Leading article: The making of a more modern monarchy


The monarch's Christmas message has been a staple of national life since George V recorded the first seasonal greeting from Palace to people in 1932. It successfully made the transition from radio to television, and from desk-bound formality to something just a smidgen livelier, when video clips of royal activities were incorporated. Now it has made its way on to the internet, via YouTube.

In a country that increasingly lacks fixed points of religion and culture, the Christmas message is firmly established in many households as an institution that makes a benign intervention somewhere between the pudding and the cake. As custom has it, the Queen surveys the past 12 months, and tries to capture something of the national mood. Fifteen years ago, her annus horribilis message offered a rare note of introspection.

But this year the 50th anniversary of her first televised Christmas broadcast it was understandable that she chose to look back rather further. At the weekend, she became the oldest monarch to reign over us, passing not only Queen Victoria, but George III. And this is only the latest royal landmark in a five-yearperiod studded with them. Last month, the Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary. A year last April, the Queen turned 80. And in 2002, the 50th anniversary of her accession, the culmination of the Golden Jubilee brought enormous crowds to The Mall for a joyous national pageant.

That occasion, and the public response to the death of the Queen Mother that preceded it, combined to mark a triumphal reversal in the fortunes of the monarchy which had languished since the death of the Princess of Wales. And they demonstrated that, whatever storms might lie ahead for the institution, it was far too soon to speak of republicanism, let alone revolution.

Since then, the Queen's stature has, if anything, been enhanced, thanks in large part to her personal qualities. She has earned the respect she undoubtedly commands by dint of an immutably serious and unostentatious approach to duty. With a few tiny hints of rebellion, she has remained steadfastly aloof from the vicissitudes of politics. And whatever ignominy the fast-living younger royals might sporadically bring upon the House of Windsor, she has been a model of discretion, while perpetually in the public eye.

Quite as noteworthy is the extent to which, for all her privileged and rarefied existence, the Queen has shared the social changes that have transformed the country during her reign. Family breakdown, divorce, wayward children and grandchildren have all come her way. She lost a relative, Earl Mountbatten, to terrorism. The still unconcluded drama of her daughter-in-law's death, and the spontaneous, emotional nation that was revealed beyond the stiff upper lip, prompted a perceptible change in her public manner.

In 1992 she became the first monarch to pay taxes. She has hosted a rock concert in her garden; she has (slightly) modified her accent. And now, as an octogenarian with a slightly scaled-back diary, she demonstrates the benefits of an active old age to generations of longer-living Britons who surely hope for the same.

As a newspaper, we have well-known misgivings about the monarchy. There is still far too much unearned wealth and privilege in this country; still too much land in royal hands; still too many royal relatives and retainers, benefiting from the public purse. If the monarchy is to survive in the modern age, it could learn much from the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

That it has proved as durable as it has, however, owes much to the calm sense of duty of the present Queen. She has been a force for continuity and stability, at a time when this was what our fast-changing nation needed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook  

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot