Magazine article The Spectator

Why Tony Blair Wants to Protect the Monarchy

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Tony Blair Wants to Protect the Monarchy

Article excerpt

The royal golden wedding celebrations were much less fraught and much more felicitous than would have seemed likely a few weeks earlier. The post-Princess of Wales hysteria appears to have died down; there are encouraging signs of a restored equilibrium in the public mood. But there was an interesting development last week, which tells us a lot about New Labour's attitude towards the constitution, and the political process.

If the golden jubilee had occurred ten years ago, it would have taken place in a political vacuum. The prime minister would have had a role in the festivities, but only a minor one, not far above the salt. It would have been quite clear what and whom we were celebrating. But Mr Blair does not play minor roles. Last week a casual observer might have wondered whether the PM was helping the Queen and Prince Philip to commemorate their 50 years of marriage, or whether they were helping him to celebrate the 202nd day of his premiership. Mr Blair was determined to make maximum use of the ceremonies, just as he insisted on reading the lesson at the Princess of Wales's funeral service.

Yet despite all that, and despite Mrs Blair's graceless behaviour during the Blairs' visit to Balmoral, well-founded reports indicate that though some members of the royal entourage feel that Peter Mandelson comes from another planet - an understandable judgment - the Queen herself likes Mr Blair, just as she enjoyed the company of his predecessor and prototype Harold Wilson. Given the way that the new government has not only encroached on the royal prerogative but invaded the royal family's space, this may be a further indication of the recurrent lack of selfconfidence which has characterised the Court's attitude to the Country for much of the past 70 years. Just as the 1945 election result was a near-mortal blow to the elan vital of the old landed/aristocratic order, the outcome of the first world war may have had a similar effect on those who advise monarchs. The crowds may still have been cheering, but not loudly enough to drown out the sound of crashing thrones. George V's reluctance to give sanctuary to his cousin the Tsar for fear that Nicholas II might bring the bacillus of bolshevism in his luggage was a first, shameful instance of this new, mistrustful mood. In 1935, when King George celebrated his silver jubilee, he was surprised as well as delighted to discover how popular he was with his subjects.

Perhaps his predecessors have never been able to get over the surprise, which was why the Court of the 1960s was so ready to listen to facile advice from those who wanted the monarchy to modernise itself and become media-friendly. That wise and cynical fellow Bagehot, who may have been unmoved by the emotion of reverence but who understood its infrastructure, could have told them that a modernised monarchy was not merely a paradox but an oxymoron.

It is almost impossible to argue in favour of the monarchy, for allegiance is like religious faith; one either has it or not: arguments are irrelevant. Indeed, true monarchists are irritated by attempts to find utilitarian excuses for the monarchy; they would almost rather not have a monarchy than one which was reduced to an outstation of the English Tourist Board. There is only one respectable argument to justify a monarchy, though it would probably not persuade anyone who had not already been swayed by the most profound impulses of heart, soul and marrow. Especially in a democratic age with a raucous mass media, there are two related dangers. …

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