Sunday, 26 February 2012

Gawd Bless 'er Majesty!

I've just recently finished watching - and have been quite impressed by - Andrew Marr's Diamond Queen series on BBC1.

I have mixed feelings about the monarchy and used to feel quite opposed to it.

There's that whole thing about a privileged few people, who just happen to have been born into a certain family, living in the lap of luxury at the tax payers' expense. It's also not very democratic - these people who we've never elected, still somehow represent us and our interests, at home and on the international stage.

Then there's the whole church thing. I've never felt very happy with the idea of any one person being declared "head" of a church, when the only "head" that the church ever had in scripture was Jesus himself. Even more strange though, is the idea of someone being head of a church, just because they happen to be the ruling monarch. Surely such a role - if it should even exist - should be assigned on the basis of a person's spiritual credibility, not on the basis of what family they happen to have been born into? What if the monarch is not even a believing Christian? How could they possibly, in any meaningful sense, be the head of a church whose beliefs they don't even agree with?

All those comments aside however, I do have a great deal of respect for Queen Elizabeth II. Andrew Marr is obviously very pro-royal and I have no doubt been swayed to some extent by his - not entirely unbiased - presentation, but it did also resonate with much of what I have previously observed. Her majesty is obviously by no means perfect, but I do believe the British Nation has an awful lot in her to be grateful for.

The Queen - and many of the other royals - seem to attend an endless stream of public engagements. I've never really understood the fuss of seeing a member of the royal family drive down a road in a carriage or stop to give someone a wave - they're all just people after all, but I can see that to many people it does make a difference. The Queen has little if any real power, but the job isn't about power any longer, it's about relationship. To some extent, when the Queen visits somewhere, she embodies Britain. If she visits somewhere within Britain then she carries the message that Britain cares about that place, and for a moment at least, the eyes of Britain are focused there. If she is received warmly in another country then Britain is received warmly, animosity is diminished and ties of friendship between nations are developed.

The monarchy also gives us the benefit of longevity. Our politicians are elected for 4-5 years at a time and may perhaps manage 3 terms at the most. For voters this is a benefit because it means that if we don't like our leaders we can change them fairly quickly. For politicians though, as well as keeping them on their toes and reminding them of who they are accountable to, it also often pressures them into taking a short term view. More than anything else, elected leaders want to be re-elected, which means they have to do the things that will make them popular in 4-5 years time. These may not necessarily be the things that are best for the country in the long term.

Our Queen however, has been on the throne for nearly 60 years! - and in that time has seen 12 different Prime Ministers. She religiously and regularly reads through reams of government documents and along with the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is said to be one of only 3 people in the country who really understand what's going on! She meets with the Prime Minister - of whatever political party - every week, and has a full and candid discussion on government issues, gives the benefit of her advice and offers her opinions. She has no power to make decisions but to my mind this is still an invaluable role. Who else does a Prime Minister have to turn to for outside help who has such a depth of wisdom, knowledge and experience?

The thing that impresses me most about our Queen though, is that I am convinced that she sees herself - and has always seen herself - as a genuine public servant. She may live in the lap of luxury, and I am sure that has many benefits, but as far as I can see she devotes herself tirelessly - and has always devoted herself - to the service of her people. She doesn't just do the job, she lives it and can never walk away (unless of course she abdicates, like her uncle previously did!).

In times gone by, the monarchy was an instrument of power, and often a very oppressive power at that. In the 20th and 21st centuries however, it's role has become much more symbolic. To me, some of the symbols of monarchy and which monarchy represents, still seem to reek of the oppression of the past, but in Elizabeth herself at least, I see a monarch who is genuinely there to serve rather than to be served. Her 21st birthday speech in 1947 in Cape Town, South Africa, included these words, addressed to the Commonwealth: "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service  ... God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it." 65 years later, I think we can safely say, that she has lived up to those words!

1 comment:

  1. Well said Dan, Nice to get a balanced commentary.


If you don't have an account, and you want to leave your name, select "Name/URL" from the "Comment as" drop list below. Then just enter your name (you don't have to supply a URL) and click "Continue".