Queen Elizabeth II has been the Head of State my whole life so it’s strange to think that she is now no longer with us. I naively thought she’d make it to 100 as her mother died aged 101 and her husband died at 99. Since women typically live longer than men, I assumed the odds were in her favour even though I also knew that she was increasingly frail.
Her death comes at a time in the UK when we are facing a cost of living crisis and increasing cynicism towards our politicians and institutions. It’s hard not to think that the Queen’s death coincides with a particularly gloomy period of British history.
However, I did find the 10 day mourning period a welcome respite from the usual news even if some people may have found the media coverage about it to be excessive. It’s no surprise that there are a lot of people who are anti-monarchy and would rather the UK become a republic with an elected Head of State. It is also likely that anti-monarchists hated the displays of grief and pageantry that were ubiquitous earlier this month.
Although I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Royal Family – when Prince William and Kate Middleton got married, for example, I volunteered to work rather than have the day off to watch it – my opinion of them has changed over the years.
I’ve come to the position of preferring a constitutional monarchy over the alternative mainly because I hate the thought of a President Boris Johnson or Tony Blair! The fact that many of the anti-monarchy crowd tend to be devotees of wokeness is another reason to be on the opposite side. Having said that, I know people who have similar views to mine who are also against the monarchy.
Nevertheless, the argument that democratically elected Heads of State can be voted out unlike Kings and Queens doesn’t convince me since the kind of people who want to be elected to political office are often the ones who shouldn’t be there in the first place! Why assume that whoever replaces a bad Head of State will be any better? Monarchs can obviously be tyrants, but in most cases in the modern world they are driven to serve their subjects and try to put their personal views to one side. Whatever flaws the Queen may have had, I believe her devotion to serve the British public was a genuine one.
A blog I follow called ‘Grey Enlightenment’ also argues here that celebrities, politicians, athletes, etc. in the USA inspire devotion in people despite not being elected to any position of power by public vote. This post also notes that, especially in the case of athletes, their high status is partly down to some accident of birth like being naturally good at running and so is not that different to an individual who happens to be born into royalty.
Critics of the monarchy, and the Queen in particular, do not always come from the pro-republic and/or ‘woke left’ though. Some people on the political right have criticised the Queen for not intervening at certain times during her 70 year long reign to try to prevent changes which, to right-leaning critics, have made the UK worse. This is usually relating to controversial subjects like immigration or political correctness.
During the Queen’s time as monarch, the UK went from being a great world power with an empire to just a little group of islands off the coast of mainland Europe that may well splinter even further. The social changes that have happened during this period, whatever their pros and cons, have also contributed to the tension and divisiveness we see today. In this sense, it’s fair to say that the Queen took a decidedly hands-off approach.
However, I’m not sure what the Queen could have done to try to withstand these changes without threatening the institution of the monarchy. After all, during this same period, trust in other institutions like religion and the police also declined, ending what is sometimes called ‘the age of deference.’ The British Royal Family had also experienced threats to its stability earlier in the 20th Century with the abdication of Edward VIII and the overthrow of monarchies in other countries like Russia.
Like everyone else, the Royal Family have had to adjust to a rapidly changing technological world which has completely altered the way humans live their lives and contributed to atomisation. This, to me, is one of the reasons why there is so much tension today as we don’t have many things that we can unite around. The monarchy, or opposition to it, at least provides something to bring people together.
I watched some of the footage of what became known as ‘The Queue’ and saw people waiting for hours to walk past the Queen’s coffin to pay their respects and I was struck by how religious it felt. People from many different backgrounds were clearly inspired by the Queen and it shows that qualities like duty and sacrifice are still appreciated. Whether or not the new King can evoke a similar response remains to be seen.