The endurance of the monarchy is evidence of the decline of the political classes

It’s fair to say that Her Majesty was at last night’s concert out of duty rather than pleasure; I felt that ear plugs weren’t really enough, and someone should have provided her with the fake eyes that Homer Simpson wears when he has to do jury service. As for Prince Philip, he missed it but I imagine his verdict could be summed up in one word – “ghastly”.

The concert to mark the reign of Elizabeth II was fittingly aimed at an audience far younger than the demographic actually tuning in, symptomatic of a society where the 30 and 40-somethings in charge seem desperately keen to impress young people, for some reason; I suppose it could be called a kourosocracy.

The worst part of last night’s event was the comedy. It wasn’t really the comedians’ fault; it just wasn’t the right place for those kinds of jokes, like watching a best man speech that totally misfires and horrifies the bride’s granny and mother at the top table, except on a national scale. The royal family have never had very sophisticated humour – the Queen’s illustrious ancestor Henry II’s favourite minstrel was one Roland the Farter, who was by all accounts the Bill Hicks of his day – but this was pretty low stuff.

But perhaps that’s being too negative; the spectacle was just right, Madness’s performance was brilliant, the lighting up of Buckingham Palace marvellous, and Paul McCartney did everything that was needed from rock royalty.

But the highlight was Prince Charles’s heart-warming tribute to his mother, which perhaps marks the point at which people come to love and respect the future Charles III (yes, okay, he has a few crazy ideas but he was totally right about architecture when few important people dared to go against the tide). And that’s what overcame the weakness of much of the music and all-round dreadfulness of the comedy; that, to paraphrase that great Elizabethan musician Darius Danesh, there was a lot of love in the Mall.
Love for the Queen, for her family, and for the institution that she inherited from her father and which, despite some rocky periods, she will pass on in great shape to her son. But why has this irrational, illogical and medieval institution not just survived but thrived in the 21st century? It seems to go so against the tide.

The journalist Johann Hari was on Twitter yesterday repeating his best quote (I think it was his. One can never be too sure.): “The American head of state grew up with a mother on food stamps. The British head of state grew up with a mother on postage stamps.”

Perhaps. But in America half the country think the head of state is some sort of messiah, and the other half believe him to be a secret Muslim and foreigner, the birther myth a modern echo of the rumours that used to surround the birth of unpopular princes (such as the Old Pretender James Stuart, born in 1688, who many Protestants convinced themselves must be a changeling). That Obama attracts such rumours is partially down to the fact that his supporters treat him like royalty, blessed with the ability to cure racism and injustice with his touch.

So taking aside the total absence of any link between monarchy and inequality, elected heads of states can be hugely divisive. This comparison is not meant as an insult to America but as a compliment, the United States being almost the only country that successfully moved towards republican government without dictatorship.

England also experimented with a republic, but it was not yet mature enough to develop the institutions necessary for such government, and so by an accident of history it became a constitutional monarchy. Since then monarchy has become so interwoven into the country’s institutions that one might almost call it the cornerstone, linking as it does Parliament, the military, the established Church (and other faiths) and countless voluntary bodies across the country. It also serves as an outlet for patriotism which otherwise makes English people feel uncomfortable. And in a multi-ethnic society its unifying influence becomes even more vital, as Sunder Katwala of British Future pointed out in a New Statesman article (although I am sceptical about the benefits of mass immigration, to put it mildly, I appreciate that groups like British Future are at least trying to reduce the social costs of the experiment).

Most of the institutions that compose British civil society have drastically weakened during Elizabeth’s reign, which I think explains why the monarchy has survived. Had the radical attempts to replace the patriarchal hierarchy of family, church and nation with a meritocracy schooled by Marxist professors proved a success then, most likely, the monarchy would have been next. As it is the social reforms of the 1960s have been a mixed blessing in some cases and in others a total disaster, and have led to more atomisation, loneliness, crime and, perversely, inequality. Meritocracy has become stressful for many and profitable mainly for the managerial class who rule Britain (and Europe) and who are hated for their venality, their incompetence, and their total disregard for duty and honour. We loathe these people – why on earth would we want to make one of them head of state? In contrast many of us, myself included, genuinely love and cherish the Royal Family.

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs

Comments so far

  1. Wonderful essay!

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