AS I SEE IT
What’s this? Are we really monarchists at heart wishing that Michael D could wear a crown on ceremonial occasions? Maybe not. But in a recent survey her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II turned out to be more popular than all our political leaders, even Mary Lou.
It’s easy to be popular when you aren’t responsible for running anything in this country but there is general admiration the increasingly frail Queen for her dedication to her job as the longest reigning monarch, beating Queen Victoria by six years. There’s a sympathy vote for her too, for the way that she has remained steadfast as the head of a family where recent crises rival the plots for Downton Abbey, ranging from the tragedy of Diana’s death to the scandal of Andrew to high drama of Megxit.
Whatever the affection for this constant queen who endearingly produced a marmalade sandwich for Paddington Bear from her handbag during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, how will her subjects feel about Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla? Currently a majority of Brits are in favour of the monarchy but will a time come to end an outdated institution which is out of step with the rest of Europe?
The future of the monarchy depends a good deal on the personality and performance of the sovereign and on members of the Royal ‘Firm’. Charles will never be as popular as his mother but Royal biographer Tina Brown suggests in her book Palace Papers that Charles will be a better King than people expect and that his preoccupation with sustainability and the environment, which used to appear old fogeyish are now spot on. Memories of Camilla as the third party in what Diana called a ‘crowed marriage’ may be fading.
At 73 Charles will be an interim sovereign with a chance to rebrand the monarchy, before making way for Prince William, and Kate, the most popular royals after the Queen. They will need to make a difference with crusading causes like William’s concerns around climate change and Kate’s with early childhood development.
What the Royals badly need is more of the common touch Princess Di had in spades. Prince Harry has the most of this quality, look at the success of his Invictus Games. But, sadly, if he goes ahead with his $20m. memoir of anti-palace revelations, it’s extremely unlikely that he and Meghan will come back to The Firm.
Charles has promised to slim down The Firm, presumably without members who are PR disasters. Back in the day beheading for treason was a handy way to dispose of black sheep like Prince Andrew who was recently bailed out by the Queen to avoid a lawsuit involving alleged underage sex with Virginia Guiffre. He needs to be banished from view.
Despite grumbles, the Royals don’t actually cost much. Incomes for Charles, William and Harry and their families come from the Duchy of Cornwall, while the Queen pays tax on the revenue from Crown estates, and the pomp and mystique surrounding the Royals generates huge tourism revenue.
Certainly, the institution requires modernising; who needs all those royal residences and servants, (over a thousand, with vacancies for a vase polisher and butler if anyone is interested). Getting rid of stuffy, controlling courtiers in favour of modern advisors would be a great idea. One modernising move was to open parts of Buckingham Palace for tours (fascinating!)
A pervasive argument in favour of monarchy, especially now in troubled times and with wobbly Brexiteer Boris at the helm of Government, is the stability it provides. The monarchy has been an enduring part of British history for a thousand years with just one blip (as the DAA might put it) after Charles I was beheaded and Cromwell headed the Commonwealth period from 1649 to 1660 before Charles II was restored to the throne.
If there wasn’t a monarch at the helm who would become the head of the armed forces, appoint Prime Ministers, be titular head of the Church of England, head the Commonwealth of Nations representing a quarter of the world’s population, bestow honours, have an audience with Boris every week (wonder how that goes?). That’s aside from performing a mind- boggling number of public ceremonies and hosting other heads of state.
For the Brits now a misquote of Winston Churchill on democracy seems appropriate: “Monarchy is the worst form of institution except for all the others that have been tried.”