In the heart of the Mantel Middleton maelstrom, something perfect has been forged. Whatever the Booker Prize winner’s intentions were, whomever her target - Ms Middleton? The media? Both? Neither? - her fundamental achievement is staring us in the face. It is a Final Solution to the Monarchy Question. Of course! Replace them with pandas.
Now someone’s had the idea, it seems so obvious, but that’s always been the hallmark of genius.
“Pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment,” Ms Mantel pointed out. “But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.”
So long then, Lizzie, Kate, Wills, Harry, and that one who grins at the Wimbledon ball-boys every year. Enter Gu Gu, Ling Ling, Xian Xi and your many varied black-and-white hangers on.
For monarchists and republicans alike, the solution is equally sublime. Alright, so there would still be the Hereditary Principle. Those not born into the sacred Panda bloodline could never hope to be head of state. But there must be compromise, and so gentle is the giant panda, with such grace would it dispatch its duties, that surely none would object.
And for the monarchist, every trait that is to be admired in a royal, a panda possesses in infinitely greater abundance.
Crucially, it cannot speak. The only royal who remains entirely untainted by public life, and six long decades of it, is the one who has never expressed an opinion on anything – the Queen herself. What would be Ling Ling’s inclinations in the event of a hung parliament? We could never know. And what bright young architect’s vision would be crushed under the meddlesome swipe of Gu Gu's furry paw? None.
Moreover, as Ms Mantel pointed out, they show such little inclination to breed. How pure would be our thoughts on the current lot if, every time they had showed signs of sexual arousal, a team of scientists were on hand to ensure copulation only with the correct partner?
And on that front, isn't it unfair, given the national obsession with the contents of Kate Middleton’s womb, that we should be so cruelly frozen out of the business of procreation? With pandas, this would not be so. The 36 hours a year in which our Princess Panda is in season would be the summer’s must-see televisual event. Each stolen glance, each careless mounting, played and replayed in slow motion from a thousand angles, the desperate grunts reverberating round every living room in the land, so that when inception finally came, the nation would erupt in levels of joy previously unimaginable.
Quickly would it clothe itself in the nostalgia of ancient ritual, like the white smoke that signals the election of a new Pope. A gleeful scientist would emerge, bearing in his outstretched arms The Royal Panda Tester Kit, solid gold and encrusted in the world’s most famous diamonds, and slowly turn its freshly emerging turquoise stripe to the exploding flash bulbs.
Pandas would be cheap by comparison. They also attract tourists - an incontrovertible fact. Far less serious would be those humane concerns about foisting such seemingly uninhabitable lives on these poor people in such arbitrary fashion (they are only pandas, after all). But one or two practicalities would require consideration. The sad truth about opposable thumbs means ribbon cutting duties would have to be all but axed. A Royal Panda Family would not be able to get out as much. Dinner ladies in the most distant corners of the country would have to muddle through life without their anecdote of how the Princess Royal was “such a nice lady” and “so kind” and “just so down to earth.” But by way of recompense, the new lot could be permanently installed in the Buckingham Palace garden. No jetting off to Balmoral and Windsor and Sandringham. They would be there, at all times, the showstopping photo-opp climax at the end of the tour round the Palace’s 1.6 million rooms.
The Prime Minister, too, may disapprove, so speedily has he leapt to the defence of darling Kate. “Bright, engaging, a fantastic ambassador for Britain,” she apparently is. For Mr Cameron, the humble panda, if left to his own devices, can display a level of ambition altogether unsettling. They are, for the most part, solitary creatures, with a preternatural instinct to head off and at least attempt to fend for themselves. Our Fantastic Ambassador, by contrast, after the most expensive education that can be bought, was soon back home with the folks, stuffing envelopes for the family business. A young lady, bestowed with every conceivable advantage and yet who has blazed a trail of achievement significantly less bright than Rodney Trotter, is evidently the public face the Prime Minister thinks we need.
"When it came to the State Opening of Parliament, yes, the doors of the royal carriage would require a little widening."
But there are distinct advantages for Prime Ministers too. When it came to the State Opening of Parliament, yes, the doors of the royal carriage would require a little widening, but in the end, governments wouldn't feel quite so embarrassed by how little of their legislative programme they actually manage to get done. Our Sovereign Panda wouldn’t have been able to read it out in the first place. The Panda would be black and white. The Panda’s speech though, at best a disconnected narrative of angled head turns and frightened barks, would be far more defensible come the election.
For the wider world, those pictures of Jeffrey Archer and the others, crowded in to that golden chamber in their sparkling ermine coats, the black rod banged against the slamming door, would only grow in eccentricity and fun and quirk and charm if, in the midst of it all, a Giant Panda wielding a ceremonial orb came lolloping in. Even Prince Philip pales in comparison.
But it’s hard to tell what emotions it might engender in the darker corners of the world. One of the great services the Royal Family still provides is that, as the gentle face of despotism past, they're very good at opening doors with foul regimes. Install the pandas and just what will the King of Saudi Arabia and his brethren think, as they divert their attention away from public executions, outrageous misogyny and the subjugation of everything we believe in, and see the black eyes of a giant panda staring back at them? But then, diplomacy will always be a matter of priorities, and soon one nation will matter far above all others, and that’s the one that in fifty years will probably still have our new monarch’s cousins roaming around its bamboo forests. Brave will be the Chinese Premiere who doesn't take the call from His Royal Panda Highness. It simply won’t happen.
There will, inevitably, be a few republicans that still won’t accept it. The ones who very much don't see Kate and the rest as fantastic ambassadors for the country. Rather they feel an acute sense of shame every time they clap eyes on them, or every time they hear La Marseillaise, or the Star Spangled Banner, or almost any other national anthem, which serve as jealous reminders that ours is one of so few decent countries that still hasn't shaken off such an utterly absurd institution, and that doesn't have the joy of having done so as the fundamental, defining moment in our nation’s history. There are those who can't look at any of them without wincing, without their stomach knotting, or without getting unimaginably angry about it. But when that does happen, at least there will be a cuddly panda to look at. What more could they hope for? A meerkat maybe? No, that’s just daft.