Saturday, 9 June 2012
Why do (we think) we still need the Royals?
The recent out-pouring of patriotic fervour has made me consider a few questions about the meaning of our love for the Royals.
One obvious question is how much has all this pomp and pageantry been costing us? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the answer turns out to be buried in the budgets of numerous departments and the total, therefore, extremely hard to winkle out of our Government.
But there are other, perhaps more interesting questions to ask about why the Royal family remains so popular, costing what it may. And is it really so popular, or is the whole thing just being manipulated by a government which seems to have seized on the Jubilee to improve their own popularity, or divert attention from less happy events around us? Rather in the way that Mrs. Thatcher managed to turn falling popularity polls upwards by trading on the jingoism which enabled huge numbers of British people to cheer when a large boatload of Argentinians was sent to the bottom of the sea.
The suspicion that it must be at the very least a handy strategy for the Tories ( the Lib-Dems having clearly no power at all in our present coalition) is encouraged by the fact that the Queen did have a Golden Jubilee (under Labour)—well when was it ? Ten years ago, wasn’t it?—and did an awful lot happen then? Not like this anyhow.
And what part do the media play in all this? Are they too, glad of the diversion, after so much of their dirty washing has been aired in public and some of their biggest names hung out to dry? On both main TV channels, not to mention the newspapers, it was wall to wall Jubilee, and anyone who didn’t want to watch it, and didn’t care much for international tennis either, was in for a thin time.
So what is the power of the Royals? I reckon it’s something almost sacred—no surprise after all, since the Queen is, like all our monarchs since Henry the eighth, Head of the Anglican Church, which is not just any old church, but the established Church of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Note that Henry the Eighth took over the title of Defender of the Faith, from the Pope, and passed it on to every succeeding King or Queen of England.
It is interesting to me, as a Scot, that this does not include Scotland ( since Scotland was not part of the UK at that time) Scotland of course has its own established church, which is Presbyterian, where local congregations help to shape policy, although they do have a titular head, the Moderator ( but The ‘King and Head ‘ is said to be Jesus Christ.)
But the more important issue is that even although Scotland has a number of reasons for feeling quite separate from England, many of them being argued over currently, yet… royalty fever seems to pervade quite a number of bosoms among the so-called dour Scots. Yes, even there…were there not many northern accents among the number of people interviewed by the media who had loyally braved cold and wet to stand for hours waving to Her Majesty? And even if they do prefer to call her Queen Elizabeth the First( she is actually the first Elizabeth of Scotland, as loudly proclaimed when some pillar boxes with the offending number 2, were blown up north of the border, at the accession) they still want to see her as one of us. ( Well, her mother did grow up in Scotland). And it should be noted that the Scot Nats have now quietly side –lined their earlier declarations of republican sympathies.
One popular argument for retaining the royals is ‘Well, who would we have instead ?’ with a list of undesirable and all too fallible politicians reeled off. No amount of explaining that the Queen has no political power and neither would any one put in her place, will have any effect on these defenders of the Royal role.
There have of course been rumblings to suggest that after this monarch, things may change. But a recent poll announced on the BBC claimed that 55% of people thought that the monarchy ‘would last forever’. What the other 45% thought was not revealed.
And then there is the question of leadership. People may be ambivalent about leaders ( the history of the Green Party is a good example of this) but at the same time there does seem to be a primitive, almost atavistic need to follow a leader, even if only a fantasy one, or a figure head. No sailing ships in the old days ever felt safe to set sail without one.
And perhaps this issue of safety comes near to the centre of the conundrum. We like things the way they’ve always been. Change is seen as dangerous, especially in difficult times. And ironically, it may be that the more unpopular this present government becomes, the more we cling to some sort of magical substitute—if not God, then at least God’s representative on earth, as Defender of the Faith was supposed to mean originally.
So at last let’s come back to the issue of cost. One can say that the parades and flotillas and banquets are all harmless, and even useful in bringing a bit of colour into our drab lives. And after all, millions of people came out to show their support for the Queen, who, we know, is both far above us, yet also quite human, just like us. But is there really no great cost? How many people in how many countries could have used a quarter of the money spent on this jamboree, just to keep them alive?
That’s too great a cost, in my view.
Jean Robertson-Molloy EGP 6-6-12