We had to be constantly diverted by celebrities, so the BBC thought, or we would not watch. There was also an element of the New Labour spirit that wanted to mark the anniversary of D-Day with spam fritter contests.

And a third point on the events of the last few days - one I also made myself on Twitter - comes from Liberal Burblings:
we expect an 86-year-old woman to sit through the most terrible pile of tosh (which included three American artistes who were under the illusion it was her birthday) while her 91-year-old husband is in hospital as a result of an emergency admission a few hours earlier. Shame on us, I say for devising a system which visits such inhuman stupidity on one family.
So why don't I want to see the monarchy abolished?

Most of those who do cite the foolish attitudes that many people hold towards the Royal Family. But no one is forced to do this - many people will have avoided the Jubilee altogether.

More importantly, if we did do away with the monarchy and have a republic instead, we would probably find that there was more pressure to revere the head of state, not less. New constitutional arrangements are less able to tolerate public indifference than establish ones.

We saw a little of this in New Labour's introduction of citizenship ceremonies, and think of the Americans and their hands on their hearts during the Star-Spangled Banner.

And in the end we spent the past few days celebrating, not the monarchy, but ourselves and our national history. Again, a president could make any national celebrations less inclusive than at present. He or she would lack the historical continuity that the Queen gives and would probably be hated by half the nation.

Besides what could be more radical than closing the streets to cars and having a party? Sous les pavés, la plage. 

1 comment:

Pete B said...

Mmm sort of agree. Every US Presidential election especially. Having a King as HoS allowed us to switch PMs in both World Wars, whereas the US could be stuck in extremis with a Dubya. Also, perhaps naively, I like it that our judiciary, armed forces and police swear allegiance to the Queen. But they do have a bit of history (as one might say) - the Duke of Windsor wasn't the only royal too close to the far right for comfort - and the way the present lot snubbed Blair and Brown at the last wedding was disturbing - they're obviously not 'above party politics' all the time.