Saturday 28 May 2022

What's the Point of the Monarchy?

That was the title under which The Conservative Woman published and then unpublished the following, which I reproduce in exactly the agreed form:

The Platinum Jubilee is here, yet Peter Hitchens writes: ‘I have just stopped supporting the monarchy. I can’t do it any more. I am not a republican, or anything silly like that. I would like a proper monarchy. But the House of Windsor’s total mass conversion to Green orthodoxy has destroyed the case for this particular Royal Family. The whole point of the Crown is that it does not take sides in politics.’ Yet apart from what other political opinions he could have expected London toffs to hold, the political neutrality of the monarchy is like the impartiality of the BBC. When has there ever been any such thing?

The monarchy keeps sweet a lot of people who need to be kept sweet. But I am entirely at a loss as to why it has that effect. Either the Queen or her equally revered father has signed off every nationalisation, every aspect of the Welfare State, every retreat from Empire, every loosening of Commonwealth ties, every social liberalisation, every constitutional change, and every EU treaty. If they could not have done otherwise, why have a monarchy? What is it for? I support public ownership and the welfare state in principle, even if the practice has often fallen short. The same may be said of decolonisation, as a matter of historical interest. I find some social liberalisations and some constitutional changes a cause for joy, and others a cause for horror. I abhor the EU, and the weakening of the Commonwealth. But this is not about me.

Is it the job of a monarch, if not to acquire territory and subjects, at least to hold on to them? If so, George VI was by far the worst British monarch, and quite possibly the worst monarch the world has ever seen. Is it the job of a British monarch to maintain a Protestant society and culture in the United Kingdom? If so, no predecessor has begun to approach the abject failure of Elizabeth II, a failure so complete that no successor will be able to equal it.

For all her undoubted personal piety, the cult of the present Queen among Evangelical Protestants and among those who cleave to a more-or-less 1950s vision of Anglicanism, Presbyterianism or Methodism is baffling. What has the monarchy or the Queen ever done for them? During the present reign, Britain has become history’s most secular country, and the White British have become history’s most secular ethnic group, a trend even more marked among those with Protestant backgrounds than among us Catholics.

This has implications for the Windrush debate, and with eight Commonwealth Realms in the Caribbean, a fat lot of good being the Queen’s loyal subject has done anyone there; Barbados, proportionately the most Anglican country in the world, has recently become a republic. It also has implications for aspects of the debate around Brexit. If you wanted to preserve and restore a Christian culture in this country, you would welcome mass immigration from the Caribbean, from Africa, from Latin America, and from Eastern Europe.

On balance, I would not abolish the monarchy. It would no more be President Hitchens than President Corbyn. It would be a choice between the next Bullingdon Club member in line and someone who had casually given a trifling £50,000 to the most recently successful candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party. No one else would even make it on to the ballot paper, and I would not want either of those as my Head of State.

There would have to be a nomination process. Candidates would certainly require nomination by one tenth of the House of Commons, 65 MPs, and very probably by one fifth of that House, 130 MPs. Even in the first instance, in the wildly unlikely event of more than two candidates, the House would whittle them down to the two who would then be presented to the electorate. Almost certainly, only two parties are ever going to have 65 MPs. Certainly, only two are ever going to have 130. In practice, they would probably arrange to alternate the Presidency between them.

Nor would I want to abolish the Royal Prerogative. Rather, I want it to be exercised by a Prime Minister who aspired to strengthen families and communities through economic equality and international peace. But the monarchy, and with it the exercise of the Royal Prerogative by persons who most certainly did not share those aspirations, does not depend on the support of people like me. It depends on the support of people who, as long as the monarchy and especially the present Queen are simply there, are prepared to overlook the fact that hardly anything they really want happens, while all sorts of things that they do not want do happen, no matter who is in government.

Add to that the fact that the Order of the Garter is entirely in the gift of the monarch. There is no ministerial involvement. The Queen alone has chosen to confer the honour on Tony Blair. Moreover, whatever Prince Andrew may or may not have done, he undeniably chose to move in the circles of Jeffrey Epstein, of Robert Maxwell’s daughter, of Peter Mandelson, and of the Clintons. It is the Anglo-American liberal elite, the right wings of the Labour and Democratic Parties, who are the Royal Family’s sort of people, even if they would never stoop to voting for those parties.

Culturally, no one is more Tory than a liberal Tory; politically, no one is more liberal. The people on whose support the monarchy depends have chosen to ignore the fact that that is what their heroes are. But if Hitchens’s column and the reaction to Blair’s Garter are anything go by, we are living through the end of all of that.