Surprise, surprise! I find that I have become a reluctant monarchist

Republicans are becoming the man at the bar, complaining away while unaware that the stools either side are empty
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The Independent Online

The vicar has run a flag up his new, white pole. This is all a bit of a surprise. He is not an over-expressive man either in the street, or (I gather) in the pulpit, and you can't imagine him wanting to be associated with the unspiritual enthusiasms of the multitude, whether these be for Bess or Beckham. Though it's St George's Cross – virgin's blood on a clean sheet – that flaps below the steeple, I am not at all sure whether it's the World Cup or the jubilee that he is helping to celebrate. It may well be both, and he is simply being carried along by the vague idea that there is something, somehow, for us all – sort of together – to be happy about.

The vicar has run a flag up his new, white pole. This is all a bit of a surprise. He is not an over-expressive man either in the street, or (I gather) in the pulpit, and you can't imagine him wanting to be associated with the unspiritual enthusiasms of the multitude, whether these be for Bess or Beckham. Though it's St George's Cross – virgin's blood on a clean sheet – that flaps below the steeple, I am not at all sure whether it's the World Cup or the jubilee that he is helping to celebrate. It may well be both, and he is simply being carried along by the vague idea that there is something, somehow, for us all – sort of together – to be happy about.

If the very word "pageant" makes you feel ill; if you don't like football or the monarchy, you are in for a very bad time. At the weekend, no sooner have England clashed with Sweden on ITV, than Jubilee Sunday kicks off with David Dimbleby followed by the All The Queen's Horses show from Windsor on the BBC. Taxis in London are flying flags from their aerials and there is "bunting" on the outside of schools. The letters pages are going to be full of readers anxious to share their loathing of TV soccer and hereditary monarchs both.

I love the World Cup. I have loved it since, as a 12-year-old guest of the writers' rest home outside Varna in Bulgaria, I watched England and Bobby Charrrrrrlton (as they called him) collecting their winners' medals in wonky black-and-white. Loved it when the Brazilians beat Italy in 1970, and wept for the wonderful Dutch in '74. Senegal versus Slovenia at 6am? I'll be there. And if there are people who really cannot get into it themselves, then perhaps they could just tolerate my enjoyment.

What is more unexpected is that I now find that I have become a reluctant monarchist. If, by some extraordinary miracle, the residents of my street were able to introduce themselves to each other long enough to organise a street party, then I'd go along. And if – at the climax of this impossible neighbourliness – the vicar were to raise his glass to Brenda's 50 years, I wouldn't tip the liquid over the prissy tubbed shrubs of the anal couple at number 25.

Increasingly I realise that my objection to the monarchy is not an objection to the real institution as it now is (and will become), nor even to the particular people who make up the Royal Family. It is instead a hatred of the media grovellers, the anti-critical court slobberers, the palace-yard gossips, the peddlers of quack history cures and the bogus heritage hawkers. They, and not the method we have for growing a head of state, are what provokes my not-me-ism. It is them that I want to run away from, or – even better – to fry alive in their own copious oils.

I see signs that the Royals – like Canute – understand the world slightly better than these fawners and flatterers, that they are not silly enough to believe that the 200,000 queuers, shuffling to see the Queen Mother's coffin, somehow represented a return to the unquestioning days of the Fifties. Bit by tiny bit they are modernising from within. They don't demand to be bowed or curtseyed to any more – soon they may even be able to marry for love.

There is much more that they could do. If the Queen is genuinely short of money, as was more or less proved in yesterday's edition of this newspaper, then the most obvious answers are to sell one or two of her palaces to the nation, and to continue to scale down the private pomp.

Prince Charles should announce a commission to look at whether the head of state should also be head of the Church of England – said commission to conclude that this Tudor arrangement is not quite as relevant as once it was, and furthermore that the religion, race and sexual orientation of any prospective consort is of no account. Harry should do teacher training at Manchester. Ladies in Waiting should apply for their jobs in the same way as the rest of us. The most interesting and remarkable pieces in the Royal art collections should be on permanent display.

This would not, of course, satisfy the republicans of whose party – until recently – I thought I was. They believe that something fundamental was lost with the Restoration in 1660, and that democracy and equality can never really thrive where there is a hereditary head of state. Where there is a monarch, we will always be touched by deference and the acceptance of privilege.

Lets deal with the metaphysics in a moment. First, if we draw up a balance sheet of good and ill that spring from the existence of our monarchy, how would it read? On the income side is the fact that the institution sits comfortably with us. Support or opposition is not hugely divided up into classes or races or regions. For various reasons – some sound and others mythological – the idea of having a monarch fits into our scheme of things; it is part of a fairly universally accepted narrative. This morning, in our very secular primary school, my five-year-old will go along dressed up as a queen. The rest of the year she can go looking like a peasant.

This makes it easier for the Queen to sell back to us important notions of community and belonging. She can tell the crusty traditionalist – where a politician president might have less chance – that we are to be understood as a nation of many races. That is what she did in her jubilee speech to Parliament. It was an excellent speech.

But what about the harm? If there were a racist monarch, that would be awkward, I suppose. But otherwise the sovereign wields no power, save for moral example. Having a queen does not, as some have suggested, necessitate or prop up a hereditary House of Lords. The other European countries with monarchs are generally accounted amongst the most progressive in the world.

This week, in its editorial, the enjoyably republican New Statesman argues that no matter how modernised or Europeanised or slimmed down, the monarchy would still be reprehensible because, "in its most important role, its symbolic one, it represents values that we should decisively reject". So it isn't what it does, or its function, but its capacity somehow to do us all psychic damage, to contaminate our robust democratic constitutions with the virus of deference. To – of itself – make children of us.

"It is time we grew up," says the Statesman. I presume the reason why this infantilistic illness is not held to afflict continental monarchies, is that republicans believe that the British are simply more backward. And I just don't agree with this inverted patriotism.

What's more, I don't think the British people are listening. Republicans – like the folk who moan about all this soccer on TV and all these flags on the street – are in danger of becoming the man at the bar, complaining away about the world's iniquities, unaware that the stools on either side of him have long been empty. The thing is, we have grown up – and this is what we grown-ups like.

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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