Leading article: Long-overdue constitutional change

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It may be a reflection of the general contentment with the institution of the monarchy as the Queen approaches her Diamond Jubilee that the agreement announced by the Commonwealth heads of government, meeting on the other side of the world, should have been reached with so little ado.

Only an institution that was so confident of its public standing – confident, too, one might say with a touch of cynicism, that the male succession is secure for another two generations – could have accepted what amounts to almost revolutionary change so smoothly, as though it were the product of just another day at work.

This does not mean that the changes made yesterday are not long overdue. It has been a glaring anachronism for at least a generation that the Crown passed to the eldest son, ignoring any elder daughter, and that the heir to the throne was barred from marrying a Roman Catholic. It is not to trivialise the burdens of the UK's particular history to note that the Netherlands and the Scandinavians have been far ahead of us here. Even such an august and enduring institution as the monarchy has to move, albeit carefully, with the times.

The marriage of Prince William and a commoner, Kate Middleton, provided the ideal opportunity to liberate future heirs to the throne from stultifying rules of the past. As a couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have brought a fresh and modern air to the monarchy, and in so doing improved its chances of survival. It was when the Palace seemed most remote from the people – after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales – that it seemed at most risk. The decline in republican sentiment in Australia is a development that would not have been anticipated 10 years ago.

We should perhaps recognise, too, that one reason why Britain has taken so long to reform the laws on succession may have been the reign of the present Queen. As if history were not replete with examples, Elizabeth II is living proof that a woman's head can bear the crown with at least as much distinction as a man's. It is fitting that this particular strike for gender equality will be a part of her legacy.