The Monarchy in Britain
New Monarchy: Desperate Measures, Desperate Defences
"Ozzy Osbourne, the drug-addled, bat-eating patron saint of ear-bleeding cacophony, an attempted wife-killer, a man whose lyrics have been accused of urging an entire generation of impressionable adolescents towards suicide, sang for his monarch. Brian May of Queen - a group which used to hire dwarfs to carry round bowls of cocaine at its parties - played the National Anthem. . . . Rock and royalty have finally realised that they are natural bedfellows, with a great deal in common and much to gain from deepening their links."
Susannah Herbert, Sunday Telegraph
The ability to read a serious daily newspaper such as the New York Times is one of the pleasures of being in the United States. You can be confident that there will be no front page photos of a footballer’s new haircut. So the NYT of 4 June was a bit of disappointment for refugees from the Jubilee. At the top of the front page was a colour photograph- of Liz Windsor, backed by Ricky Martin, Paul McCartney, Andrea Corr and Cliff Richard. "A Little Help From Her Friends" was the caption.
Show business had secured for Windsor a prominent place on the front page of a seriously serious newspaper. And an alliance with show business proved to be the monarchists’ newest shield against a serious consideration of the merits of their institution. It may also prove to be their undoing.
"God Save Us From the Queen
This Week the Monarchy Turned Into a Macabre Soap Opera"
Headline from the Canadian Globe & Mail
This was the culmination of the celebration of Windsor’s fifty years as hereditary head of state. A demonstration of the people’s affection for the august institution of monarchy. Introduced by a man in drag. Ozzy Osbourne in the retinue.
This was what it took to ensure that the "profound reserve of affection" that The Spectator had predicted the Jubilee would reveal would be on display. Only eighteen percent of Britons, according to an opinion poll, wanted to abolish New Monarchy. The same number turned out to watch Windsor proceed down the Mall as had for her silver jubilee in 1977.
Desperate Defences: One Thousand Years of Windsor
Despite the monarchists’ relief the Jubilee was characterised by desperate measures for the defence of the institution. Affection was guaranteed with an extra public holiday, free concerts and spectacles. It was, Windsor admitted, an excuse for people to enjoy themselves.
"Nor were the street parities abandoned. They were simply relegated to a secondary position, where their number wouldn’t be cruelly compared to the number organised a quarter of a century ago."
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Online
Street parties, which require more grass roots initiative, were down however. Two-thirds of the population, according to the English Tourism Council, chose to spend the special two-day Jubilee holiday on activities unrelated to the Jubilee. The Travel Agents Association reported that 1.6 million people left the country, In Northern Ireland, the most loyal Windsor subjects, those who call themselves Loyalists, rioted with guns on the streets on Belfast.
On CNN’s Larry King Live American learned from one British expert on aristocracy that the Windsors eighty relationships to other European "royal" families and the success of the Jubilee guaranteed that their rule would last another 1,000 years!
Less risible justifications were put forward also. The stabilising effect of fifty years of continuity while Britain had gone through profound change was one. The impossibility of monarchy reflecting the change in Britain’s ethnic composition seemed not to matter though. A charade of inclusivity was offered instead. Members of ethnic minorities and those not in the Church of England were welcomed to the celebration - just as long as they did not aspire to be head of state. For by definition monarchy is exclusive, not inclusive.
Only the monarchy, we were told, had protected Britain from dictatorship. How Germany, Ireland or the USA had avoided such an eventuality was not explained.
"The Jubilee celebrations were a brutal index of how far the House of Windsor is willing to submerge its ancient dignity merely to retain a pulse of connection with the popular will."
Rex Murphy, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation commentator
The monarchy brought us together, said its supporters, in a way nothing else could. But on the streets of Northern Ireland the loyalists were rioting again, unrestrained by their monarch’s celebration. Two-thirds of the population of England chose not to join the celebrations.
The Jubilee was said to be justified also because Liz Windsor is an extraordinary woman for whom, according to the Prime Minister, the country feels special affection. This nonsense brought home why those republicans who counsel against criticism of individual royals are wrong.
Liz Windsor is not extraordinary in any positive sense. She has achieved little by her own ability other than to increase her wealth through tax avoidance. By her parenting she has perpetuated a fatal flow in the institution that can be justified if at all only by its ability to produce children adequate to the public offices they are born to hold. The best one can say of the head of state is that in her public duties she has done little harm.
"Deference may be inherited, but affection is earned and the affection this country feels for you is real."
Prime Minster Tony Blair
These defects might not be worthy of comment were it not that Windsor is head of state by right of birth, were they not evidence that hereditary succession does not produce able office holders, were we not asked to bow before this unremarkable specimen and were we not invited to agree that she is extraordinary. And, were it not that we will all be a little less well off as a result of her recent tax dodge.
Which goes some way to explaining why in the USA it was not just the alliance with show biz that made Britain look daft. It was the institution itself, one that Americans have gone without for 200 years. On CNN’s Crossfire an interview with the Evening Standard’s Robert Jobson was introduced with the thought that the story had been fifty years in the making and was 1,000 years out of date. The monarchy was ridiculous, said the presenter, and asked why the British should have to put up with it. Wasn’t Windsor the head of a giant wax museum? A defensive Jobson was able to reply to the smart and articulate American journalists with only feeble justifications.
Times Have Changed
When we are told that the ordinary is extraordinary, when the supposedly ancient and venerable relies on the tacky support of show business and when an institution that is supposedly entrenched in the hearts of the people require nonsensical excuses, we should know that the tide is moving.
In 1957 Malcolm Muggeridge wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post that was critical of how the monarchy was perceived, although expressing support for a constitutional monarchy. This was the reaction, according to a recent article in the Canadian Globe & Mail.
"In retrospect, Mr. Muggeridge's article seems innocuous, but the reaction to it was not. The Sunday Express called it "ruthless, shocking, patronising, gruesome, [and] a diatribe." The Muggeridges' home was vandalised and he received death threats. The distinguished historian Sir George Clark said that Malcolm should be publicly horsewhipped. He was banned from the BBC, and his newspaper column was dropped. The Vicar of Chosley in Berkshire told a reporter: "He has a face it would be most satisfying to poke -- the sort of face one just wishes to flatten out. My study will be at Mr. Muggeridge's disposal and I will gladly provide a steak for his black eye."