On hearing Cameron’s inspirational speech as he smugly introduced gender equality regulation into the laws of royal succession (presumably patting himself on the back as he realised that this was another way to appeal to female votes) I could have sworn I had swallowed a nail the aftertaste of irony was so strong.
Cameron tells us firmly that ‘the idea that a younger son should become monarch, instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man is at odds with the modern countries we have become.’ Alarm bells screech.
My first, and perhaps rather trivial objection would be against the blatantly self-congratulatory tone of ‘modern countries we have become’. These modern countries that as well as appearing quite content with the idea of an unelected form of government based on an accident of birth, also seem utterly oblivious to the irony of attempting to modernise and make fair this fundamentally archaic and arbitrary system.
It’s also more than a little bit mental to think that this move straightens out injustice in the system. Just how you can look at the system of royal succession and delude yourself into believing there is any kind of fairness there at all is beyond me. What we have, and what we will continue to have, is an arbitrary system which selects one person from a very particular and privileged class and hands them a crown and sceptre. Whether or not you have a problem with this inherently unjust system is a matter of personal opinion, but to turn round and claim that the system is being made fair and equal by endowing it with this semblance of modernity is frankly a right royal cheek.
On top of the laws of succession being fundamentally arbitrary, the royal family – let’s not pussy around – is inarguably a relic from a bygone age. They are very useful for filling up tabloid column space (especially the fit young princes), attracting tourists, keeping the rooms in Buckingham Palace looked after, and for being quite hilariously unrepresentative representatives of the country. However the actual purpose that a monarchy is originally intended for has long since passed its sell-by-date.
What I see as their current function is much the same as something like a pocket watch. It’s a pretty neat thing to have around, it did have a period in the past when it was the best thing until sliced bread, but its principal value is that of being an antique, and it has definitely been overtaken by the event of the wristwatch, the digital watch, and if it comes to it, the mobile phone.
This new law on the succession feels like someone trying to sell me a digital pocket watch. I can’t quite understand how we can as a country attempt to modernise an institution which is essentially synonymous with tradition.
Given that the royal family’s power is largely symbolic, and the Queen, while utterly unrepresentative of the country’s demographic (as is our elected ruler), is an effective ambassador for the country, I don’t quite feel that this situation is analogous to the proverbial rearranging of the deckchairs on the Titanic. It seems to me that it’s more like touching up a Michelangelo masterpiece with a highlighter pen, or setting Mozart to a reggae beat, because had these maestros known about neon colours and the skank beat, they would surely have incorporated them into their work.
The institution of the monarchy has probably not been ruined beyond repair by this move by the Commonwealth. There is probably enough injustice and arbitrariness left in the system for it to still qualify as being a British tradition we can continue to uphold.