A reluctant republican
I am, I have to confess, a reluctant republican. Call me a wet fart of a liberal if you wish, but I just don’t have a raging desire to set the tumbrels rolling with Liz, Phil, Charlie, Harry and Wills riding on them to their doom.
It’s not just that I doubt the guillotine would stop Phil from making the one of those occasional borderline-Tourette’s outbursts that have become the old rogue’s trademark.
It’s not that I bear Charlie a grudge. Heck, I probably agree with him on a whole stack of issues: ‘Richard Rodgers or Andrea Palladio?’ ‘Absolutely the latter yer eminence.’ ‘GM or organic?’ ‘I couldn’t agree more m’lud.’ ‘Rich Tea or delish Duchy of Cornwall orange biccy dipped in chocolate?’ ‘Have another one? I’ll take two, yer holiness.’
As for William; he’s too young to have done much wrong. He’s nice looking. He wants to pull drowning holiday-makers from the sea as a day job. Not too sure about his bird; she looks more like a would-be brand manager in the mould of his great gran than a glam Mother Theresa wanna-be like his mum – but you’d have to be mean to want to slice off his head for any of that.
As for the extended family; Andy and his ex both seem to be quite capable of inflicting punishments on themselves infinitely more drawn out and excruciating than the swift downward sweep of the guillotine blade followed by the hollow thump of their bonces into a basket.
Indeed I reckon that if Charles Windsor or his eldest were to run for office I’d give them proper consideration. Like Boris Johnson they’ve spent a lifetime being groomed to take on the role of figurehead. Happily, unlike Boris, their grooming wasn’t overseen by the dwarves from Time Bandits. Charlie and son might actually keep their heads down, not offend too many people and listen to advice occasionally. But the point is this: if they were to run for office I’d have the choice of whether to vote for them or not. Right now, like a two year old whose mummy wants him to eat his peas, that decision is made for me.
However my republican inclinations are accompanied by lingering reservations. Firstly having a head of state with no mandate does help ensure that political power is vested in the House of Commons and the limited political role of the crown cannot be invoked except in extraordinary circumstances the like of which we have not seen since Queen Anne refused to give her assent to a parliamentary bill in 1708 (though in 1999 – on the advice of her government – the present Queen declined to allow a bill to go forward that would have required the Commons rather than the government to approve military action against Iraq). A mandate implies authority. I instinctively prefer authority to be vested in 650 elected representatives than one.
Secondly my reluctance has, until lately, been made the greater by the simple question of who we’d elect given the opportunity.
There was a time when it seemed that the only two people in the whole of Britain sufficiently blameless to be able to take on the role of President were Thora Hird and Harry Secombe. What a truly presidential double act! Who wouldn’t have queued for scones at the garden party with those two? However they’re both now deceased, departed and gawn before and death has long been seen as a bit of an obstacle to high office.
So that leaves us with a likely choice of Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, Alan Sugar and Davina McCall, and, if any four people are guaranteed to give real momentum to a monarchist backlash, it’s them. It’s dispiriting.
So much for quietly retiring the Windsors to a couple of nice country houses in East Anglia and the Cotswolds or, as Tom Paine tried to persuade the French revolutionary National Convention to do with the Bourbons (and what is it with royals and biscuits – anyone?), exiling them to America and leaving them in peace. Heck Andy and Fergie are already at the centres of their respective American freak shows.
Then I picked up a biography of John Adams. Adams was a lawyer by training. Despite being an ardent opponent of British rule well before the revolution he took on the defence of British redcoats accused of shooting dead rioters in the Boston Massacre of 1770 when no one else would. “Facts are stubborn things,” he argued, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He won and with his principled stand won great respect.
He played the leading role in the committee that oversaw the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, though the words were mostly Jefferson’s. He drafted the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (the oldest functioning constitution in the world) and his ideas doubtless influenced the shape of the constitution of the United States. He served as the American Minister in Paris, the Netherlands and in London. He was Washington’s vice president and succeeded him as the second President of the United States of America.
And yet of the five founding fathers who served as President (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) Adams is considered by a fair few the least. He was the only one of the five to serve just a single term. He was probably the least popular amongst his peers. He was certainly pilloried in the press.
That Adams could even be considered the also-ran speaks volumes of the stature of the five men who consecutively led the young republic. I’d challenge anyone to name five English monarchs from the last 500 years who were the equal of those who led America in the 36 years from 1787-1825.
Indeed looking back just 75 years is enough to underscore Paine’s warning that: “when we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.” That we were spared Edward VIII, Princess Margaret, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry was largely down to luck. Again Paine puts it better than most when more than two centuries ago he argued that: “the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.”
Today the population of the United Kingdom stands at around 60 million. In 1790 the population of the United States stood at around 4 million. If we can’t do better than Cowell, Sugar, McCall and Branson from the choice we have than frankly we deserve what we get. However that shouldn’t make us afraid to choose.