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Monarchy and national integration
We are living through uncertain times, as the Archbishop of York said in St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday. There are many forces trying to divide us and the celebrations and ceremonies of this Platinum Jubilee help us to come together again.
In 1867 Economist Editor Walter Bagehot famously termed our monarchy the ‘dignified’ part of the Constitution, its role being to ‘excite and preserve the reverence of the population’; the Government is the ‘efficient’ part ‘by which it, in fact, works and rules.’
If that justification of monarchy seems like hokum, consider the difference between countries that separate the two functions (e.g. with a President and Prime Minister), and those that combine them. For example, in the US strict respect for the national flag is enshrined in law; but the President both represents and in many ways runs the nation, and because of the adversarial setup of the party system often, after a brief honeymoon period, becomes the lightning rod for partisan squabbling.
This makes the decorum of those around the US President crucial, and Nancy Pelosi betrayed her duty when, as the officially neutral House Speaker, she tore up a copy of President Trump’s State of the Union Address behind him. She was attacking his dignity and thereby undermining the efficiency of the Chief Executive. These gestures matter profoundly.
Predictably, The Guardian newspaper sneered at yesterday’s jubilation. This only shows how stupid they are: they have no idea of the importance of signs and symbols. Why else do we put soldiers in uniform, give them their music, flags and medals and drill them on the parade ground?
Speaking of which, it is interesting that the regiment chosen for Trooping the Colour on this occasion was the Irish Guards. Their Colonel is Prince William, second in line to the throne; both he and his father Prince Charles are gradually being prepared for their future role.
A second possible significance is the political backdrop of Northern Ireland, where the republican Sinn Féin party won the most seats in last month’s elections, to the fury of the ‘loyalist’ DUP. The bitterness was somewhat allayed by a gracious letter from SF to Her Majesty, congratulating her on her Jubilee and thanking her for her contribution to the NI peace process; her later speech at the 2011 Irish State Banquet had also done much to salve old wounds.
It is difficult to estimate the value of the royal honours system and the Commonwealth. Who knows how much rich and important people have done and given, just to earn the Queen’s symbolic favour; and how much goodwill and cooperation have been fostered by her meetings with Commonwealth leaders?
Let the Malvolios fume; the people will have their cakes and ale, and be happier.