Sunday 21 October, 6.30pm until 7.30pm, Conservatory
At first glance, the monarchy of 2012 seems to be in rude health. The Diamond Jubilee has been not so much an occasion for jingoistic national fervour as for quiet satisfaction that we live in a stable, free democracy that much of the world’s population can only envy. The Queen is viewed with almost unalloyed respect for the personal qualities she has brought to her role, and the wedding of William and Kate has restored the popularity of the House of Windsor to a pitch not seen since the early days of Diana. To many, the monarchy seems to provide a level of disinterested public service that is in sharp contrast to a political world tarnished with self-seeking and scandal.
And yet, and yet. This is the twenty-first century. If we were designing the constitution for a liberal democracy from scratch, it would not have a place for a hereditary monarchy, would it? Alex Salmond may argue that the Queen could remain head of state in Scotland even if full independence were achieved, but that can be seen as an awkward relic of a long history of conflict and union between neighbouring states. Moreover, on top of traditional political objections, in 2012 there appears to exist a more cultural disdain for all things ‘royal’. The jubilee celebrations were characterised by some as a ‘national sedative’, and ‘republican’ ire often seemed to be aimed less at the monarchy itself than the supposedly docile masses who doff their caps to it. Whatever, contemporary royal events often feel more like evidence of popularity for celebrity than monarchist zeal. Conversely, republicanism remains a marginal political movement in contemporary UK. Interestingly, the lack of a popular campaign for a democratic republic is has less to do with a commitment to the hereditary principle than cynicism about politics in general. For many, the words ‘President Blair’ alone are enough to see off the case for a republic.
Is there still a logical case to be made for hereditary monarchy, beyond affection, nostalgia and inertia? Some would argue, for example, that its existence provides a code of allegiance which ensures ministers, the armed forces, and the judiciary do not seek to extend their powers beyond those allotted to them. Are there deeper principles that demand radical change? Or will we just stagger on with an institution that seems to have become adept at finding new and compelling raisons d’être, however much society changes?
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writer and broadcaster; co-editor, Burke's World Orders of Knighthood & Merit
investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us
deputy chairman, British Monarchist Society
chief executive, Republic
writer and academic
A democratic Britain with an elected head of stateRepublic
Despite the jubilee, anti-monarchists say their support is rising. Conal Urquhart joins their leader as he tries to rouse a revolution in the west countryConal Urquhart, Guardian, 30 September 2012
Those grainy pics of a naked Kate Middleton tell a striking story about the celebrification of the Windsors.Tim Black, spiked, 20 September 2012
Pre-diamond jubilee surge in royalism hides bad news for Prince Charles, with almost half wanting succession to jump to WilliamTom Clark, Guardian, 24 May 2012
Princes William and Harry are seen as being down-to-earth regular guys. The Duchess of Cambridge is supposedly one of us. How did our stuffy and out-of-touch monarchy suddenly get its mojo back?Stuart Jeffries, Guardian, 11 April 2012
Melvyn Bragg examines how English republicanism has developed from Cromwell to the present day, and examines whether it is embedded as a sentiment deep within the culture of England.BBC Radio 4, 3 February 2000
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"A truly original battle with a great deal at stake as opposed to a reassuring renactment of old arguments. I felt refreshed rather than entrenched afterwards."
Damian Barr, columnist, writer, playwright, salonierre