Sunday, 3 June 2012

Why republicans should cheer up and enjoy the jubilee

Pomp & Circumstance: How could you not love this?

As a republican, one of the things that really dismays me about most of my supposed peers is the way they seem to be more against the monarchy than for any particular political system.

You rarely hear anyone passionately explaining the many benefits of their preferred constitutional arrangement. Instead you tend to get a barrage of abstract and largely inconsequential arguments about equality such as 'why should one family have that much wealth and influence?' and 'everyone should have the opportunity to become head of state'.

Harnessing this as the lowest common denominator, you end up with the ludicrous situation of groups like Republic proposing we elect a president simply to give him or her the exact same job as the Queen (which is so minimal the turnout figures would put even the AV referendum to shame) but without any of the things that make it worth while. Namely the splendour, the continuity and the sense of a nation personified.

Personally I have no problem with the monarchy. I love the Queen and the institution itself embodies so many of the things I, and tourists, love about Britain - pomp, pageantry, camping it up a bit and putting on a damn good show. And you can add to that a stiff upper lip, which was out in spades today, as the Royal Family and the public said 'tosh' to the bad weather.

Despite this, I believe it important to have an elected head of state (for reasons I have explained here, here and here) and favour the French system of having a fairly powerful president, who then shares that power with his or her chosen prime minister. But, if there was a referendum and this system wasn't one of the options, I would vote to keep the monarchy.

So, for me, there's absolutely no feeling of hypocrisy in celebrating the Queen's diamond jubilee and singing 'God Save the Queen' at the end of a black tie dinner on Friday. There's the faint guilt of knowing I could one day put said Queen out of a job, sure, but one should follow the logic of one's political convictions wherever they may lead.

There's also none of the grumpiness  you will no doubt encounter from republicans at some point this weekend. Said grumpiness has led to a few arguments with some of my fellow libertarians - who I actually had no idea were so inclined to the explicitly anti-monarchist republicanism detailed above.

You got your usual, slightly hysterical, reasons for not joining in with the fun (an allusion to third world dictators and the cult of personality being one of the more outrageous) but the only point at which I was truly stumped was on the use of public money to fund the festivities.

Particularly at a time of such austerity, it's a little difficult to justify using the money you've taken from people by threat of force to fund an outrageously bombastic celebration of a very wealthy lady's anniversary, however lovely she is.

'But the Queen is so popular!' you may well say. 'Look how many people turned out to see the pageant!' you might well add. Well, yes, but that still doesn't make it very fair for those people who don't agree with the thing in the first place.

But I have the answer. Recently I had the pleasure of leafing through my newspaper's archives to see how Barnsley celebrated Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897. The event was far larger and more magnificent than anything going on in the town this weekend but here's the good bit - not a penny of taxpayer's money was spent on it.

In the days when income tax was paid only by the super-rich - and even then at less than one per cent - the mayor instead appealed personally to the townsfolk to donate by public subscription. In the end they raised £600 which, in today's money, is a staggering £64,000. Not bad for a small Yorkshire town and, of course, paid only by enthusiastic monarchists.

So, presuming Her Majesty still reigns in 2022, my suggestion is the platinum jubilee celebrations be funded in a similar fashion.That way the grumpy republicans can't complain their money is being spent on something they so heartily disagree with and, you never know, they might even cheer up. Win win!