Royals with no role pose little threat

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The Independent Online

Tributes, flowers and presents flooded in for days; on Friday a 40,000-strong crowd surged up The Mall to applaud one old lady's birthday. Today there are 8,000 people in this country who are 100 years old or more. For the crowd, though, the other 7,999 could not compare with this one woman. The "Queen Mother effect" is not about longevity; to the sceptic, watching the Buckingham Palace balcony scene, it smacks of supine adoration.

Tributes, flowers and presents flooded in for days; on Friday a 40,000-strong crowd surged up The Mall to applaud one old lady's birthday. Today there are 8,000 people in this country who are 100 years old or more. For the crowd, though, the other 7,999 could not compare with this one woman. The "Queen Mother effect" is not about longevity; to the sceptic, watching the Buckingham Palace balcony scene, it smacks of supine adoration.

How can we explain, in a 21st-century democracy, the enduring appeal of the Royal Family? Hardened republicans seem to believe that a great con trick has been pulled on the flag-waving populace, that the esteem in which this dysfunctional family is held is a mass delusion, fooling forelock-tugging Britons about an Establishment bent on keeping "subjects" firmly in our place. Any day now, they fondly hope, Britain will see the light and boot the royals out. Meanwhile, monarchists ascribe republicanism to "the politics of envy", a spitting hatred of all things glamorous, traditional and successful. To them, the royals are an enduring symbol of Britain's former - and perhaps future - greatness. Both sides are wrong. The royals are not a stain on British democracy, because they play absolutely no important role in it. There have been crises when the Queen has played a significant role, but only after taking legitimate advice. We may be titular "subjects", but this has no effect on our daily lives: there is no prospect of Britain becoming a republic in the foreseeable future. But wishing to do without the royals is not simply a kill-joy reaction to other people's innocent pleasure. There is a legitimate and strong case for replacing our head of state chosen by accident of birth with one chosen more democratically.

But the most crucial point about the royals is that they aren't very crucial. Their role is ceremonial, not interventionist. They cost us money, but not very much. Britain may well be better without them, but not a lot. This is a country riven with unfairness, blighted by bigotry, exclusive, elitist and secretive. But to blame the royals for this is entirely to miss the point. The "lottery of birth" still determines an individual's chances of health and wealth far more perniciously than it stifles their desire to become head of state. The problem is not that Prince Charles sends his sons to Eton; it is that so many other parents believe that following suit will give their child a "golden key" to success, and that in many walks of life they are right.

So join us in a sneer at the royals this weekend. Look forward to their demise. But remember that if Britain is to become a true democracy, there are other priorities that should take precedence over ousting "the firm". Losing the monarchy should be on our "to do" list - but not very high.

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