Corgis and canapés
In every village, in every town, our Queen is being celebrated for having been our figurehead for an astonishing seventy years. That in itself is something well worth writing about. Is this extended weekend making Putin jealous as he shifts between the many gilded thrones he has thrown up for himself? Does Macron have a tinge of envy that we Anglo-Saxons have an old democracy, revived by the Magna Carta in 1215, atop a lineage of kings and queens stretching further back than the Norman invasion which tried to kill it? Does he feel a little peeved that severing Charles’ head in 1649 once again reinforced our ancient Saxon democracy 137 years before les Francais lurched slowly towards democracy when they rid themselves of their own privileged family? Oddly enough, his people do. When living in France for 12 years, we found that they were obsessed with our royals.
Our constitutional monarchy provides continuity of a sort, a steady, predictable ethos underpinning our culture as world events change our lives and minds at an alarming rate. However, today when we are aware of peoples’ thoughts all around the globe, is such a limiting identity a hinderance or a boon? Once it might have been important. During the First World War, faced with an invading Germany, French troops couldn’t understand their French speaking officers because they each spoke their local patois. We Brits, united under our Royalty, all spoke English. Thirty years later, de Gaulle sought to rid his land of this problem by banning patois, uniting his land with a single language and a refreshed set of powerful French myths.
Most countries have overly privileged nobs at the top, be they the educated French elite, the American rich and famous or modern African dictators or India's semi-dictator. We in Britain have them Royals, but I wonder if the Scots and the Welsh are happy that our gold-threaded folk have their main palaces in England.
Although both sides of my family were elites, I have always leaned towards a mixed democratic republicanism. My mother was the first non-French woman to marry in to my father's family, even though they had lived in England since La Revolution. The crest on the ancient family signet ring which he gave me is blazoned over the entrance to an imposing French chateau belonging to the counts of Toulouse which they abandoned (Chateau de Rieux de Volvestre). My mother’s family, the Drydens, of whom I am the last Scottish member, split in two in 1603 when one of them left Scotland to accompany James the 6th who was to unite these two countries by reigning as James the 1st from London.
Real popular governance works best within small scale interlinked units. The tribe I grew up alongside in Kenya showed that we can have leaders who listen to us, who work not for themselves but for us - the Nandi tribe lived in a democratic system centuries before we had modern democracy - in 1952 their women had more rights than my mother did when she divorced my father. Such an open, egalitarian approach is blighted by our electoral system - our representatives’ minds are set on re-election rather than delivering what is required, which it’s why we mistrust politicians. My own mistrust came to a head when Tony Blair ignored the millions who marched against invading Iraq.
So am I celebrating the Queen? Yes. And no. She is amazing and has dedicated her life to the people and culture of Britain, what’s not to admire. Furthermore, when I was presented to Charles in 1994, I liked his manner and intelligence and came to admire his far sighted vision and many revolutionary projects. I also know from long, intimate family connections that Prince William and Harry are decent, down to earth men who care deeply about ordinary people and our fragile Planet. But do we need Royals? Better than Boris. Better than Putin, Trump and other trumped up egoists. Maybe more suitable than a de Gaulle figure or even a rotating President?
We humans aren’t generally self-motivated, we often need others to prompt us, so we seem to need figureheads. Until we evolve to become a little more egalitarian we will need checks on those who lead us. Britain’s flawed system might well be better for the individual than Russia’s or China’s, but is it an improvement on France’s? Who knows which world-view is best for This Delicate Planet, China’s new vision, Europe’s lofty aims or our muddled sprint towards a faux-independence?