At the end of the world, when the few surviving brittle-boned superhumans pass the time before the apocalypse by glumly looking back over humanity’s greatest achievements, facebook probably won’t be ranked amongst its greatest forums for political debate. It’s a distinctly rubbish way of discussing matters political, the digital era’s answer to the age-old tradition of pub lunch contrarianism, as angry people rant ill-informedly at each other until either participant gets bored, has an electronic strop, or loses consciousness.
Still, misguidedly or not, people persevere in trying to inject some seriousness into banal social networking, and the other day we found an acquaintance’s younger brother engaged in an ire-splattered facebook exchange about the monarchy.
The gist was that Little Johnny had once been a republican – at least to the extent of loosely affixing himself to a facebook group – and was now loudly declaring that he wasn’t. Apparently, he’d recently been intrigued enough to go down and see the Queen when the royal road-show rolled into town. Faced with the sight of so many people overjoyed to see Her Majesty, his cynicism withered away, the spectacle proving cockle-warming enough to melt any liberal-rationalist objections to monarchy’s constitutional dubiousness he might once have held.
You’d hope that any dyed-in-the-wool anti-monarchist would recognise such an easily-dislodged ‘commitment’ for what it was, namely the flakiest of knee-jerk student allegiances, roll their eyes and get on with their lives. As it happened, his former comrades didn’t take the news very well, and the ensuing electronic dogfight was sixty-odd comments long.
British republicans are faced with the hardest sell of the century. They have to try and rouse public support for something that’s not only abstract and bloodlessly legal-constitutional, providing no immediate visible benefit to anyone, but that’s party-pooping as well, pitted against a royal family seen to provide timely doses of feel-good fun and pageantry.
The Bemolution has never been able to bring itself to knit republicanism into our natty tapestry of pet causes. That’s not to suggest we’re hiding a secret true red white and blue royalist streak – if we had our way, monarchy would be permanently consigned to the wheelie bin of history. But the campaign for an elected head of state is something very hard to get especially worked up about.
In a world as imperfect and endemically unjust as this one, in which hundreds of thousands of our fellow organisms are dying of preventable diseases, or starvation, or being butchered in wars, it’s difficult to see what drives zealous republicans – the kind of people who angrily descended on Little Johnny – to invest their energies in, above all things, unseating the Windsors.
Monarchy stems, originally at least, from that wrongheaded but annoyingly robust human desire for life to be more simple and orderly than it actually is. Throughout history, people have longed for big men with beards – whether in crowns or sitting on clouds – to bring security and stability to a scary world, in a way that dangerously distorts reality.
These days, of course, monarchy largely functions as a slightly classier/gaudier alternative to Eastenders. Yes, it legitimises wealth and privilege and accidents of birth, yes, it provides the Prime Minister with some dubiously undemocratic powers, but the Royal family itself is more or less politically ineffectual. The damage has already been done, the monarchy is now a shadow of its former self, and in a sensible world what remains would be swiftly done away with. Alas, we don’t live in sensible world.
The killer as far as doing away with the royal family is concerned, however, is what it would be replaced with. The Bemolution maintains the left-wing troglodyte belief that we’d manage perfectly well without a ceremonial head of state – if, as you would hope, the Prime Minister was too busy doing his job to fly around the world shaking hands like the Queen currently does, our ambassadors in each country could fill the role nicely. Or, we could dare to actually let people represent themselves, and rather than recognising the hardworking, the talented, the altruistic and the community-spirited by stuffing them in the House of Lords, let them travel around representing the nation.
But obviously there’s no chance in hell of that happening. Instead, the only proposal for an alternative that has a rchance of becoming a reality would be to replace the royals with an elected, ceremonial President, like in Germany. This could arguably bring about a situation much less bearable than the one currently existing under the House of Windsor. Much better for a smidgen of constitutional authority to be wielded by the baffled remnants of the aristocracy, rather than be opened up to today’s unaccountable power elites.
In all probability, Britain’s first Presidential election would be dominated by the kind of already-inescapable managerial career politicians passionately hated by most of the general public. The merest suggestion of a President Blair, or a President Mandelson for that matter, is enough to make us go right off all this iconoclastic republican business.
Undoubtedly people from the corporate and business sectors would try and stand – the same horrified reaction greets the idea of a President Sugar, or a President Branson. And in a culture as celebrity-drenched as ours, it would only be a matter of time before you got a certifiable star trying for the highest office in the land – there’d be a chance of a President Beckham.
And it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that, if she could be convinced to stand, the first elected President of the Republic of Great Britain could end up being a certain Mrs Elizabeth Windsor, of One, The Mall, London.
In the run-up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, protestors were given their token five minutes by the ever-condescending news media, and didn’t come across very well. It’s all too easy to paint something as emphatically cosmopolitan lefty-liberal as republican activism as the miserable pursuit of well-scrubbed students and the sour intelligentsia, detached from the sensibilities of the population at large.
As it happened, the jubilee festivities went without a hitch, and any hardcore republicans hoping for a measurable anti-monarchist backlash were sorely disappointed. Wide-ranging reappraisals of its relevance and desirability in the twentieth century were conspicuously absent, and, already buoyed by the Disneyfied spectacle of last year’s royal wedding, the House of Windsor floated untouchably through its latest weekend of celebrations.
The royals have roared victoriously out of their 90s slump, now widely accepted as the dysfunctional first family of dysfunctional multicultural modern Britain, albeit with a little help from Kate Middleton and some clever PR people. With its new crop of photogenic bright young things to rely on – just wait until Wills and Kate have a baby – the monarchy seems as secure in in 2012 as it has done any time in the past two decades.