A REPUBLICAN would argue that in an age of equality it cannot be justifiable to elevate one person above all others, purely by virtue of their birth. Aren’t we all born equal in the sight of God? Or if you’re an atheist, don’t we come into this world with the same moral worth? How can reason and rationality allow a supposedly democratic nation appoint its head of state by a birth lottery?
But these should not be the only measures by which we judge our lives. Human values, emotion and warmth can trump logic and utility. The metric system might be practical with a justified place in science and engineering, but ounces, miles and pints are so much more human. There is very little rationality about falling in love, in the disinterested kindnesses we might show to a stranger, or in the small things that give us pleasure; but who cares?
Our current system has no logic at all. But it still seems far more pleasing than choosing our national figurehead through the sometimes unsavoury processes of politics: favours given and received, influence traded and appeals to tribal loyalties. What are the chances that a person selected in this way would be any better than than someone selected by an accident of birth?
Anyone enjoying an election win as head of state would have had the votes of only a part of the electorate. Could they really represent us all or bring us together when national unity is needed? Of course, the same thing is true of heads of government, but if we are to be governed democratically there is no real choice. Not that a constitutional monarch actually governs anyway. And how delightful that our Prime Minister, our most powerful politician, has to bow or curtsy to someone outside the political process who is there to represent all of us.
Why though, the egalitarian in me asks, should any human have to bow or curtsy to another? Servility is demeaning and robs of us of dignity. But our deference to the monarchy is voluntary. You may stick your out tongue at the King if you wish, or ignore him completely. No one gets sent to the Tower any more for republicanism.
Our loyalty to the wearer of the crown is not subservience to a person. The monarch is a representation of our nation, history and the intangible half-grasped things that make up our shared identity. A symbolic role that no mere politician could ever fill. I have a deep-rooted aversion to snobbery, and a two-fingered attitude to anyone who might consider me their inferior for my very ordinary income or council estate background. Yet I don’t feel as if I’m cringing obsequiously in recognising that the monarch has a special place.
It is true that democracy demands we should have a right to decide on any aspect of how and by whom we are ruled. So if our new King forgets his promise to rise above politics or resumes his sometimes annoying pontifications of earlier years, what can we do? I think we can be fairly certain that a method would be found to dissolve the whole show. Can you imagine the monarchy surviving against the popular will? A scenario where a king or queen who had lost public support hides behind palace walls, clinging to the throne while the mobs rage outside?
The truth is that the institution survives because it’s the choice of the people to have it, as opinion polls constantly show. An Ipsos poll from May this year shows public support for the monarchy at 68 per cent. It remains and can only do so because we (or at least most of us) want it. Something Queen Elizabeth herself recognised in a speech in 1997, saying that the institution rests on ‘the consent of the people’.
She was right. We have a constitutional monarchy because whatever its faults, it’s what we want.
Of course, I can’t imagine if we were designing a constitution from scratch that anyone, except romantics and the eccentric, would propose anything like our current system. But it works. You can fill in one of your own least favourite superannuated politicians here, but better to be headed by a quirky anachronism than by President Tony Blair.