Friday, 29 April 2011

Shared experience - a thought on the Royal Wedding and why I'm a monarchist


I wrote a while ago about shared national experience - rather sadly in the context of the Eurovision Song Contest.

However, Eurovision has become a mark in the calendar, something we share as a nation – part of the social capital of Britain. Now before you all rush off let me explain. Much of our TV viewing is only marginally social – if it’s not a solitary activity, it’s shared only with our immediate family and friends. Indeed, some critics of our modern culture single out the goggle-box as a prime culprit for the loss of social capital.

However, events like Eurovision belie that gloomy prognosis. What we see is a much broader engagement – not only the large numbers of viewers but all the other aspects of social interaction. There’s pubs and clubs organising Eurovision nights, some people get together with a bottle or two of cheap fizz and some chocolates and others make it a big family occasion. Workplaces have sweepstakes, the newspapers are full of stories and twitter, facebook and other bits of the interwebs abound with chitter-chatter. It’s more than just a TV event.

Now it may be brave - and a little unfair - to compare today's wedding festivities to a song competition but there is a parallel. Which rather explains why I remain a monarchist. Let me explain.

What we have seen today is a shared experience, something that has brought people together with neighbours and friends, an event that has in that trite parlance "captured the nation's hearts" - or most of the nation at least. If we did not have the symbolism of the Royal family, we would need to create symbols, festivals and events to achieve what has been achieved through this wedding. Things that are there to unite us as a nation, that we share with our neighbours. Rather than a family of real (and privileged) people, we'd create other symbols of nation - flags, saints days, celebrations of liberation or independence - to serve the same purpose as sustainers of the nation.

Those who oppose monarchy - at least in the moderate constitutional form we enjoy - offer a rather grey, drab alternative. Not just a has-been politician parading in a sash on state occasions but an accompanying collection of clunky symbols. These opponents of our monarchy are the same sort of people who tried to abolish the Lord Mayoralty in Bradford, who rail at the tyranny of clothing by dressing down for meetings, who dislike table manners and who think there's dignity in the Mayor turning up in a Toyota Prius or a grey BMW.

Our system, much though it loads privilege onto a single family, has the merit of providing that unifying sense of nationhood without it becoming politicised or for nation to become conflated with state. Because the next monarch is decided by happenstance - by a fluke of birth - we avoid the division and discord that comes from a political choice process. The Royal Family are able to symbolise nation for the very reason that we do not choose them - the moment we are actively involved in choosing is the moment when the choice is rejected by those whose favoured person was not selected.

Given a choice between what we have now, a constitutional monarch, and an elected (or worse appointed) president - and let's face it that is the choice - opting for monarchy is fairer, outside of politics and more unifying. And vastly better looking.


1 comment:

Dick Puddlecote said...

You forgot to say that is was bloody good fun and relegated politicians to bit parts.

They'll never have the gravitas of the royals and today proved that they should never dare. :)