Put out fewer flags: we’re coming to the end of the long Jubilee weekend. And it’s been full of the usual vapid jingoism/celebration of constitutional tradition that accompanies such events, followed by the expected welcome imposition of democratic sanity/jealous carping from unpatriotic wankers. And – already on Twitter at least – further phases of purple-faced thundering from Telegraph readers/elegant put-downs of traitorous foolishness, God bless her maj. Delete as applicable, republicans/monarchists.
It would do nobody any good to add my own momentum to this particular debate as it rolls and rattles downhill, with one wheel already off and the bumper shaking loose, much like the great project of a united kingdom itself. Already, even as the dust settles, the news that unemployed peasants were coached into London to steward the events, and forced to camp under London Bridge overnight is stirring that dust up again.
Merely phrasing it that way – the ironic use of the word “peasant” – might be said to have made it clear which side of the debate I’m on. And, yes, I’m a liberal, environmental, socialist democrat; and, yes, I’ve found the praising and justifying of hereditary and undeserved inequality that has filled the last few days quite difficult to stomach. Complicating that position, however, is the fact that I’m what you might call a parliamentary complexitarian: the interplay of executive, legislative and judicial branches of government pleases me more, the more complicated the proceduralism. I’m also rather a fan of pomp in the context of remembered and respected tradition, when it doesn’t actively obstruct democratic representation. You might say that, while I might wish the institution of a monarchy farewell with a glad heart, I would be sad if we lost the likes of Black Rod and the mace along with it.
The great, sad trick of having a monarchy is that it’s almost impossible to discuss it in anything other than political terms; and I’ve already fallen into that trap. The Queen herself, of course, doesn’t help matters by only ever coming across as a well-rounded fellow human being when she doesn’t mean to, often through black looks at things that would try the patience of a saint. And she probably thinks the distance is good for her, because it will preserve the dignity of her office, which is a greater and purer thing than her own humanity. In this way, much as the patriarchy acts to cement sexist inequality, purely to preserve itself, so does the monarchy as an institution encourage monarchists and republicans alike to keep their debate a dehumanizing distance, so that we can only ever talk about it in terms that prevent us acknowledging its harmful effects to victims and perpetrators alike; and so, much as we are all victims of sexism, so are we all victims of monarchism.
Look, this poor bloody woman is getting on. My grandad’s 92, and while he’s robust in his own way, he’s not so emotionally self-sufficient that I would be happy for him to be as alone or as circumscribed as the Queen seems to be. However much she aches, however tired she gets, she’ll be forever performing a role, in front of servants and subjects alike. She cannot feel any sort of empathic – as opposed to sympathetic – bond for anyone outside of a rapidly dwindling coterie of people who tend to be socially ignorant, politically naive and emotionally stunted. Hers will never be a fully rounded life, and our relationship with her will never be anything more than plain weird: flags, bunting, flowers, visits, drives past, waving, ribbons, hats, castles, carriages.
The real, long-term wrong visited on a society by having a monarchic head of state – the wrong that persists even when we have more than enough money to pay for the trappings of a monarch with purely signatory executive powers – is that it cheapens and deadens human relationships within that society, and presents that as a normal state of affairs. The inequality, the discourse, that proceduralism and traditions (even the traditions that I slightly bashfully admit to liking): this all gets in the way of us ever treating a human being as a human being; and this has always been a fundamental argument for tearing down prejudices and societal barriers.
When I watch an eighty-six year-old – who would probably happier watching the horse racing on TV and having a cup of tea – scowl and grimace her way through the best, most fun party we as a nation think we can hold for her; when what I should really feel is either compassion and a desire to reach out, or anger at the phenomenal waste of money that one look from her makes clear it has been; yet, even then, all I can feel is pity for someone who has probably long ago forgotten how to be herself. More than I wish I could give her a hug, I wish I could imagine her asking for one.