http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-this-royal-frenzy-should-embarrass-us-all-2267904.htmlJohann Hari: This royal frenzy should embarrass us allRepublicans are not the Grinch, trying to ruin the 'big day' for William and Kate. We are proposing a positive vision.
Friday, 15 April 2011
Okay, let's cut a deal here. If Britain can afford to spend tens of millions of pounds on the royal wedding, we have to spend an equal amount distributing anti-nausea pills across the land – to all of us who can't bear to see our country embarrass itself in this way. Don't let the Gawd-bless-you-ever-so-'umbly-yer-Majesty tone of the media coverage fool you. Most British people are benignly indifferent to the wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton. The 20 percent of us who are republicans, like me, have it slightly worse. We will suffer that face-flushing, stomach-shriveling embarrassment that strikes when somebody you love – your country – starts to behave in a deeply weird way in a public place.
Of course, when two people get married, it's a sweet sight. Nobody objects to that part. On the contrary: republicans are the only people who would let William Windsor and Kate Middleton have the private, personal wedding they clearly crave, instead of turning them into stressed-out, emptied-out marionettes of monarchy that are about to jerk across the stage. We object not to a wedding, but to the orgy of deference, snobbery, and worship for the hereditary principle that will take place before, during and after it.
In most countries, parents can tell their kids that if they work hard and do everything right, they could grow up to be the head of state and symbol of their nation. Not us. Our head of state is decided by one factor, and one factor alone: did he pass through the womb of one aristocratic Windsor woman living in a golden palace? The US head of state grew up with a mother on food stamps. The British head of state grew up with a mother on postage stamps. Is that a contrast that fills you with pride?
No, it's not the biggest problem we have. But it does have a subtly deforming effect on Britain's character that the ultimate symbol of our country, our sovereign, is picked on the most snobbish criteria of all: darling, do you know who his father was? Kids in Britain grow up knowing that we all bow and curtsy in front of a person simply because of their unearned, uninteresting bloodline. This snobbery subtly soaks out through the society, tweaking us to be deferential to unearned and talentless wealth, simply because it's there.
We live with a weird cognitive dissonance in Britain. We are always saying we should be a meritocracy, but we shriek in horror at the idea that we should pick our head of state on merit. Earlier this month, David Cameron lamented that too many people in Britain get ahead because of who their parents are. A few minutes later, without missing a beat, he praised the monarchy as the best of British. Nobody laughed. Most monarchists try to get around this dissonance by creating – through sheer force of will – the illusion that the Windsor family really is steeped in merit, and better than the rest of us. This is a theory that falls apart the moment you actually hear Charles Windsor speak.
The claims then drift even further from reality. We are told that the Windsor family is great for tourism. In fact, of the top 20 tourist attractions in Britain, only one is related to the monarchy – Windsor Castle, at number 17. Ten places ahead is Windsor Legoland. So using that logic, we should make a Lego man our head of state.
Then we are told the monarchy is a "great defender of democracy". As a logical proposition, this is almost self-refuting: to protect our democracy, we must refuse to democratically choose our head of state. But more importantly, for people who talk a lot about "respecting" our history, it is startlingly historically illiterate. The last monarch but one – Edward VIII – literally conspired with Adolf Hitler to run this country as a Nazi colony. It's only pure luck that he happened to have fallen in love with an American divorcee and had already quit the throne. That's the point about monarchy: you get whatever happens to squelch out of the royal womb. It might be a democrat, or it might – as it was two monarchs ago – be a vain and vicious enemy of democracy. To suggest it will dependably and always be one or the other is daft.
We have also invented a strange series of mental tics to protect the monarchy. Mention a republic and lots of people give the Pavlovian snap-back: "Hah! So you want President Thatcher do you? President Blair?" There is an odd assumption behind this. Did the presence of a hereditary monarch stop Thatcher or Blair doing anything they wanted to do? No. Nothing. Did it even stop them acquiring regal airs? No. Obviously not. This is simply an instinctive spasm of deference - don’t trust us with picking the leaders! Make sure there’s an aristocrat watching over us, stopping us getting funny ideas! How have these notions lingered in our national DNA for so long?
Deep down, the impulse to choose our head of state trumps our aristo-deference. A YouGov poll last year found that 64 per cent of British people want William and Kate to be next in line for the throne, ditching Charles entirely. So, my fellow Brits, let's think about this. By a clear majority, you want to set aside the hereditary principle, and choose our next head of state. I agree. There's a word for that: republicanism. If you wanted to elect William Windsor as our President, fine. That's a democratic decision, not a monarchical one.
There's going to be an attempt over the next fortnight to paint republicans as the Grinch, trying to ruin the "big day" for William and Kate out of a cocktail of kill-joy curmudgeonry and mean-spiritedness. The opposite is the truth.
The monarchist spin-machine, the tabloids and the tea-towel industry have created a pair of fictitious characters for us to cheer, while the real people behind them are being tormented by their supposed admirers. Think back to the 1981 royal wedding and you realise how little we know about these people we are supposed to get moist and weepy over. While millions wept at the "fairytale wedding", Diana was ramming her fingers down her throat, Charles was cursing that he didn't love her, and they both stood at the aisle raging against their situation and everyone around them, while the nation cheered.
Similarly, from beneath the spin, the evidence is pretty clear that William and Kate will be smiling at us through gritted teeth. We now know from several impeccable sources that for a long time as a young man, William raged against the monarchy and wanted no part of it. He once screamed at photographers: "Why won't you just let me be a normal person?" Alistair Campbell's diaries show that William is "consumed by a total hatred of the media", who he believes – pretty accurately – ruined his mother's life and contributed to her death.
This hasn't faded: he jibed in his most recent interview that he always aims to "outfox the media". But he knows the monarchy today is a rolling media road-show selling nothing but itself. That's why, in her last interview with the BBC's Jennie Bond, Diana said William had told her longingly that she was "very lucky to be able to give up your HRH" – her royal status. Republicans want to set this couple free to have good, happy lives in the Republic of Britain – which they would clearly take as a blessed relief.
When we republicans object to the hollow pantomime, we are not being negative or nasty. We are proposing a positive vision. Britain is full of amazing and inspiring people – so many that if we were to choose a ceremonial president, as they do in Ireland, we would be spoiled for choice. I can't think of anything more patriotic, and more deserving of a tumult of Union Jacks waving at a thousand street parties, than the belief that every child in Britain should grow up knowing that one day, if they do everything right, they could be our head of state. And I can't think of anything less patriotic than saying that the feudal frenzy of deference and backwardness we are about to witness is the best that Britain can do.