I read several articles over the weekend in various outlets in which former trendy lefty reporter columnist types admitted how their youthful republicanism was gradually turning into something suspiciously pro-monarchy, and all because of the current incumbent of the British throne. I will admit possibly to being one of them.
Tonight, Madness will perform ‘Our House’ on top of Buckingham Palace, all very post-Blair, post-Cool Britannia and democratic, and I’m delighted. But it still can’t beat the sight of a rain-drenched chorus from the London Philharmonic singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ and the national anthem in the middle of the Thames, while an old lady of 86 stands, as she has stood for four hours, in the pouring rain, because she knows she owes it to the many who have come to pay their respects to her.
I am equally pleased that a short distance away, near City Hall, the ‘biggest republican protest in living memory’ was under way and getting all the TV time it deserved under the circumstances, which is to say, none. Even John Barrowman on the belfry barge, putting the camp into campanology, got more time than they did.
From Republic’s own web site: ‘Earlier this month Republic published a new pamphlet – 60 Inglorious Years – which argues that the Queen’s reign has been characterised by “personal enrichment, feeble leadership and an obstinate refusal to allow real scrutiny of her role”.’
Oh Get Over Yourself You Big Tart.
Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely no doubt that in principle, in cold, rational theory, on paper, a republic is the most just and appropriate form of government for our time. In my own trendy student days (I had a few) I remember the republican cause frequently being put down by “two words: President Thatcher”, which was a fatuous argument that convinced absolutely no one who actually knew anything about politics. A republic does not have to have the same presidential system as the United States. In the event of this country ever becoming a republic at all, it will almost certainly be a parliamentary republic, with two Houses of Parliament and a Prime Minister recognisably similar to what we already have (though both Houses will be elected; possibly a subject of another post) and the President simply taking on the Queen’s current figurehead executive role. President Thatcher would be as important as President Whoever who is currently in charge of Germany.
(Anyway, Thatcher would never consent to such a role. She was too much of a snob, the figurehead of the arriviste Margo Leadbetter class who need, indeed, require a monarchy above them to emphasise their own branch of the tree.)
But the republic, if/when it comes, should be the grandest achievement of our history, the final emergence from the dark ages into the age of the post-Enlightenment. It should not be characterised by the petulant whine of a five year old complaining that it’s not fair.
And there is one other thing a republic needs. Giants. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Mary Robinson, even Jed Bartlet – in fact, it needs a steady succession of them as presidential terms expire and new holders take up the position. What could be a grander, prouder title to bear than President of the Republic? A republic could even get by quite comfortably with the present generation of political pygmies in all the legislative roles, as they currently are, so long as the executive was a step above.
I see no giants.
Short of an actual revolution – never going to happen – I see one way the republic could happen, and it would be a good way, and who knows, it might even give us the right sort of presidential material. The monarchy needs to attack itself from within. Charles waits until his mother has decently passed on, then announces that he will be the last monarch of Great Britain, and that he is now going to set the movement towards a republic in motion. The power of the monarchy is gradually phased out in favour of a president, possibly taking decades to do it, and a thousand years of generally glorious history comes peacefully and inevitably to an end.
It has happened before, and quite recently, in Spain. In that case it was the transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy, rather than constitutional monarchy to republic, but the same processes could apply. The king personally supervised the transition and grew immensely in stature as a result.
Maybe it will never happen. In fact, probably not. So this is my challenge to Republic: stop whining and give us the giants. Give us someone else of the same stature as that 86-year-old lady in the rain and then maybe you’ll get your wish.