Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Son of Our Future ex-King?

It is customary for the UK to get a bit Maiden Aunt at the news of a royal birth, and sure enough the pages of saccharin nonsense that cover the front pages, and indeed most of the middle pages, of the London press today completely conforms to type. Steely-eyed literary bitches with the morality of Caligula and a usual turn of phrase as uncompromising as nitric acid have suddenly turned into cooing imbeciles around the Royal pram. At least you know that these journalists are being moved to such soppy heights by something they hold most sacred of all: money.

So the endless articles about "Our Future King" whose star sign (Leo, apparently) will apparently guarantee him to be a good King and whose ineffable good breeding will make him endowed with the best blessings of existence, but still some how, you know, normal, will doubtless continue for a few days. The fact is that covering the Royal birth is so cheap, and thus TV, print media, Twitter and the rest of it will cover the story in depth. Meanwhile in eastern Congo where a difficult-to-explain war now rages, will receive the customary indifference, as will the latest outrages of the tyrannical Vladimir Putin- after all journalists pay a price of death in Russia that the side streets around St. Mary's Paddington do not usually exact. Doubtless there is plenty of RT coverage of the happy event too.

What kind of strikes me, is how presumptuous the whole coverage is. Since Prince William is a deal younger and doubtless fitter and much better looked after than I am, the fact is that Baby Windsor is not very likely to be my future King in any event. Yet the assumption that the Monarchy will continue unchanged into the twenty-second century seems to be a fairly debatable point too. Conservative Monarchists, like David Cameron, hope and believe it will, but the lesson of the last century is not too comforting for them. Edward VII was a fornicating voluptuary whose behaviour broke marriages and was the despair of his government. George V, described by HG Wells, as presiding over an "alien and uninspiring court", was an unbending martinet who terrorized his children, while Edward VIII was such a dreadful king that he was forced out. Had any of these Kings faced the kind of coverage that the latest heir has already received, then it is a moot point how popular they would have been.

For sure King George VI, the Second World War and the current Queen have certainly rescued the Monarchy in the national affections, but in an increasingly democratic age, can we be sure that the compact that they achieved is even possible in the prospective reigns of Charles III, William V, and onwards? Certainly if the Queen had behaved in the same arrogant and high handed way as both her sister, the late Princess Margaret, and son, the Duke of York have been know to do, then the popularity of the crown might be dramatically lower. 

The fact is that no one can say for sure if the dynasty can continue to earn the same level of support and respect in the future that it has at the moment, and it has to be earned. Queen Elizabeth II has given her subjects a deal where she expresses so little in public that we can more or less project anything we like onto her: she is a kind of cipher for national expectations. That trick is easier to pull off if you have grown old in the wearing of the Crown- it will be far harder for an elderly man, who is known to his future subjects, if at all, for some slightly cranky personal eccentricities and having the money and time to indulge them. 

Then comes back the old Monarchist chestnut: "would you have wanted Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher as President?". To be honest it is hard to see how such polarizing figures would even have wanted the job, but I can certainly think of political or cultural figures that could serve well as the (temporary) constitutional figurehead. From Judi Dench to Martin Rees, from Zadie Smith to Richard Branson there are plenty of figures who can serve as the ring master of the political circus or as the dignified embodiment of our country. More importantly perhaps, the fact is that the Royal birth means it may be at least another century before the Royal Family provides another female leader, and somehow Britain seems to feel more comfortable with a woman. Across Europe and around the world there are or have been figures, such as Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, or President Joachim Gauck of Germany who have huge international prestige and moral authority, which they have acquired through sheer force of personality as opposed to simple longevity in office.

Even more to the point, at least in a democracy we would have the choice of mediocre leader, instead of being forced to accept whatever mediocre leader the act of settlement and the Royal family can provide.

So as the media Greek chorus responds to the Royal birth with raptures and rubbish, I find myself asking whether the attack dogs can be held off for ever. Would it not simply be prudent to question whether the Monarchy- with all the overhead of flummery and snobbery, and all the lickspittle arse-licking- might not be best cast into a dignified retirement before this baby is confronted with the unedifying prospect of having all his natural responses analysed or twisted, and who will be treated in a way that more or less will guarantee to deform his personality.

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