The Scotsman
June 3, 2003

Dismal killjoys wrong about the monarchy

REPUBLICANS can be a dreary crew. In this week's New Statesman, Claire Rayner, in a piece I suppose she thinks is biting and funny but is actually pathetic and sad (whatever has Ms Rayner ever done for the nation?), has a lovely time sneering at all those who, like my children, have a healthy - and I use that word advisedly - respect for those parts of British life that somehow straighten the back and gladden the heart.

It must be very frustrating for Ms Rayner that this weekend it is she and not the Queen who seems completely out of kilter with the general mood. Ms Rayner and her ilk lack the ability to see beyond anything that is not entirely mundane and utilitarian, a bunch of dismal killjoys at a time of national good humour and uncomplicated jollity.

I am a monarchist not first and foremost out of admiration for the Queen herself - although she seems to me to do her job pretty well - but because the whole concept of monarchy connects us to something larger than ourselves.

This something adds to rather than detracts from both our sense of nationhood and our wider sense of humanity, since the ideal of sacral kingship is based on notions of collective identity, stability, justice and mercy. When exercised properly, this ideal, illustrated clearly in the Bible through the anointing of Solomon, benefits all those who fall under its shadow and has as much validity today as it had in biblical times. It is neither habit nor laziness but our positive, if at times rather inchoate, recognition of this that has kept the royal show on the road not just for the last half-century but for centuries before.

The pomp and panoply of ritual, the delight and dollars of tourists, together with the whole human soap opera that constitutes the physical manifestation of monarchy, could never have survived had not the entire royal edifice been underpinned by something more solid and meaningful than crowns, trumpets and parades of horse-guards.

But carping is not new. In first-millennium France, when the Frankish king's position was very weak, there were lots of Claire Rayners about. However, even then people understood that, weak as the king's position was, if the royal office became extinct they would all be losers. It may have been part of an elaborate propaganda exercise designed by wily spin-doctor Abbot Suger of Saint Denys that the monarch should be anointed with holy oil brought down from heaven by a dove, but whatever the motivation, the potent mixture of throne and altar, seen clearly in coronation services both then and now, provided a focus for stability and order that kept society from collapsing into unmitigated barbarism.

The French famously later forgot what Abbot Suger had taught and have lived with the consequences in the shape of corrupt and expensive presidents ever since. As Claire Rayner gnashes her teeth and junks the Queen's jubilee, she may feel she knows better than old Abbot Suger or even Solomon himself, but I doubt that this is really the case.