In this Jubilee Year maybe we should not ignore the question of the monarchy. I have never asked my readers if they are monarchists or Republicans. Now is your chance.
As a young man I was a reluctant monarchist. I could see the difficulties of keeping a monarchy in a democracy. I could understand why the American and French revolutions had seen the need to remove the Crown, though I abhorred the violence and extremes that powered the French Revolution to the terror and then to an autocrat. I accepted the modern monarch as a figurehead, a link to our past. The clinching argument for me was that I could not think of a better way of choosing the Head of State if you wished to preserve Parliamentary government with a powerful Prime Minister and Cabinet. I had no appetite then to move over to an elected powerful President.
My enthusiasm for the monarchy became greater as the attack on our constitution from the EU intensified. The monarchy as an institution clearly does not fit with a state which has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the EU. Though a constitutional monarch will go along with any degree of European humiliation elected politicians place on our country and will not itself be a source of strength against federalism, it is another awkward reminder or symbol of the vaunted freedoms and independence Englishmen and latterly UK citizens fought for over the years prior to 1972. That is the irony. Because Parliament took the power of the Crown away, granting back duties and money as it saw fit, the monarchy did become subject to our democracy and part of it.
The Queen has made it easier for monarchists. She has intuitively understood that the unelected monarch has to defer to the elected Prime Minister. He will pay court to her in public, but she knows he makes the decisions. She has understood that she and the leading members of her family need popular support as if they were elected, and have to avoid public hostility or disdain. She has scrupulously avoided commentary on the foibles and attitudes of her successive governments, and of her people in their various moods and fashions. Every day the royal family put themselves into the public eye, they are in a way running to retain office. It is a sign of her success that for most of her reign support for the institution of monarchy has been very high, and there has never been a serious republican movement.
One of the strange contradictions in some attitudes to monarchy relate to whether people want their monarch to have a very different lifestyle, or whether they want her to show signs of ordinary life. Some seem to like it when small details emerge of tv programmes shared, of breakfast cereal in tupperware, of travelling to an engagement by normal train. Others expect their Queen to be Queen like. Our present Queen does a bit of both. Studied ambiguity is best when the audience is so split.
For me, the important thing about a royal family in a democracy is that they should play their part in public life by staying well aside from the arguments, and by pursuing excellence and style. When the Queen visits a school or university or business, that institution usually has a spring clean, the staff turn up in smart clothes, and everyone is on their best behaviour. It is not just about the Queen. It is about them. It is their opportunity to show themselves off at their best. That is why the Queen has to turn up in smart clothes, perform her ceremonies precisely and with care, and should travel in style. I think people expect to rise to the occasion, so the Queen has to confirm that sense of occasion. The visited want her media appeal to shine briefly on them. They want her recognition, knowing it represents the recognition of the wider community.