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Brexit and The Queen

March 10, 2016


The tabloids have recently been very concerned about what The Queen thinks about Brexit.

Now first and foremost I should say that I really don’t care.  Nobody’s opinion on this issue should be privileged, or even advertised, just because they happen to be descended from Electress Sophia of Hanover.   I should say from the outset that I care very much about the issue itself.  From a very selfish point of view, I care because I travel a great deal.  Also, I like being European – I mean – I’m proud of it.  Being European is a cherishable aspect of who I am.  And the many many problems with Europe seem to me to be grounds for reformation rather than divorce.  But others feel differently and have the right to campaign for their own point of view.  Brexiters may be wrong, in my view, but they are not necessarily bad people.

The speculation about what the Queen thinks about Brexit, vague and confusing as these rumours are, exposes the hollowness of the old mantra that the great thing about the monarchy is that it stands “above politics”.

Now I for one hate the prase “above politics” anyway.  Its usage implies that there is something inherently and necessarily grubby about political engagement -an implication that is not good for democracy itself.

There are times when the idea of being “above politics” is strained to its limits.  The Scottish Independence referendum was a good example.  The monarch is meant to avoid political controversy and stand as a symbol of national unity – right?  But what if national unity IS the controversial political issue?  Alex Salmond tried to take the monarchy out of the equation by declaring that an independent Scotland would preserve Elizabeth Windsor as “Queen of Scots” (surely the least encouraging historical precedent imaginable), but there can be no doubt that Scottish Independence represented a very personal threat to the supposedly unifying prestige of the monarchy.

Speculation as to what the Queen thinks about this next referendum tell us something else.  It tells us that the opposition between generous apolitical royals and venal scheming politicians is an entirely false opposition.  Venal scheming politicians love the monarchy and are anxious to preserve it.  In the first instance, it gives them something to hide behind – a way of dressing up their partial policies as “the national interest”.  And when it comes to a direct question of immense national and international importance, British politicians are not above using the supposed equivalence between patriotism and loyalty to the monarchy to their own advantage.   If the decision that looms is about (to some extent) the nature of patriotism and it is supposedly patriotic to love the Queen, then identifying with the Queen’s wishes represents the patriotic choice.

Paradoxically, the serene “abovepoliticsness” of the monarchy becomes itself a grubby political commodity.  The monarchy serves to mystify the exercise of power, making governance look somehow sacred and benign even when (especially when) it is serving very specific interests.  The more cynical the politics, the less it want to look like politics.

The current speculative manipulation of what may or may not be the Queen’s “views” only goes to show the political dangers of paying court to someone who is officially “never wrong”.  The splurging together of the concept of patriotism with loyalty to an opinionated family (because all families are opinionated) is bound to muddy the waters of political debate.  No matter how discreetly such opinions may be expressed, in this leaky world of information overload, opinions and rumours of opinions become political capital.

And elected Head of State has opinions too – but an elected Head of State does not have to spend a lifetime trying to suffocating them.  An elected Head of State is elected on an understanding that for the space of a few years they will abstain from political engagement and serve only the constitution.  It’s a far more limited and reasonable job description.

But most importantly, no individual, elected or hereditary, needs to “embody” a nation.  No individual, elected or hereditary, should claim “l’etat  – c’est moi!”  And nobody should be regarded as more or less patriotic depending on the extent to which their views may or may not happen to overlap with whoever is charged with exercising the ceremonial duties of Head of State.



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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    My thoughts back in March…

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