So, those disrespectful Aussies are at it again.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard made headlines this week, at least in the British press, when she failed to curtsey when greeting the Queen on Her Majesty’s arrival in Australia. Gillard, the newspapers noted, is a committed republican. One noted sniffily that, having been born in Wales, she should have known better. She did know better, of course, the absence of knee-jerking being entirely premeditated, and calculated to produce precisely the news coverage that it did.
The latest incident recalls a similar one, a few years back, when the then Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, actually placed his hand in the small of the Queen’s back when ushering her into a room. “Dear, oh, dear,” sighed the British tabloids, “Whatever next?”
I haven’t, this time, picked up strong feelings of resentment among the British people. At a lunch I attended yesterday, an Australian guest apologised, a polite gesture. “You’ve nothing to say sorry for, mate,” was the gist of the responses around the table. One man went so far as to offer, “It’s time all these ridiculous old protocols – walking backwards out of the room, bowing, and so on – were done away with anyway,” adding traitorously that, “and if that leads to the monarchy being done away with, so be it”.
My own instincts are distinctly but not ardently republican, and tend to diverge between head and heart. My head says the monarchy is exactly what Keating claims in his memoirs he told the Queen herself during a face-to-face meeting some years ago: an ‘anachronism’ – at any rate in the Australian context.
In any context, I’d say.
No rational person can believe that a human being is born entitled to the kind of deference demanded and received by the reigning British sovereign, with all its derivations from the principle of Divine Right. Not only that, the whole monarchial enterprise is inarguably defunct and arguably discredited. If so, it ought to be abolished forthwith. The time to do this, republicans suggest helpfully, would be the death of Elizabeth II. They are right.
But then another inner voice tells me that the monarchy, while undoubtedly out of place in a modern democracy, blah, blah, blah, doesn’t really do any harm and may actually, if properly directed, do some good.
As you can now tell, I’m a hopeless case. The fact is that, as I approach my seventh decade, I would find it a wrench to see the all the trappings of the office swept away in one fell swoop. No more Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace? No more knighthoods or the gongs for lesser mortals? No more of those splendid ‘royal’ seasonal extravaganzas? The list goes on.
And what do we replace it all with? the voice demands. A presidency? Surely another pointless and expensive office of state, this one without Bagheot’s ‘magic’, is the last thing we need?
My generation, even those like me averse to the remaining privileges of the ruling class, tends to be hopelessly hamstrung by sentiment.
Some new British generation may think differently. Good luck to them, whatever they decide. I’ll be gone.
Meanwhile, what do I have to do to get myself that OBE?