Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: If royals are special, let them compete, like Harry

Britain feels like North Korea-lite in this period of national sycophancy when adulation is mandatory

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The Independent Online

Just for a lark a young white man visiting Jamaica ran against their unbeatable sprinter, Usain Bolt. The picture appeared everywhere including on two whole pages of a leftie broadsheet. The same young man went on to Rio and capered around there. More big pictures. For it is Prince Harry, out and about selling the Firm and its subsidiary, the Commonwealth. Jamaica's Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, a forthright politician, wants a referendum on whether her country should take charge of its destiny and elect its own head of state instead of the Queen, Along comes Harry, with that charming grin and good dance moves and Britons just knew the Jamaican rebellion is all but over. Because British colonialism and monarchism never pass on.

Meanwhile in a BBC TV studio, another rebellion was quashed. Benjamin Zephaniah, British- born Jamaican and acclaimed poet is a vocal republican, as, of course, was the great English poet John Milton. The dreadlocked, literary luminary made his case and faced gross invective from a white punter for whom the views were un-British: "It's our country, our Queen, sunshine." He should have been even freer with his malodorous tongue, expressed what he really thought: "Piss off blackie, back to your jungle." The presenter, Nicky Campbell, watched on, delighted in the spectacle.

Britain feels like North Korea-lite in this period of national sycophancy over the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, when adulation is mandatory. Plain-thinking Eric Pickles may soon include it in his citizenship tests for migrants: "Incomers must show they have blind, irrational faith in the Queen and her bloodline." After complaining to the BBC about its royalist propaganda, the republican movement finally got a spot on the Today programme during which the Labour MP Paul Flynn informed the nation that if MPs want to criticise the Queen or her relatives they are "not allowed to". In the mother of parliaments, which saw off a tyrannical king, elected representatives of the people cannot hold the iffy deals of Prince Andrew (among others) to account. The royals have extracted the right to absolute secrecy and expect not to be publicly answerable.

On a panel this weekend at the South Bank, we discussed whether the Queen is a feminist icon. Yes, really. A picture was beamed up of the unflappable gran, the lovely Kate and broadly smiling Camilla, three generations allegedly representing the power of royal women, feminists up to their gloved elbows. True, the Queen embodies extraordinary historical changes, has a sense of duty and is ageing gracefully. That's all folks. They say the job was thrown at her; I say she had a choice to refuse the crown like her uncle did. Instead of Smarties she passes medals to her darling sprogs, including those up to no good. In past centuries royals could do what they pleased. No change there. Just list the divorces, drunks, illicit affairs, rich dictator pals, bigotry and excess that they still manage away.

Kate left her bourgeois life and nabbed a prince. Now and forever, grown citizens will bow before her. But hey, she still buys clothes in high street shops. And Camilla, I hear, has a great sense of humour. Well she's certainly had the last laugh. What I see is a mistress who helped Charles to marry a womb, and her indifference to entrapped, disturbed Diana. If this is feminism today we may as well give up the fight and go eat cupcakes.

It was not ever thus. Go and listen to a 1970 Radio 4 recording of the redoubtable Malcolm Muggeridge and indefatigable MP Willie Hamilton discussing their objections to our absurd, snobbish, revolting and vulgar monarchical system. Lord St John of Fawsley, tireless upholder of the House of Windsor, who died last week, was ridiculed for his theatrical obsequiousness. But times changed. The royals now dominate celeb culture, and are riding high – even the smartest of Britons find them irresistible. But their arguments are bizarre and contradictory. Why worry about this sweet fantasy that brings in gobsmacked, loaded tourists? Or they're just like us, or they're the soul of the nation. The worse is that an alternative would be a disaster.

Yes, sure, like Mary Robinson, the former, elected president of Ireland and Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female president in Africa, real disasters, both. The truth is that traditionalists and now even modernists have become dependent on class and inherited privilege. They couldn't handle meritocracy.

Instead of challenging this consensus or debating constitutional reformation, pathetic joke republicans like Morrissey think "We hate William and Kate" T-shirts will do the trick.

If we elected our head of state, candidates might include Joanna Lumley, Richard Attenborough, Trevor McDonald, Jenni Murray, Shirley Williams – or even Prince Charles. If royals are really born special, they would trounce all competition and prove themselves every five years. Then even I would submit to them.