The Queen’s diamond jubilee has met expectations. It was a great excuse for a party. The rain came but the party went on as we convinced ourselves that we were having just as good a time in the cold and wet. And a small band of republicans protested against the cost of the jubilee and the anachronism of choosing a head of state on the sole qualification that they’re the son or daughter of the last one.
I’m not a monarchist, but I take a different view. To paraphrase Winston Churchill rather ironically, a monarchy may be the worst way of selecting a head of state but the alternatives don’t strike me as an improvement – for Britain. At a time when politicians seek new and outlandish ways of making the people despise them (step forward David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, ministers for Murdoch), the idea of making the head of state a political appointment is one most of us can easily resist.
Others will find this appalling. Yet they have to accept that they are in a minority (except perhaps in Scotland and the obvious parts of Northern Ireland). No one was forced to take part in street parties this weekend. No one told us to buy bunting. And no one was fined for not displaying it. It showed that communal moments still unite the nation, whether they’re royal occasions or television events such as Strictly or Britain’s Got Talent. We still like to be part of a crowd. We still want to share experiences.
Our unusually undemocratic system also has benefits for our civic society. The Queen is a figurehead. She has no political power. She stands above the fray, letting the politicians get on with governing. She provides dignity and continuity, something few politicians of the modern era have achieved. In an era that doesn’t produce statesmen and women (can you imagine dignifying David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Milliband with that description?), the Queen represents the nation.
All this may change, of course, when the Queen dies. Charles has been more opinionated than his mother. But republicans shouldn’t assume. The modern monarchy has had its crises, notably the rise of republican clubs after Queen Victoria became a recluse after her consort Prince Albert died. Victoria reinvented herself as Empress of India, and her jubilees sealed her renewed popularity. Prince Charles as king may yet prove as popular as Queen Victoria’s heir, the hedonistic Edward VII.
One last thought. Will Charles reign as Charles III? Or will he choose a different name as king, like his grandfather George VII? This may be one of the greatest branding decisions of the 21st century. Assuming he doesn’t break with tradition and abdicate immediately in favour of his own son William.